TUESDAY 1 Google has announced it will block content from Russian media sources RT and Sputnik. Meanwhile, the biggest failure in this crisis, the United Nations, will have another meeting. The last one yielded a statement declaring Putin’s assault on Ukraine as an “affront” to its principles.
WEDNESDAY 2 From a position of privilege and distance it will now be fascinating to watch the type of resistance that unfolds in Russian-occupued Ukraine. It will be fascinating, too, from a position of detachment to watch what the EU does to counter the undoing of its eastern expansion. Will the iron curtain come down once again, or will the people of the countries that border Russia stand against the power of Putin’s iron fist?
📌 My early-morning quiz question was to ask how many holes there were in Blackburn, Lancashire. My wife said she didn’t know. The answer is 4,000.
📌 Reading Russia’s side of the story is getting harder. Their news sources are facing blockage in the West. RT is still on Twitter and Sputnik is adding an introduction to all of its stories, which says…
On 24 February, Russia launched a special military operation in Ukraine aimed at protecting the republics of the Donbass region it had formally recognised earlier that week. Moscow has made a point of saying that it has no occupation plans and that the operation’s goal is to protect civilians from genocide.Sputnik
Alongside all of this, the Socialist Worker has started to sound like the voice of reason.
📌 In art class we concluded our 2-week input into International Women’s Day. One member of the class did a portrait of Anita Roddick in the style of Maggie Hambling. The result reminded me of Brain May on the cover of Bohemian Rhapsody. I didn’t say anything. I continued on the idea of superimposing drunk women on to an old Bridget Riley I started last week and brought in the element of the toilet queue. It is a psychoanalyst’s wet dream.
📌 There’s surely an obvious answer to the question, but when Putin asked Nato to guarantee that Ukraine would never be given Nato membership, why didn’t Nato just say “OK, deal”. Meeting lies with lies is no long-term solution to anything, but it might have neutralised an obviously incendiary situation in the short term. It presumes, though, that Nato prefers peace to war.
📌 Lessons in sarcasm… Me: “Is Tina Turner still alive?” Wife: “Yes. Why? Hasn’t she been in touch?”
THURSDAY 3 The private view of Postwar Modern at the Barbican last night was rammed with creepy arty types standing in front of the artworks talking bollocks. The exhibition was fab and vast, but the experience was horrendous. Maybe with war raging in Europe once again, that was apt. There was nowhere near enough photography included in the exhibition for my taste, and maybe too much sculpture, as good as it was.
📌 Ridicule is the new weapon of war. On the radio this morning one expert said that Russian tanks stood waiting ominously on the outskirts of Kyiv because Russian soldiers don’t know how to change tyres.
📌 We won Cadbury’s chocolate eggs in the Headway quiz. It was spotting the intro to a Nik Kershaw song that sealed it.
📌 Kat tells me she hasn’t been bullied or persecuted for being Russian, which is good news.
📌 At the Barbican’s 40th birthday LSO performance of Haydn’s The Creation not only did Sir Simon Rattle send in a sick note but I swear I saw Uriel checking his phone for messages shortly before he stood up at the end to wish Adam & Eve the best of luck for the future. It was 109 minutes of my life I won’t get back.
📌 There’s a relevant remark in Raphael Behr’s column in the Guardian regarding European liberal democracy and Germany’s attitude to Putin and the war in Ukraine.
Western conviction that this is not supposed to happen in Europe any more has not stopped it happening. The shock is producing dramatic policy changes across the continent. The most historically significant shift is in Germany, which is sending weapons to Kyiv and ramping up defence spending. Gone overnight is the taboo around military assertiveness that was born of national atonement for the Third Reich.
FRIDAY 4 The Labour Party has won a by-election in Birmingham on a turnout of 29%.
📌 Two separate articles in the Guardian – one by transparency campaigner Gina Miller, the other by veteran editor and columnist Simon Jenkins – ridicule the current pledge by the prime minister and his top team to clamp down on dodgy Russian money in London. The main reason being, they argue, is that the British government is itself up to its neck in complicity.
📌 At the Stitch Festival in Islington I was a lone male figure among tribes of female cross-stitchers with packed lunches and return tickets to Somewhere, UK.
SATURDAY 5 Read in the news that Merope’s daughter Martha had died after contracting sepsis. I searched in vain for the photo I took of the tiny hand prints Martha deposited on our window when she was a toddler.
📌 At Paula’s in Sutton her son Séan, 11, offered me a sneaky Kit-Kat while we watched a Blue Planet sharks programme on TV.
📌 The meters on electric taxi cabs don’t stop when the vehicle is stood still, as we discovered on a tortured journey home from Victoria station.
SUNDAY 6 Speculation on what happens after Boris has returned. Paul Waugh in the i sings the praises of defence secretary Ben “full tonto” Wallace for his leadership skills and tips him for the top job once the Tories have worked out how to eject Boris.
📌 Clothes and accessories with lots of decorative detail are a gift for Sam’s gozzy eye.
MONDAY 7 A question on Quora asked what would happen if Russia decided to launch a nuclear attack on the US. The answer was very detailed on the modern scattergun approach to nuclear devastation and full of qualifying edits, but it scarily included photographs of the nuclear missiles currently in use by the superpowers. One of the clarifying edits in the article said that all of the above assumes the weapons are being used by a “rational actor“, which sounds like the title of an existential novel.
📌 The latest stitchwork project is finished. It’s a radiation-green drawstring sack showing Shakespeare Tower in the Barbican. It’s simple but effective. The tower rises powerfully from the pitched roofs and chimney stacks of what was there before The Blitz and the architecture that came after it.
TUESDAY 8 I joined a small team from Headway yesterday at a meeting with the Barbican’s Community Partnerships people for a midterm evaluation of our working relationship and the projects and activities we have completed so far. During one of the breakout sessions Andrew from the curatorial team gave us an insight into the process of putting on a big exhibition. The upcoming Alice Neel exhibition, for example, is a touring exhibition and will arrive at the Barbican from the Pompidou Centre in Paris. The curatorial team will then “stage” the Neel works along with others they have sourced. In this way the exhibition is less the personal vision of a curator than a production by the department of an institution, and the curator in this case – Eleanor, who we worked with on the Jean Dubuffet exhibition – acts as a director. Andrew told us that the opportunity to exhibit this particular collection of Neel’s work was one Eleanor did not want to miss.
📌 The remake of the Ipcress File on TV is good on class politics, but like the original very mannered in both look and plot. I’m not even sure I’ve connected up all the clues properly and probably watch it with a dim look on my face.
📌 Building on its serial rucks with the EU, the UK will soon become one of those embarrassing states that ignores the growing list of international crimes, fines and misdemeanors it has next to its name.
WEDNESDAY 9 Got my wife to send a sick note to my art class today. Sore throat and headache, which was true, though an underlying cause might have been today’s class subject – “observational drawing” – which for me is the art equivalent of quadratic equations.
📌 The Socialist Worker reports that Russian anti-war socialists Rozalia Jamalova and Daria Sharkova have been released after appearing in court and fined 10,000 roubles each.
Police seized them along with other protesters at an anti-war rally in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday for shouting slogans against the invasion of Ukraine.Read the full story here…
📌 It might not be long before Northern Ireland is mischievously described as the UK’s very own “Little Donbas”, not simply because of it being a disputed territory but because in the May elections Sinn Fein could become the majority party, which won’t go down well with the ultras on the right wing of the ruling Conservative Party. Casting Boris as Putin would be a gross distortion, I suppose, but not for some of the more passionate unionists in Norther Ireland, as a Diary piece in the London Review of Books illustrates.
📌 The discovery of Shackleton’s HMS Endurance off the coast of Antarctica is exciting news, made more exciting by the name of the expedition’s director of exploration being Mensun Bound.
📌 A nation’s people run for their lives only to find Britain’s door firmly shut and securely locked. The shame of it!
At the time it was reported that Poland had taken 800,000 refugees, the UK had accepted a mere 50. Which, to put things into perspective, is half the number of people you’d invite to a Downing Street bring-your-own-bottle party in the middle of a lockdown.Marina Hyde, the Guardian
📌 Dictators underestimate the strength of democracies, writes Raphael Behr. In the case of Vladimir Putin I think he has at least underestimated the resilience of Ukrainians and the grim future young Russians face should he not get a grip of his madness pronto.
The Russia that speaks a language of rational engagement with the west is heading into exile.
📌 If Vladimir Putin needs cheering up he need only read the New Statesman, which uses the fiasco of the Polish fighter jets to illustrate how clueless, callous and divided the west is regarding the war in Ukraine.
THURSDAY 10 The sound of pessimism seeps out of every supposedly balanced news report in the “fresh” talks between Russia and Ukraine. The pretense that Vladimir Putin is in any way interested in peace with the west is a sham. He is a warrior and he hungers for war. And according to a professor at Essex University, he’s not the only one. War, and especially the war in Ukraine, is a payday jackpot for the defence industries of both Russia and America, who have quietly been counting the billions in weapons sales as the bodies have continued to pile up, he writes in the Conversation.
📌 In the Conversation there’s a very cool analysis of how wars start and end. And in the case of Russia vs Ukraine, the end is still a long way off.
📌 There’s an economic price to pay for taking the moral high ground, writes Larry Elliott. Be careful what you wish for when calling for Britain to be purged of the dirty money that has maintained our national living standards for decades.
📌 At Headway the garment technologists from the Royal College of Art were back in action with lightweight sweaters that massage and energise disabled upper limbs. In the last session we trialled some switches to power up the garment. In this session we got to test the full treatment. We all agreed that the experience was quite sexy. My notes describe the “sensuous soporific vibration” of the techno-sweater, which looks like it came from Uniqlo.
📌 To the Barbican to see Ali & Ava, a warm love story that forever looks like it might tip into tragedy. Another great example of how in Britain class is a greater force for unity than race or religion.
FRIDAY 11 Full Fact reports government ministers including Jacob Rees-Mogg claiming that Britain has sanctioned Russia more than any other country, including the US. The claim included graphs and numbers said to come from the Foreign Office that the experts at Full Fact have not only not been able to verify but have not even been able to locate.
📌 In the Guardian, Andy Becket has a neat short essay on Britain’s role as an economic “butler” to the obscenely rich. In it he references something called the Wimbledon Effect, which is code for being a great host but poor at the activity being hosted. The connection being that Britain is great at tennis tournaments but rubbish at tennis, and good at laundering dirty money but bad at wealth creation.
📌 The Surrealism exhibition at Tate Modern takes you to surrealistic destinations you never even knew existed, peopled by artists you’d never heard of.
📌 Neil in Norway reports that his local newspaper has a “handy feature” on how to locate your nearest bomb shelter. He adds that pharmacies in Norway have sold out of the iodine tablets used to treat radiation sickness.
SATURDAY 12 Today we can meet the people who are standing in our upcoming council elections. I’m not sure I want to meet them, but I want to watch them answer questions from residents. Our council is unlike any other in the world in that businesses can vote alongside residents. This leads to spivvy business people trying to get elected so they can get their hands on the levers of power. It is a sorry sight to see these transparently greedy people trying to convince council tenants to vote for them.
SUNDAY 13 The geopolitics of the war in Ukraine are cooly laid out in an article in the Observer that puts context to the passion with which the good/evil framing of Ukraine and Russia is accelerating.
📌 I do love a coincidence of numbers. The government is reported to be offering British householders £350 a month to take in refugees from Ukraine. That is coincidentally the DAILY pay rate for members of the House of Lords.
📌 My wife says that when she was very young she was taken on a visit to Madame Tussauds waxwork museum in London. She remembers one of the waxworks being John Christie, the serial killer of 10 Rillington Place.
📌 One woman on our train to Oxford offered her seat to a pregnant woman she noticed standing in the aisle. The pregnant woman declined, saying she was getting off at the next stop. By way of pleasantry, the seated woman congratulated the pregnant woman on her pregnancy. The pregnant woman replied saying that her pregnancy was a surrogacy, but thanked the seated woman “on behalf of my uterus”.
📌 Harry Boggis-Rolfe, one of the legal brains I used to consult at the Guardian, was on our train to Oxford. Harry became momentarily famous as a character in the Sebastian Faulks book Jeeves and the Wedding Bells. Harry was as close to the real English upper class as I’m ever likely to get, a real Wodehouse character in tweed and Viyella.
📌 My Great Nephew Oscar’s parents live next door in Oxford to a character that makes Victor Meldrew sound like Bambi. Some innocent tradesperson parked his van in the wrong place and Mr Grumpy came out and squirted ketchup all over it.
MONDAY 14 At Tate Modern last week my wife wondered out loud whether the Blavatnik extension to the vast gallery had any connections to Russian oligarchy. Yes appears to be the answer, according to a story in the Guardian, which mentions the litigious Leonard Blavatnik as an extension to a news item about his sanctioned business partner Viktor Vekselberg.
📌 The Oxford Pissarro exhibition was subtitled Father of Impressionism, a theme that gains weight when Pissarro’s work appears alongside paintings by both his son Lucien and other artists such as Seurat, Signac and Cézanne. He was a good printmaker, too, as it happens.
Then we went to the Natural History and Pitt-Rivers museums where an overwhelming stash of curiosities and colonial loot left us drained. My wife overheard one visitor asking, loudly, “Where are the shrunken heads?” Only to be told, disappointingly, that they had been removed.
TUESDAY 15 Squatters broke into one of oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s luxury London properties and claimed it for the people of Ukraine.
📌 A report in the Guardian says China was never really sitting on the fence over the war in Ukraine. It is obviously waiting until Russia nears exhaustion economically and militarily. Then it will throw its entire weight behind Russia, cuckolding it in the process.
📌 Britain imports tiny amounts of Russian oil and gas, but its shortage in the West has given Boris an excuse to appease other dictators and nasty regimes, writes Simon Jenkins. Britain is not yet so desperate that it needs to grovel to Saudi Arabia, he announces imperiously.
📌 Boris’s answer to Vladimir Putin is to slap a massive import tariff on Russian vodka.
📌 If the Pissarro exhibition at the Ashmolean yesterday faithfully carried the “vibe” of impressionism, the Jesse Darling exhibition at Modern Art Oxford did likewise for modern art. In many ways its strangeness embodied the popular view of modern art as a stunt. But there was real beauty lurking inside all the weirdo junk pieced together in what looks to the naked eye to have no consistency whatsoever.
📌 The question that popped up on Quora got me thinking.
At first I thought the top answer might be Fanny, but it was Lolita.
📌 “No war at the dinner table” was a rule laid down when a Guardian reporter offered accommodation to a Syrian refugee in 2015.
📌 My wife once worked waiting tables at a restaurant in Oxford. One day she arrived to find a handwritten note on one of the tables instructing the manager to sack her and her friend Stacey at the end of the shift. They both walked out immediately and went to the pub.
WEDNESDAY 16 In art class we did painting in tea. One member insisted that anything less than 2 tea bags was pointless. Henrika said my portrait looked like Paul McCartney, then Mick Jagger, then Liam Gallagher. I think it looks more like Fred West.
THURSDAY 17 Looks like I was wrong about Putin. I believed his intention was to conquer all Ukrainian territory east of Kyiv, but Ukraine in its entirety now seems to be the plan as strikes on the western city of Lviv show. Lviv has been the city of refuge for fleeing Ukrainians, a place where they wait and decide whether to make a run for Poland or to sit tight and hope for peace to come soon. Sometimes agonising family decisions are made and children are sent across the border to rehabilitation camps while parents and grandparents dig in.
📌 You’d think foreign secretary Liz Truss was personally responsible for the release of hostage Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from detention in Iran when it was more likely the repayment of the £400m dodgy debt from 1979 that did the trick.
FRIDAY 18 It’s A Fair Cop was on the radio last night. In it former Humberside police officer turned stand-up comedian Alfie Moore engages a live audience in solving hypothetical everyday crimes, with an obviously serious-hilarious outcome. At the end of the show he names the audience member who performed best. In last night’s show it was a character he’d named Psycho Andy due to Andy’s willingness to use either sharp or blunt instruments enthusiastically against presumed opportunist burglars.
📌 The Morning Star directs attention to a War on Want report that fingers McDonald’s in shifty tax manouvres and the exploitation of Covid cash handouts to businesses.
📌 Cute bit of art spotted on the wall next to the bus stop on Old Street.
📌 Cecil did loads of drawings at home during Lockdown and gave me permission to turn one of them into a stitchwork.
SATURDAY 19 The callous sacking of 800 P&O workers is, says the Morning Star, a crystal clear picture of what 21st Century capitalism looks like.
SUNDAY 20 James Meek dares to imagine a future Ukraine had Russia not invaded – as an independent European state where liberals and nationalists have learned to live together in a way that satisfies both.
📌 Bent down to put a tissue into the bathroom bin, keeled over and gashed right ear. My wife fashioned a bandage that makes me look like one half of Mr Spock.
📌 Biden and the West need to show some mettle, writes Simon Tisdall.
📌 Sam’s skull necklace looks like something she lifted of the corpse of Lemmy.
MONDAY 21 A story in The Mirror makes The Armando Iannucci film The Death of Stalin look like a trusted news report. Kremlin insiders are plotting to poison Vladimir Putin, it says.
📌 Finally finished the stitchwork of Cecil’s praying woman. Linen is such a nice fabric to stitch into.
📌 The L-shaped gash on my right ear is scabbing up comfortably.
📌 Stuart says Wayne Hussey’s mum was a dinner lady, which prompted a series of anecdotal recollections involving mashed potato, gravy, sponge pudding and custard.
📌 The Guardian Weekly has a Long Read essay on the rise of the Russian oligarchy in London and its dealings with the British establishment, which puts a lot of little-known context to the war in Ukraine.
TUESDAY 22 It will be exciting to see which candidates get voted in at our council elections on Thursday. Some of them seem quite dubious, and one of them was once arrested by police on suspicion of possessing child pornography.
📌 At the VIP opening of the Art et al. Season One exhibition at Cromwell Place in deepest Oligarchland, I learned that Posy plays in a football team where anyone who is any good gets kicked out, and that Jennifer supports Aston Villa. I gave a bungling short speech about collaboration and drank wine.
WEDNESDAY 23 A secret gun-running operation was in full swing during the time of the supposed sanctions against Iran that prevented the UK paying the £400m debt that kept Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe in prison for six years.
📌 At art class, I’ve started a two-week project to develop a quickie portrait-production method using thermal paper. It’s called the Till-Roll Portraits. I started with existing images of my wife and Taylor Swift, then moved on to some portraits of Shaila done after a one-minute sitting.
📌 There’s s a timely photo essay in the Guardian about some crank who collects trashy political memorabilia. His haul includes a Vladimir Putin toilet brush.
THURSDAY 24 It was good last night to see Catalan Cristina in her new public-engagement job at the Crick Institute in King’s Cross. She was leading a relaunch of the free Outwitting Cancer exhibition. I would have liked to have stayed longer to talk to scientists about the language used around cancer. The Crick exhibition attempts to shift the terminology from verbs such as “fight”, “beat” and “combat” to the idea that human intelligence is more important than naked aggression, hence the use in the exhibition’s title of “outwitting”.
📌 I think Zelenskiy might be starting to irritate some western leaders with his moralistic hectoring.
📌 It’s sometimes easy to forget, but still fascinating to see, how much the affairs of Ireland are linked to the United States.
📌 At Headway I made a massive foccacia to go with parsnip soup.
📌 At the local elections the candidates assembled outside the polling station reported a low turnout.
FRIDAY 25 It looks from all the budget reports that Rishi Sunak is fully back on manouvres for the leadership of the Conservative Party. His Spring Statement was, according to most accounts, a fidget at best and a supreme act of callousness at worst. Yet he knows fully that making the poor poorer will impact negatively more on Boris than on him.
📌 The world is upside down: Tories call for nasty boss to resign for sacking workers.
📌 In the local elections, all the people we wanted to win won, and the one we most wanted to lose lost.
SATURDAY 26 The Guardian has an editorial arguing that William Morris and his pioneering work and worldview are as relevant now as they have ever been.
📌 A magical biographical drama on the radio turned out to be a recording of Simon Callow’s one-man stage show The Mystery of Charles Dickens, scripted by Peter Ackroyd.
SUNDAY 27 Our friend Rachel in West London has agreed to take in two fleeing Ukrainians and has already been told who they are: Olga, a woman in her 70s and a great cook, no English, and Natasha, a young English teacher. Looking forward to some yummy Ukrainian food.
📌 The Art et al. panel discussion for the Season One exhibition at Cromwell Place went OK. I was glad Chris turned up to enliven things a bit, and I was glad also not to make too much of a fool of myself.
📌 It looks like Putin’s plan to take over all of Ukraine has been thwarted and he’ll only end up with half of it. And even that plan is looking shaky.
MONDAY 28 Free testing for Covid ends on March 31. One useful step might have been for central government to agree funds for councils to supply free testing to their communities. That way, testing could scale back slowly rather than end abruptly. No such luck. Instead it looks again like central government is happy to see people die and society put on a permanent health alert. An article in the Conversation offers five top tips for those who want to stay safe, most of which come under the heading of “common sense”. It adds…
One fascinating aspect of ethics is that people refer often to “common sense”, but almost always in the context of accusing other people of not having it – suggesting sense might not be quite as common as the phrase suggests.
📌 My wife overstretched her left deltoid during a yoga class and now refuses to sit still to allow it to heal.
TUESDAY 29 In a supremely sensible analysis of Ukraine’s current predicament and a cogent plan for a diplomatic future, Simon Jenkins rightly fingers Joe Biden for putting his foot in his mouth, which is exactly what Putin wanted.
The prospect is thus of the world’s principal power blocs led by two men both with fingers on the nuclear button but with an apparently uncertain hold on reality.
Recognised independence for Donbas and Crimea are the diplomatic solution, he says, the argument seeming to imply that if democracy can deliver constitutional autonomy, Putin will have lost.
📌 I’m fast becoming a fan of Daliso Chaponda, a Malawian comedian with a radio show dissecting the tortured relationship between Britain and Africa.
📌 Ukraine fatigue has set in as the nation wonders whether it cares if Russian agents tried to poison Roman Abramovich, as is reported “inside quotation marks”. Now the knives are out for Boris again with the Metropolitan Police verdict on Partygate. All of this makes Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s performance in front of the Treasury Select Committee look polished.
📌 The seismic changes in the jobs market predicted as an outcome of the pandemic upheavals did not happen, say Essex University researchers in the Conversation. The oldies took early retirement and retrained as yoga teachers, but the younger workforce exploited the Covid disruptions to move sideways in their existing occupations and negotiate better wages and conditions.
WEDNESDAY 30 As might be predicted, an article in the Socialist Worker sees a glimmer of revolutionary hope inside Russia. The very few anti-war protests so far, it says, were peopled by students and intellectuals. But since western sanctions started to bite, job losses and poverty levels have soared, thus fuelling the idea that very soon the ordinary workers of Russia, and even disillusioned soldiers, will join the protesters.
📌 The war in Ukraine has a bigger history than most imagine, as illustrated in a long but absorbing piece in Guardian Weekly. And it seems there’s a crazy obsession inside Russia that will forever deny that Ukraine is an independent country at all. Obsessive-in-Chief, of course, is Vladimir Putin, who jumped the divide between securing the rights of the Russia-leaning population in the east of Ukraine to razing the entire country to the ground in a fit of hatred.
📌 Chippy’s Connie As A Goth reimagined in stitchwork is finally finished. Some of the details are disappointing, but the spirit of Chippy in all his scrawly wonder is still there. Gold thread on navy velvet looks good but was sometimes hard work. All of this piece is in glitter thread and working that can be a challenge depending on the quality of the thread. Fraying is common in the cheaper threads.
📌 I don’t think the genius I displayed in my portrait exercise in art class was fully appreciated.
THURSDAY 31 Converted the crazy flower-person sketch I did during Lockdown into a stitchwork.
📌 Labour’s big push for votes in the upcoming local elections comes with the slogan “On Your Side”, reports Ailbhe Rea in the New Statesman, adding that this is a line already road tested by the Conservatives to replace their worn-out “build back better, build back greener, build back faster”.