Week 17…

April 23-29, 2022

SATURDAY 23 Keir Starmer’s Labour doesn’t look hard enough to take on the Conservatives, writes Andy Beckett in a short essay on how Britain’s parlous state is worse even than the dark days of the 1970s when Labour’s reputation for incompetence was galvanised. Get radical, he tells Starmer, that’s what brought Labour under Jeremy Corbyn close(r) to election victory in 2017.

📌 The Personal ads in the London Review of Books have long been a source of great entertainment, and one spotted by my wife recently didn’t disappoint.

Art loving old bat seeks cultured man for one last fling. London. Once a week will do.

📌 Absolute Radio 70s has a hilarious audience-participation strand called Cage Fight in which listeners phone in to compete with one another in impersonating the actor Nicolas Cage.

📌 In a moment of toe-curling embarrassment in TV’s Silent Witness forensic pathologist Nikki sang the Robbie Williams song Angels to colleague Jack, signalling the onset of a will-they-won’t-they game of speculation.

📌 Neil reports that Cynthia Plastercaster has died, age 74. Whenever I told people about Cynthia, they always accused me of making it up.

📌 There’s a hilarious paragraph on p210 of the Ed McBain book I’m reading in which an investigating cop attempts a summary of the case so far… “So what we’ve got is a piano player and a drummer who each say they were packing instruments in a van with a person who’s now dead of AIDS. And we’ve got the piano player saying he saw the drummer, together with a lady who later got strangled in the park, go in the office of a man who later got eaten by alligators. And we’ve got the drummer saying the same thing about the piano player.”

SUNDAY 24 A very loaded article in Guardian Weekly uses Russia to suggest that the word DIPLOMAT and SPY have become synonymous and that Russian diplomats are “agents of division and disinformation”, which is why so many of them have been expelled from countries in Europe. The article goes on to ponder the future of international diplomacy but at no point does it suggest a role for the UN in brokering constructive conversations between nations, with binding global sanctions as a penalty for acting in bad faith. Such a move could make the United Nations virile again rather than impotent.

MONDAY 25 A correspondent on Quora asks… Is the Guardian Labour or Conservative? The top answer, from someone self-describing as “former retired”, reads: The Guardian is a posher version of the Daily Mirror like the Daily Mail is the posher version of The Sun. Guardian readers are teachers, universities lectures, basically public-sector workers and left-wing professionals. The Guardian is pro Europe and EU and would rather have the EU flag flying than the Union flag , So yes the Guardian is left wing.

📌 Marco Materazzi‘s head was a bit too small on the latest stitchwork project, so I’ll unpick it and make it bigger.

📌 Neoliberal defeats fascist is the Socialist Worker‘s spin on the French presidential election results.

📌 Episode 4 of TV’s Chivalry took a massive nose-dive into implausibility. Fab-Fem Hollywood film director Sarah Solemani went from having a fantastic relationship partner to pulling agonised faces in a couples counselling session. She also started trembling in the presence of unreconstructed bozo film producer Steve Coogan. She was last seen dancing in her knickers, swigging booze and making unasked-for sexual advances on a junior employee.

TUESDAY 26 The meeting last night of the Community and Children’s Services Committee in the West Wing of the Guildhall (the seat of government for the City of London Corporation), was unlikely to offer as many thrills and spills as the West Wing off of TV. For a start there are very few compelling characters in the cast of councillors and officials in attendance, just a room lined with dull professionals looking to enhance their self-importance.

And the setting is not much better – a big-business meeting room the length of a cricket pitch with a wall-size Zoom screen at either end and dozens of pleather chairs marked with the City of London crest. It is the kind of grindingly formal environment that kills instantly any kind of creative thinking. This is not a place for bright ideas, flashes of imagination or even a blind moment of inspiration. This is what corporatised local government looks like.

After a tedious description of what the Community and Children’s Services Committee is meant to do, things started to look sexy when nominations for the post of deputy-chair were declared and duly voted on. It was an act that required a piece of equipment called the “Ballot Bowl”, which in any other language would be called a basic pet-shop goldfish bowl. It went one way round the room then the other way until finally the all the votes were cast and counted. The contest was between Helen and Mary. Helen won by a one vote.

The only other thought during this spirit-sucking two-hour session filled with weedy voices drowning in an ocean of paperwork and jargon was that the sole purpose of the corporatised local council is shopping. All it does is buy services, call it a “commission” and then advance the argument that it’s all been great value for money. The opportunity to wriggle free from this dead hand of democracy arrived and I took it with a sigh of relief and a feeling of loss: two and a half hours of my life I’ll not get back.

📌 Her Majesty’s Opposition seems content to let the government kill itself slowly, and with a dire economic forecast for the next two years at least a victory at the next election is theirs to lose.

WEDNESDAY 27 My wife volunteers at a community project for older people, some of whom suffer from dementia. Yesterday they needed to test the fire alarm, to see if the building could be evacuated promptly. But the fire alarm didn’t work so somebody rang a school bell and shouted “Everybody Out?”

📌 At art class we started a two-week exploration of portraiture with a workshop in mark-making. I discovered that I prefer a left-to-right hand movement and clockwise when drawing circles. I also learned that a “portrait” can be pretty much any part of your subject. I ended up drawing Sara’s right arm waving hand.

Portrait of Sara Whale…

📌 At Golden Lane Stitchers Dawn threatened to whistle with her fingers and shout “Shame on you!” at the council’s Resident’s Day next week. Vera told us she changed the colour of some paint she was using to decorate her flat by adding coffee.

📌 There are lots of jokes doing the rounds to the effect that all of the nation’s ills can be blamed on Angela Rayner’s fanny.

THURSDAY 28 Martin Kettle picks up one of my favourite rants in arguing for the abolition/total reform of our first-past-the-post voting system. He cites the French two-stage system as key to Macron’s recent triumph and a worthy inheritance from the de Gaulle era, but points out that its weakness would be exposed in, for example, the upcoming elections in Northern Ireland. The overall message is that power-sharing is the name of the game and finding new ways to do it is urgent.

FRIDAY 29 Sam’s crooked barn house looks like it might be infested with crooked mice. Glue pads have now been outlawed in Britain.

📌 It has been revealed that Angela Rayner was in the toilet when Keir Starmer was pictured sipping a pint during Lockdown.

📌 My wife woke up with nasty after-effects from her 4th jab. A visit to Tate Modern has been cancelled.

📌 An expert on the BBC’s excellent Ukrainecast on the radio gave a frightening description of Vladimir Putin as a psychopath who will never compromise, see reason or back down on any issue. He said the war in Ukraine might have been avoided had other nations acted differently prior to the invasion, but the only way to stop Putin now is to bleed Russia dry economically.

📌 I’ve been experimenting with drawstring bags for my stitchwork projects. This one, of the Golden Lane Estate plan on red cotton with gold stitches, looks faintly Chinese.

Read all of my scrapbook diaries…

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