One Month, as it happened


FRIDAY 1 An academic in the Conversation says that Guilt can be good. It reminds us when we’ve deviated from the morally righteous path. I think I’ve heard that somewhere else.

📌 The Tortoise has a timely reminder on the virtues of soft power versus hard. It sees the imminent death of British soft power exampled in the recent Royal tour of the Carribbean, where William and Kate demonstrably failed to pull off the kind of Commonwealth charm offensive that was once the Queen’s stock in trade. The article contrasts this with a rise in the hard-power approach to the war in Ukraine as shown by the Johnson government, a theme echoed in a New Statesman article.

📌 J kindly allowed me to share a new stitchwork idea based on handwritten signatures. This one is on butter muslin. I got the idea during a conversation with film-maker Posy Dixon, who said she is a big fan of stitch-on patches and urged me to turn my needlework activities in that direction. I always admired autographs that don’t simply spell out the author’s name but show the quick flash of expression most often seen in graffiti tags.

📌 Congratulations to anyone who could figure out the logic of the draw for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. There were so many constraints over which teams could play each other that the term “luck of the draw” became truly meaningless. It was a fix, plain and simple, and the most excruciatingly boring one ever inflicted on peak-time television.

📌 We’ve spent around two years catching up on all previous episodes of Silent Witness, the TV drama in which pathologists and forensic scientists plunder the remains of dead humans in order to work out whodunnit. We have caught up as far as Series 23 and the big mystery at the moment is the non-appearance of Nikki’s American boyfriend Matt, a Washington politician and the man with whom she hoped one day to raise children. After several episodes in which Matt at least figured in the story, albeit in breathless transatlantic telephone calls, he is now nowhere to be seen, or heard. And what’s more, Nikki doesn’t seem too bothered about it.

SATURDAY 2 Instagram is the new tool for investigators in search of Russian oligarchs to sanction, says Vice, adding that their scrupulously protected anonymity is most often blown by the attention-seeking, selfie-snapping influencers they invite onto their luxury yachts for cocktails and caviar.

📌 Good analysis by Paul Waugh in the i of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s bogus Household Support Fund and a sneaky change to the T&Cs in his Spring Statement that leaves both vulnerable old people and families with children with less than they had before.

📌 Away from all the good/evil/democracy/autocracy name- calling gameplay of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the real geopolitics is being done in India, where criticism of Russia is muted mainly because it sees the US and its European allies as blatant hypocrites.

📌 had I not seen it in a headline, I would have guessed that the word “bong” had passed into history.

Read the full story here…

SUNDAY 3 Great piece by Ed Vulliamy on the similarities between Bosnia 30 years ago and Ukraine today. I remember his reporting at the time, and that of Maggie O’Kane. The Massacre of Srebrenica and the spectre of Ratko Mladic stick in the memory. His name became a byword for evil. It’s hard not to detect in Vulliamy’s piece the suspicion that some form of Putin appeasement is just around the corner. It’s a notion touched on in another article, by Simon Tisdall.

Maybe this is how the war ends. Not with a bang or a shabby deal but with a slow collapse. Who will last longer: Putin the deluded, paranoid war criminal, or the motley crew of unreliable western politicians who oppose him?

MONDAY 4 At the Mexican restaurant in Finsbury Park last night to celebrate Sue’s birthday the number of different tequilas on the menu was greater than the number of fajitas. At the end of the evening one of the jovial waiters brought out some cake for Sue and plonked a ridiculously large Mexican hat on her head. She paused for a moment, bowed her head and held her nose as if in some kind of secret prayer, then smiled gamely for the inevitable chorus of Happy Birthday.

📌 Science is the latest casualty of war. Western nations have stopped working with Russia, which is a big bummer for international Space research. A UK drilling machine scheduled to visit Mars to drill a hole can now no longer carry out its important mission.

📌A message arrived from Lisa saying the recording of our panel discussion at the Cromwell Place exhibition last weekend is now online. I can’t bring myself to listen/watch it. The fleeting glimpses I saw revealed me to be fiddling and twitching far too much. I must remember next time to sit still and keep facial movement to a minimum.

📌 I’m starting to wonder where Sam gets the ideas for her pictures. Recent ones have just seemed so, er, weird.

📌 With all the so-called impartial coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war deeply suspect, it is still the Socialist Worker that seems to offer the most consistent anti-war perspective.

TUESDAY 5 There’s a lot of comment in the media on whether Vladimir Putin might be prosecuted for war crimes. The short answer is no. Technically it would be a waste of time. Also technically, the US, Russia and Ukraine are not signed up to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which makes a mockery of the idea that peace is possible. The UN is similarly knotted in dispute and non-compliance of rules and conventions. All of this merely points to political failure on a mass scale.

📌 I’ve changed my mind about the Barbican’s Postwar Modern exhibition. I initially said there wasn’t enough photography for my taste. But on reflection there is plenty of great realist photography but not much styled photography, which is very much to my taste. Maybe I didn’t see some of it at the first viewing because there were too many artworld liggers and assorted poseurs blocking my view.

WEDNESDAY 6 A friend who has worked on the TV series Gogglebox tells us that one of the show’s production rules states that if any of the cast stops being “normal” (ie, have an ordinary job, domestic life, etc) they become outcasts. In other words, if they decide to cash in on the celebrity the show inevitably grants them, they no longer qualify to appear. The prime example is Scarlett Moffatt, who after appearing on Gogglebox became a ubiquitous TV personality but consequently no longer appears on Gogglebox.

📌 Canvas craft aprons are tough work for needle and thread, so the simpler the design the better.

Canvas craft apron…

THURSDAY 7 Stuart messaged offering a 1978 Datsun Cherry in snot green for £150. An hour later it had gone up to £175. An hour after that it was a 1982 red Ford Escort Ghia, same price.

📌 At supper during a debate about the future of Channel 4, my cousin Kate said she wouldn’t miss much if the channel were sold off to an overseas buyer. I disagreed at the time but later checked the current content screening on Channel 4 and was forced to agree that it is mostly rubbish.

📌 My cousin Kate also believes that the media focus on Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s wife having non-domicile tax status in the UK is a plot by Boris to discredit his chief threat for the leadership of the Conservative party.

FRIDAY 8 Blimey! I always had it that the expression and the idea of “survival of the fittest” was the work of Charles Darwin. Not quite, says popular-science comedian Helen Keen in her radio show Big Problems. Yes, the phrase originated in Darwin’s evolutionary theory of natural selection, but it was philosopher Herbert Spencer who first coined it. And according to Keen, in a sketch about individualism and collectivism asking Who Cares? a more appropriate term to describe the thrust of Darin’s anthropology would be “survival of the nicest”.

📌 I had intended to start publishing this blog monthly, but my sister requested I continue weekly. And since the whole project started as my way of writing letters to her (she lives overseas), I will continue with the 7-day compendium of my thoughts and activities.

SATURDAY 9 Marina Hyde unpicks the fine stitchwork that holds Project Sunak together and boggles at how such a supposedly oven-ready prime ministerial candidate can make so many public-relations blunders, such as putting petrol in someone else’s a car and struggling to put a price on a loaf of bread. But one of the reader’s comments at the end of Hyde’s column has a darker view of the Chancellor’s current predicament in relation to his wife’s tax status and it’s unfolding controversy.

It’s a bit worrying that the wife of the Chancellor has so little faith in his ability to run the economy that she’s not planning on stopping here.

📌 My wife says that Will Smith getting a ban from attending the Oscars was like her getting a ban from entering Buckingham Palace.

📌 Raphael Behr says Vladimir Putin’s belief that the puny liberal democracies will cave in to Russia’s manly strength is a delusion and that democracy is in fact much sturdier than the desperate brand of tyranny Putin has chosen to impose on the Russian people.

Russian politics is degenerating from a thuggish authoritarian system that occasionally mimicked democratic process into something more martial, monolithic, totalitarian.

📌 David Lean’s film of Great Expectations was on the TV this afternoon, an already great story made even greater by being well told. It’s economy would have impressed Dickens, though in his vanity he might not have noticed how Lean disguised some of his more irritating diversions in over-ornamented background music.

SUNDAY 10 Simon Tisdall joins the chorus of jeering at the impotence of the United Nations (UN) in finding a solution to stop the violence in Ukraine. The article helpfully reflects on the history and the founding principles of the UN, but argues that it is in desperate need of reform in times when one nation shows no hesitation whatsoever in turning aggressive against another.

📌 The most interesting portrait of Vladimir Putin I’ve read so far comes from Gideon Rachman, who notes that all of the overtures and concessions to liberal democracy Putin has made over the years disguised a deep hatred and a determination to do damage to western incursions into territory he saw as historically owned and controlled by Russia.

📌 Nice bit of ridicule in Andrew Rawnsley’s column about Rishi Sunak. You can’t help but get the idea that Boris really doesn’t like being the poor scrimping neighbour to his stinking-rich Chancellor.

📌 Will Hutton believes Emmanuel Macron has a chance to become the knight in white satin for a European Enlightenment cause threatened all around by tyrants and bigots.

📌 We were talking about a media story in which a woman was admitted to hospital with chronic stomach cramps because she wouldn’t fart in front of her boyfriend. She held in her wind for two years and suffered the consequences. My wife then told a tale from many years ago when she lodged in a house in Manchester. Her landlady, Auntie Nelly, had a daughter, 18, who refused to eat in front of her boyfriend.

MONDAY 11 The Socialist Worker‘s verdict on the first round of the French Presidential elections is that Marine le Pen has only been able to cast herself a the champion of the ordinary person because Emmanuel Macron has made his bed in the parlours of the rich.

📌 In TV’s Silent Winess, the forensic scientists mistook death by bee sting for a cunning murder.

TUESDAY 12 Simon Jenkins warns that the rise of populism means the end of democracy. It is dispiriting to witness the seeping triumph of the individual over the team.

📌 One of the cross-trainers in my gym is so infrequently used that it has started to rust.

Rusty cross-trainer…

📌 The digital curation, Australian Memoir, I did for Art et al. has been launched. It works best on a tablet, I think.

See the exhibition here…

WEDNESDAY 13 in TV’s Silent Witness last night there was a suspect dubbed “Frank The Wank” by the investigating police officer. Frank declined to father children with his wife but happily supplied his high-octane sperm to the hordes of local women desperate for motherhood but unsuccessful in finding it by more conventional methods. He kept test tubes of his super-juice shelved neatly in a shed on his allotment. Frank was eventually beaten to near-death by a man in a hoodie with a baseball bat.

📌 The WordPress app on my Motorola phone is playing up, so I have started a long correspondence with WordPress in America. In trying to investigate the problem they asked me to type some words into a draft posting so they could put it under their techie microscope and hopefully solve the problem. I just re-read the words I typed…

Slowtype test file… On the first day, the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. On the second day, the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog again. On the third day the quick brown fox got his leg over with the lazy dog. Then the quick brown fox and the lazy dog did it again and again until the quick brown fox got really tired and the lazy dog wasn’t really interested anymore. So they gave up, put on the TV and watched The Big Bang Theory for the umpteenth time. It was the one where Sheldon tries to teach Penny about physics. He perched on the arm of the sofa and proclaimed, theatrically, “It was a warm Summer’s evening in Ancient Greece”…

📌 In a stinging editorial, the Guardian makes the point that no time during the worst days of the Covid health crisis did doctors and nurses grant themselves permission to unwind over bottles of wine and cheesy nibbles. At the end of the article one reader chose to use the “comment” forum to quote the Prime Minister responding to questions around his own conduct.

📌 On arriving in Liverpool the first thought that came to mind was that it‘s no city for old men. The city centre is rammed with people talking a language I understand but in a foreign tongue.

What was Probe Records building…
What was Eric’s on Mathew Street…
What was my wife’s dinner, Carrot Financier, in a restaurant called Queens…

THURSDAY 14 Liverpool fielded a weakened side against Benfica at Anfield last night, presumably believing a 3-1 first-leg advantage was enough to shield them. It didn’t work out that way and they scraped through to a Champions League semi-final game against Villarreal with a 3-3 draw.

📌 Visited Becky Waite and her team at the Blue Room at the Bluecoat, one of Liverpool’s oldest building and an arts hub since the 18th Century. It was a magical visit and we walked away full of admiration and straight into a Suki Chan audio-visual exhibition in the main gallery. I even took some photographs of the Bluecoat garden for Stuart, who used to eat his sandwiches there when he worked in the passport office on (I think) Water Street. Or was it Old Hall Street?

Becky Waite…
Bluecoat garden…

FRIDAY 15 We couldn’t have jelly worms for breakfast this morning because we ate them all last night while watching Taskmaster.

📌 Sam sent her Easter picture of Christ the Redeemer.

Christ the Redeemer, by Sam Jevon

SATURDAY 16 Every so often, and especially when we are away from home, my wife books us into restaurants reputed to be adventurous in their cuisine. We call these “Pip & Andy places” after two friends in Brighton whose exploration of food is unparalleled. They manifest their enthusiasm with delicately styled photos on social media, so in that spirit here is the Disco Cauliflower my wife had at Maray, Bold Street, Liverpool.

Disco cauliflower…

📌 The Walker Art Gallery never fails to inspire with its beautifully unpretentious collection of art from the 18th Century to the present day. My one gripe is the lighting of Stuart Sutcliffe’s Hamburg No2 painting, which mutes its incredible texture. William Hogartth’s massive painting of David Garrick as Richard III prompted my wife to search The internet for pictures of actor Rupert Everett for comparison.

At the Walker Art Gallery…

📌 From the Walker Art Gallery we strolled down to the river and stopped at Tate Liverpool. The Jean Dubuffet has gone, but a new gallery of Ideas and the Journeys Through the Tate Collection is a worthy attempt to make modern art more accessible to a bigger range of people.

Low tide on the Mersey…
At Tate Liverpool…

📌 In a heart-stopping FA Cup semi-final against arch rivals Manchester City, Liverpool won 3-2. We watched it in a small real-ale pub at the top of Bold Street. Keith screamed at the TV as if that might help. And maybe it did.

📌 The Unthanks concert at the Philharmonic Hall was a sheer delight, a Christmas gift from my wife and the perfect way to smooth out what had earlier been an occasionally stressful day. The performance, to promote their newly finished studio album Sorrows Away, had a distinct post-pandemic vibe with lots of talk about sacrifice and coming out of a tunnel, etc. At one point Rachel Unthank spoke of the redeeming power of song and how singing with crowds of people in their local Northumberland community was a life-saver for her. I walked away from the gig questioning the dimensions of what we call “folk” and its subtle reach into all aspects of life.

The Unthanks at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall…
Becky and Rachel Unthank, by Ray Provost…

SUNDAY 17 Just like Partygate for Boris, Wifetaxgate will stick for Rishi Sunak.

📌 The country’s sorry state, in which its leaders casually flout the law and trample on political and legal convention is the sole fault of the Conservative Party, says an Observer editorial. Its MPs, and only them, have the power to put things right, but consistently refuse to do it. The article stops short of labelling them cowards, but the message is clear.

📌 On a day trip across the River Mersey to New Brighton in search of childhood memories, my wife was disappointed to learn that she had missed the first two installments of Desperate Scouse Wives at the Floral Pavilion.

New Brighton…

📌 The view from the window of our city-centre apartment is quite spectacular in its own way. Our only regret is that the window isn’t bigger.

Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral (left) and riverfront buildings foregrounded by an ad-hoc matrix of ramshackle premises and cheeky seagull…

📌 Maybe Liverpool’s footballing success is the result of the club’s manager, Jürgen Klopp, also being the team’s greatest fan. His passion infects ordinary matchday supporters and inspires them.

📌 In New Brighton there was a pub with a sign outside headlined The Helmets, which featured a picture of Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock in hard hats. I didn’t get the joke until my wife explained it.

📌 I don’t quite understand why Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz, et al, don’t just go to Mariupol, sit in deck chairs in a prominent location and hold a peace summit.

MONDAY 18 Liverpool is rammed with architecture that today seems remarkable but in the past was probably routine. We seem to spend a lot of time looking up, clocking the splendour and magnificence of city-centre buildings that speak of empire and wealth. They contrast with the decrepitude of shut-up shop fronts and decaying terraces that speak of economic decline, poverty and bone-headed planning policies. My favourite monuments are those carved from the local red sandstone, but time and again we despair of a culture of destruction that sees centuries-old architectural beauties demolished to make way for new builds that will themselves probably be rubble in less than 20 years. Restoring, repurposing, converting and adapting seem to be architectural practices that have fallen out of favour, but it’s cheering to read in the Guardian that they’ve now found a new role in the political agenda as a route towards a sustainable way of living. It worked in Liverpool with the popular restoration of the dock areas, so it can’t be such a great leap of faith to extend the “remake” ideology to all buildings of historic interest. Or is the secret aim of the crazed developers to destroy history itself?

📌 My wife is doing an audit of the number of women who combine below-the-knee floaty dresses with trainers. Each sighting scores 2 points. If a denim jacket is included as part of the outfit, an extra point is scored.

📌 We went in search of my great grandfather’s grave in Broadgreen, but the cemetery was closed. Then on to Sefton Park for more childhood recollections and lunch on Lark Lane, which used to be genuinely Bohemian but is now just low-rent trendy.

At Sefton Park…

📌 The bombed-out church has a fascinating statue.

📌 My wife and I disagree about the motives of Gentleman Jack.

TUESDAY 19 We started our week-long visit to Liverpool with some great food, and said farewell last night with equally satisfied stomachs. At The Italian Club Fish I feasted on a seafood stew called Cioppino.

Cioppino…

📌 There are a curious set of pavement etchings outside Liverpool Lime Street train station.

Pavement etching in Liverpool…

📌 What did the mushroom say to the clump of seaweed? In the Conversation we learn that mushrooms can talk and at the Guardian Swedish sea lettuce is about to save the world from starvation.

📌 At Liverpool Lime Street train station the loudly repeated instruction for “Inspector Sands” to contact the station manager went on for around 5 minutes non-stop. This, I’m told, is secret rail-service code for “Yikes! Emergency!”, so it was a relief when our overstuffed train to London crept away on time. We speculated as the train headed south that someone pushed the emergency-announcement button by accident or out of mischief, either because the “Inspector Sands” message is now so widely known as to be ineffective or because Inspector Sands sounds like a character in the board game Cluedo.

WEDNESDAY 20 Paul Waugh in the i says that Boris has repeated his “apology” script so often that even his biggest supporters are getting bored and hunger for a change of tune. Waugh rams home the message that it’s Conservative MPs who delivered Boris to the job of Prime Minister and it is now time for them to remove him.

📌 My wife says the experimental egg-and-bacon porridge I made looks like sick.

📌 Manchester United manager Ralf Rangnick described his team’s players as “onlookers” in last night’s 4-0 defeat to Liverpool.

📌 Tina Daheley has returned from maternity leave, but what’s happened to Clare Runacres?

📌 According to the number-crunchers at the Tortoise, the government’s controversial “Rwanda Plan” to process asylum seeks offshore has a budget that will cover the processing of 63 asylum seekers annually. The report adds that last year Britain had 48,540 applications for asylum.

📌 Jennifer messaged to remind us that the Art et al. Cromwell Place panel discussion is doing the rounds on social media. I replied with an apology for my incessant fidgeting. I remember at the time staring blankly at Lisa’s trainers, then at her carefully painted fingernails (not the whole nail, just a single crescent at the tip of each nail). In between I twiddled my walking stick, crossed and uncrossed my legs a dozen times and knocked over an empty plastic cup. It made a plastic clatter that is still ringing in my ears.

THURSDAY 21 I’d missed one of Kate Davie’s blogposts from March, which was annoying as I am meant to be notified by email every time a new one appears. The blog was about how artists struggle to get funding and the hordes of “gatekeepers” that stand in their way, pulling strings and siphoning money. I commented that the gatekeepers are the result of art’s existence as product. An alternative to a market system is the only way out.

📌 At Headway, Stuart asked me if there is a general election today. I said I wish.

📌 As convincing as Larry Elliott’s columns always are, sometimes they float dangerously into Brexit jingoland.

Read the full story here…

FRIDAY 22 We went to a show at the Barbican last night called Boys. Its reputation arrived in advance. It comes from the experimental “physical theatre” company Pappy Show and a performance at London’s South Bank scored 3 points in a Guardian review. It was billed as an exploration of masculinity, and it was, in parts. Other times it looked like a bunch of over-athletic drama students in a homo-erotic wrestling match.

📌 The media still talks about inflation as if it were a force of nature, like the weather, and never that it is rising prices caused by poor economic management.

📌 A report in the Morning Star makes me think maybe the war in Ukraine is the moment in history when the West as global policeman ended and the East finally got its hands firmly on the wheel of international power.

📌 Resistance from Tory MPs to putting Boris on the hotplate of a privileges committee investigation was minimal to non-existent. Maybe Tory MPs are finally looking for a legitimate way to stab him in the back. If so, it will be a slow death by a thousand cuts, reckons Freddie Hayward in the New Statesman.

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.

SATURDAY 30 We lost count of the number of times Ursula dies in the TV adaptation of Life After Life. Every time the bits of fluff floated down from above we knew one life was over and a new one about to start. And we agreed it was a brilliantly imaginative way to tell a life story, so good that we forgot to quantify mortality.

📌 My wife’s new medication for foot cramps comes with advice that side effects might include: “abdominal pain, diarrhoea, disturbed vision (blurred vision, changes in colour perception or field of vision, total blindness), headache, feeling or being sick, ringing in the ears or impaired hearing, rashes, loss of consciousness, fits, shock due to heart problems, irregular heartbeats, death.”

Read all of my scrapbook diaries…

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