SUNDAY 1 While he has been sucking up hard on the ultra right wing of his party, Boris hasn’t noticed that soppy blue-stocking Conservatives have lost faith and can no longer be taken for granted, writes Nick Cohen.
📌 Celebrities and world figures are starting to arrive in Ukraine, presumably in an attempt to show the some defiance to Putin. Putin doesn’t give a toss. He continued his bombing raids on Kyiv while UN Secretary-General António Guterres was there. And I don’t think he will change tactics now that Nancy Pelosi and Angelina Jolie have flown in. It begs the question as to whose presence in Ukraine might get Putin to stop his reign of terror.
📌 Gentleman Jack‘s love life is spiralling out of control.
MONDAY 2 Food banks don’t want potatoes from donors because many of the people who use food banks can’t afford to cook them. Soon we will be reading stories about urban gatherings, where hungry people sit around makeshift campfires on wastelands boiling spuds for starving infants.
📌 A story in the London Review of Books adds pasta and rice to the above and expands the analysis to illustrate that UK food and fuel poverty is reaching a point where people are unable even to cover the cost of breathing – that the mere functioning of the human body has a unit price per person.
TUESDAY 3 Leaked news from America says that the US Supreme Court is about to kill the universal right to abortion. The United States of America has for some time had a problem with being united and this is further evidence that it is a nation in crisis. A new form of state tribalism has evolved and is testing the big idea of unity under one flag that has survived for so long.
📌 Strangely, the news from America had me running the lyrics of the Graham Parker song You Can’t Be Too Strong through my head…
It must have felt strange to find me inside you
I hadn’t intended to stay
If you want to keep it right, put it to sleep at night
Squeeze it until it could say, You Can’t Be Too Strong…
📌 Talking of nations in crisis, the Conversation has a worrying analysis of how the UK government is slowly removing the right to vote from anyone it doesn’t like the look of.
📌 My wife has a special skill. In Wordle, she goes from no letters in her first word straight to the correct answer by Word 3.
WEDNESDAY 4 Russia has become the Millwall of world affairs. A report on the radio last night revealed that the accusations of neo-nazism thrown at Ukraine and the EU are widely believed in Russia.
📌 At a User Group meeting at St Luke’s yesterday we talked about the difficulties children are facing in trying to re-socialise after the lockdown restrictions of the pandemic. Safe places for them to meet, play and recalibrate from the dislocation has become an issue.
📌 A story in the Morning Star that repeats the line that Nato carries a lot of the blame for the war in Ukraine also repeatedly inserts a soft “none of this excuses Putin’s barbarism” excuse throughout.
📌 In art class we finished the two-week session on mark-making and portraiture. I did a portrait of my wife in 8 layers: seven mark-making layers and a final painted layer.
THURSDAY 5 At Headway Brad said that Falafel Wrap (our lunch, £3.50) sounds like a disease.
📌 With Eleanor and other members of the Barbican curatorial team we watched a documentary about the American artist Alice Neel. It has a semi-submerged theme centring on parenting and parenthood. I asked the curators if they thought Neel’s portraits were surrogate children and commented on what an unloving mother she was to her actual children.
📌 Positive News reports a rise in kindness.
📌 When Sam’s drawing of a watering can impersonating a multicoloured fish arrived, I asked her from which orifice the water came out.
FRIDAY 6 At a meeting with three of our councillors last night, one of them, Natasha, suggested residents be shown The London Plan. I liked the idea that a relic council such as ours should be better integrated into a London-wide strategy but I said a Harry Potter version of The London Plan might be more easily digested. Harry Potter And The London Plan, a bestseller by JK Rowling. You read it here first.
📌 The big question this morning is whether nervous Conservatives will now turn on Boris. It’s probably time for any mystery replacements to step forward, but that is unlikely. It’s also time for the secret anti-Conservative alliance to start singing from the same hymn sheet: climate, the economy, the nhs, proportional representation.
During recent public appearances, Boris Johnson has looked like a novelty Boris Johnson candle left next to a radiator.Marina Hyde, the Guardian
📌 There’s a lone magpie out on the lawn. It looks young, so maybe it is not mourning the death of a partner.
📌 Twice on one bus journey the driver ejected people whose payment method failed.
📌 To the Royal Academy for the Whistler’s Woman In White exhibition, a small but perfectly formed collection that offers endless fascination and curiosity. It features works by other artists, including a riveting trio of reproductions by Gustave Courbet of his beautiful Irish Woman with (big surprise, this) red hair.
📌 The BBC has a story about Vladimir Putin’s secret girlfriend, who may shortly face sanctions.
SATURDAY 7 Michele went out without her glasses and mistook a dishevelled early-morning street drinker for her vicar.
📌 RIP Roland Hyams. Sad message on Facebook from his wife Lorraine and a flood of condolences from the rock music fraternity.
📌 Chris has sent her glum-looking one-eyed teddy to the be repaired by experts. I quite like him the way he is and can’t imagine how he might be improved.
📌 Good headline in Positive News about an innovative Welsh road-building project.
📌 The May Day festival on our estate went off surprisingly well given there was some confusion as to whether it was a festival of protest or a festival of biodiversity, such were the power struggles at work. The Stitchers huddled into a corner and bitched endlessly. Dawn even gave a verbal reality check to the miniature toff who is standing for our ward in the upcoming aldermanic elections.
SUNDAY 8 I never thought I’d ever see a united Ireland in my lifetime, but I secretly knew one day it would happen. But now the DUP looks defeated – by strong women – anything seems possible.
Jeffrey Donaldson looks increasingly like Miss Havisham, sitting abandoned amid the mouldering ruins of the wedding feast.Susan McKay
McKay’s article finishes by quoting the WB Yeats poem Easter 1916 with its ominously recurring line “A terrible beauty is born”. It must be a trend to reference that poem because Poetry Extra on the radio devoted a whole programme to it.
📌 I very nearly binned this latest stitchwork project but decided instead to live secretly with it for a while.
WEDNESDAY 11 The jump from Sunday to Wednesday was not intentional. Two days of witterings mysteriously went missing from the WordPress server. I have requested an investigation, but don’t hold out much hope of a retrieval. This must be what it’s like when your cat disappears and you issue urgent pleas on social media and via hastily printed pictorial messages on lamp posts.
The only thing I can remember writing about on Monday 9 is Beergate, urging Keir Starmer to simply resign and claim the moral high ground. On Tuesday 10 he announced that he will do so if fingered by Durham police. Also on Tuesday I re-plugged the Australian Memoir digital curation I did with Art et Al, which has now appeared on the Monash University website. I also wrote a recollection of meeting the musician Stan Ridgway in the mid 1980s. It was full of picturesque detail. But that is all I can remember from those two lost days. Maybe I gave an update on the unfolding magpie courtship on the lawn outside, maybe not. We finished Ozark, which was dramatic. And Sam sent a picture of painted feet.
📌 Two footballers’ wives are slugging it out in the high court over insults and accusations exchanged on social media (the courtroom artists’ drawings are apparently hilarious). I’m more interested in the placement of the apostrophe in the second word of the previous sentence.
📌 Keir Starmer’s consumption of beer and curry have fallen off the Daily Mail agenda…
THURSDAY 12 In the middle of the night a new verse arrived from Stuart, which he attempts to model as a long-forgotten, late-career song by George Formby.
Turn off the faucet dearest, my womb has had its fill, there will be no more children as there’s a new thing called The Pill. The Pope says its immoral, but I just don’t give a damn, He didn’t spend two hours in Tesco with two toddlers and a pram. He doesn’t understand a mother’s stresses, the heartache and the troubles when one kid eats the Persil and expires in clouds of bubbles. The other thinks its funny and tries the Weedol too, he’s now turned green as new-mown grass and won’t come out the loo.
📌 Vice reports a “bloodbath” in the cryptocurrency market as Bitcoin values take a massive plunge. The article quotes a columnist in The Spectator declaring “crypto is dead”, which had me searching desperately for a pun on crypto resting peacefully in a crypt.
📌 Sometimes Twitter has its uses.
📌 In a remarkable turn of good fortune, the “Happiness Engineers” at WordPress found the missing two days of babble from earlier in the week. Many thanks for that, and I have written a recommendation for someone called Jay to be awarded a pay rise. Here they are, Monday and Tuesday embedded in Thursday…
MONDAY 9 Yippee! The lonesome magpie is cavorting around the lawn with a partner.
📌 We just wish Keir Starmer would swallow “Beergate”, take one for the team, resign, make Boris look bad and let someone with a personality take over.
📌 Another cracking piece by Fintan O’Toole analysing and contextualising the outfall from the latest elections in Northern Ireland. We might even have to stop using that expression soon and employ the more accurate Six Counties.
📌 The controversy in our house over today’s Wordle fiasco wasn’t so much about the answer of the aborted puzzle as of the American spelling of the solution. My wife took 5 attempts when she normally completes it in 3 or 4.
TUESDAY 10 I have discovered Head Ballet, a podcast that invites guests to ramble on about a favourite song. In the one I played, a journalist described Stan Ridgway’s hit single Camouflage as a satire on the trend in the 1980s for cashing in on the Vietnam War. I just thought it was a daft ghost story. It did, however, make me revisit his music and my memories of interviewing Ridgway back in the mid 1980s. He had a dingy DIY office/studio in Noho (North Hollywood) modelled on the design leanings of Sam Spade. One small room that looked like a toilet was in fact a techno wondercave in which he composed all his music on synthesisers and a vast number of instruments. We met in a smelly bar where the interview took place and he outlined his noirish view on life. He said all he was trying to do was “parlay a neurotic habit into an empire”. He drove me round Hollywood in a battered Honda. He looked like the man in the movies who is always being chased by an angry money lender. Apparently he is now a Twitter megastar and I have about 25 unheard albums to catch up on, plus the work of his wife Pietra Wexstun.
📌 The Australian Memoir digital curation I did with Art et Al and Monash University is now on the Melbourne University site. I was beginning to think they were embarrassed by it, so I’m glad it has finally appeared. It was a lovely project to work on.
FRIDAY 13 We are on our way to Margate for a weekend with friends, one of whom grew up there from the age of 6 to 21. A check of the cultural attractions we can look forward to references the Chas & Dave song Margate and a quote from TS Eliot saying that Margate was where nothing connected with nothing.
SATURDAY 14 The best word I can think of to describe Margate is faded. We went to the Carl Freedman Gallery to experience Tracey Emin’s pain.
The Shell Grotto was likewise the product of a weird obsession. The Margate seafront is still attractive in a decrepit kind of way and nearby Palm Bay and Cliftonville are the perfect places to sit and check out the shipping lanes of the English Channel.
We had a sandwich in Sandwich and plotted a new crime drama set among the yachts and boats of Sandwich Marina.
📌 We searched for a pizza to partner the FA Cup final and the Eurovision Song Contest on TV. One of the places we looked at had the following online review…
“This is the worst of the worst pizza I have ever tasted. Couldn’t finish it. It was supposed to be a vegetarian pizza…. no cheese, no veg, one tiny half slice of mushroom and so thin crust, it was like a crisp… to charge £10 for this thing that cost the company 50p! Any good reviews probably came from drunk people… Unbelievable tasteless and most stingy dry pizza. Shame on them.”
📌 Liverpool beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final on penalties. It is a poor way for a team to win a prestigious trophy and a bad way for any team to lose.
SUNDAY 15 Following Ukraine’s victory in the Eurovision Song Contest President Zelenskiy has promised to hold next year’s final in Mariupol.
📌 Margate is still growing on us. Strangeness is attractive and we have a history of sniffing out weird museums. In Spain we found a museum of sausages. In Portugal we found a museum of sardines. In Yorkshire there is a museum of pencils. Margate has a crab museum, which triggered a recollection from our friend Jaq on her girlhood method of capturing a plump crab on the beach. But despite being a Margatonian she had never heard of the legend of the Margate Crab…
In 1862, local fisherman Thomas Gaskell caught a gigantic crab the likes of which had never been seen before. At 2.5m across, Gaskell knew that such a catch would fetch a handsome price at the market. But as he reeled the giant sea creature in, he took pity on it and decided to spare its life. Gaskell brought the crab back to his cottage at Palm Bay and fed it chopped eels. The crab ate greedily and showed a strange interest in the world of humans, grasping and ungrasping things in an attempt to learn. But word soon got out, and the people of Margate rallied against this friendship between man and beast.
📌 The Old Kent Market stands on the former site of a once-busy Margate cinema and has been restored and converted into a cosy home for a bunch of independent food and craft stalls, which include a red double-decker bus and a tiny room that styles itself as “the smallest pub in Britain”.
📌 The Turner Contemporary art gallery works better architecturally from the inside than the outside, from where it looks like a massive carpet warehouse. Inside it is spacious and welcoming.
MONDAY 16 BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner had a big moan on Twitter about Heathrow Airport. They left him stranded in an empty plane because no one could find his wheelchair.
📌 Also on Twitter is a reminder of the brilliance of TV’s Father Ted. It was even more brilliant because binge-viewing Father Ted is how my French nephew learned to speak perfect English.
📌 A report in the Guardian claims that business in Northern Ireland has adapted to the EU Protocol and is thriving. Business leaders are telling Boris to shut up and make it work instead of stoking up trouble with the EU. Manufacturing in NI outperforms the rest of the UK and inflation is lower. The Protocol was, remember, always meant to be a soft cushion to a hard Brexit. And after some teething pain, it has worked in that way. What hasn’t worked is the UK government negotiating a real trade agreement with the market it chose to exit.
📌 I love it when nouns transition into verbs…
It reminded me of a time long ago when in south London as I strolled home from the pub I was egged by laughing youths in a passing vehicle. My wife (then girlfriend) thought it was hilarious.
TUESDAY 17 A woman in London located her stolen car using GPS and stole it back.
📌 Sam put some very spooky clouds into her picture of those stony faces on Easter Island.
📌 Ed McBain’s Money, Money, Money has an irritatingly late plot deviation in which a bunch of Islamist terrorists appear as if by magic in a conventional story about who killed the drug-smuggler veteran pilot and fed them to the lions in the zoo – the result being that different body parts ended up in different police precincts.
WEDNESDAY 18 As inflation hits 9% money-saving expert Martin Lewis says he has run out of ideas on how to tackle rising prices.
📌 Deliveroo riders went on strike in Dubai, and won. One of them is quoted telling bosses “We are humans, not donkeys.”
📌 It’s hard to imagine what kind of relationship with Europe Russia wants. Or if it wants one at all.
📌 I sent a sick note to art class this morning but finished the project we started last week on the subject of numbers. It is a memory picture based on the number 15. bus, on which I travelled to my first job in London. The bus in the image is scrawled with the names of key people and places from that time.
THURSDAY 19 TV’s Derry Girls finished last night with what looked like a plea to Boris not to screw with the peace in Ireland. As the ‘Girls’ (one of them is a boy) all turned 18 they got the chance to vote on the Good Friday Agreement. The whole finale was charged with the emotion of history (personal and political) being a struggle made joyous by fellowship and togetherness. Fatboy Slim’s Praise You was the ever-present theme tune.
📌 At Headway we sat in the art studio talking about names when Oriel let slip: “Actually, my middle name is Monet.”
📌 The Headway kitchen team were doing a lunchtime takeover at Café Oto, so a small group of us bundled down there to frighten them with our orders.
FRIDAY 20 The Economist warns of an impending global food crisis as the war in Ukraine disrupts the supply of staples such as bread. There is the hint of a suggestion here that this in fact is Putin’s real war: fuel and food are his weapons of choice.
📌 In the Ruth Rendell short story A Dark Blue Perfume a bitter and lonely retiree obsesses about his ex-wife Catherine, who got pregnant by and ran off with another man 40 years earlier. Now, with nothing else to fill his days, he tracks her down, obsesses some more then resolves to kill her. You expect the moment their eyes meet to be revealing – and it is – but not quite in the way you thought.
📌 The police investigation into Partygate is coming under the cosh from critics claiming a lack of transparency and the scapegoating of the little people.
This was a major scandal at the heart of government, at the heart of the civil service, and we remain very much in the dark about who was involved, who organised the parties, and who was responsible.Lord Macdonald, former director of public prosecutions
📌 Positive News reports an upsurge in polination activity.
📌 A new stitchwork based on one of Cecil’s drawings is in the works.
📌 Absolute Radio 70s has a filler strand called Make Me A Winner. Listeners submit their phone numbers to the station and at some time during that day they “might” get a call. If they answer after fewer than 10 rings and say immediately “Make me a winner”, they get the jackpot. If they say “hello” or “yo”, or anything other than “Make me a winner”, they get nothing and the jackpot rolls over to the next call. The current jackpot stands at £100,000.
📌 Boris’s dad has become a French citizen.
SATURDAY 21 The mild ringing in my ears since my brain injury is something I have tolerated and managed as a minor side-effect of the trauma. But an article in the Conversation suggests it might in fact be the result of my brain learning to work in new ways and that a cure might be found in deep sleep.
📌 Outside in the play area a young girl (circa 10) is getting a judo lesson. In one of the exercises her instructor (circa 2m) holds an empty plastic water bottle at arm’s length and at in a random moment drops it. On each occasion the young judo student attempts to kick the bottle before it hits the ground. She misses, but keeps trying over and over, her swinging foot getting closer every time. Just as it looks like her kick will finally connect, her instructor changes the exercise. They bow to each other in the Ritsu-rei and begin a new routine which involves punching.
📌 An old Fiat 500 parked on Golden Lane resurrected a memory from long ago.
We were on holiday in western Sicily, sitting peacefully in the town square of Erice, when an ancient Fiat 500 puttered to a halt and out stepped a sprightly but stooping man of around 90. He strolled casually into a pizza shop and exited 2 minutes later with two large boxes, which he then struggled to position on to the back seat of his Fiat. He drove off in haste and we sipped our wine trying to imagine the next scene in this gripping mental movie.
📌 It’s worth taking time to consider a variety of opinions. An article on the conservativehome website reminded us that the Prime Minister was once known among his friends as “the greased albino piglet”.
SUNDAY 22 Nick Cohen contrasts the power of the nationalist dictators with that of Britain’s own pretender to the title. Boris is…
A bloated, enfeebled leader, in fear of his backbenchers and without an idea about how to cope with today’s crisis. He ricochets from one buffeting to the next like an overgrown child on a bouncy castle.Nick Cohen, the Observer
He takes his analysis further with a direct comparison between Boris and Putin: “Johnson took Britain out of the EU as Putin invaded Ukraine, to assert national greatness. Both enterprises have been disastrous because neither leader had the smallest idea of how to make their adventurism work.”
And the conservativehome website seems to be singing from the same songbook with Boris and his current predicament cast in the role of Tsar Nicholas II.
📌 Tomato seedlings planted out, fingers crossed: Montserrat and Yellow Stuffer varieties. The chilli seeds are still refusing to germinate. They must be dead by now. First crop of radishes will be ready next week.
📌 Another visit to the Barbican’s Postwar Modern exhibition yesterday had me returning like a moth to certain images. Examples include the work of Souza in the first room and later a hugely compelling Hotel Bedroom by Lucian Freud.
MONDAY 23 Monkeypox doesn’t sound like a real medical condition, but it obviously is. Checking its provenance can be scary, especially if you stumble on the 2003 Midwest Monkeypox Outbreak in the US.
📌 Sam’s picture of Luciano Pavarotti is really very good.
TUESDAY 24 On the radio programme Farming Today we learned that the amount of milk a UK dairy cow produces annually by eating grass and clover is only half the volume the market demands from it. Supplementary food containing fats are required for it to hit its target, and the average dairy cow has become so dependent on this fatty feed that to revert now to a normal diet of grass would make it ill.
📌 Amazon writes to tell me that from 17 August I won’t be able to browse and buy books on my Kindle. Trying to think of a suitable headline that partners Kindle and swindle.
📌 The pressure group We Own It has been has been doggedly pushing the anti-privatisation agenda for some time, but in the energy crisis has finally found a comfy home for its gently hectoring brand of market socialism. Its latest report tells us that the price rise of publicly-owned French energy is 4%. whereas the UK’s us 54%. Voters who switched from Labour to Conservative in the 2019 election are especially outraged, it says.
📌 The Tortoise has a fabulously precise explainer on the Sweden/Finland Nato application and the contortions and merry dances Turkey’s (veto-armed) President Erdogan is trying to pull off with both Russia and the US.
📌 The Morning Star advances some compelling arguments against blindly buying into the good-evil narratives that are being attached to Ukraine and Russia, cautioning against the…
…misplaced belief that solidarity with Ukrainians means solidarity with their government.Morning Star editorial
WEDNESDAY 25 In art class we attempted to make a sequence of viewfinder images from an initial square crop, scaling the crop each time to show how one section of a scene can be reduced then expanded to reveal new shapes and patterns.
The process was intriguing but the results disappointing.
📌 You have to imagine that the report on the British withdrawal from Afghanistan, plus the trawl of photographs showing Downing Street misbehaviour during lockdown, plus the Metropolitan Police failure to notice anything is a template for how others in the world see our country. Only then will you get the full picture of the degradation that has set in.
THURSDAY 26 China has its own version of the Beavis & Butthead generation. China’s slackers follow the credo of ban lai, which hinges on a refusal to meet society’s unrealistically competitive expectations, preferring instead to watch telly, and play nihilistic video games.
📌 Toynbee Hall is East London’s liberal-humanist citadel of do-gooding. We visited yesterday as guests of City Advice, for whom we act as advocates locally. It was an impressive set-up and offered a glimmer of hope that good can still be done regardless of how civic standards seem to have fallen.
📌 Delivered the finished stitchwork of Cecil’s drawing.
📌 Sam’s spaniel looks a bit glum.
FRIDAY 27 The doctor says I need a new blood test because my potassium levels are slightly elevated. We talked about the number of tomatoes and bananas I eat and something new called the “e-consultation”, in which you put all your chit-chat preliminary symptom description in an email before any real contact with a doctor. I’m quite looking forward to trying it.
📌 At Danielle’s birthday supper last night in a lovely pub in Canonbury we moaned about the state of British politics and wondered pessimistically what the future held for institutions such as the BBC and the NHS. They have been ever-present in our lives but now face destruction. As if it had been eavesdropping, the Morning Star today once again argues for greater public ownership, especially of essentials such as energy provision.
Take it into public ownership. In one single act the manifest problems of investing in a modern and reliable delivery of energy to industry and domestic consumers becomes not the subject of anxious preoccupation for shareholders and bosses but the subject of a rational planning regime in the public sector.Editorial, the Morning Star
📌 Watching Liverpool play football is incredibly stressful. Today it is made even more stressful by the presence of my sister, who vents every conceivable emotion in a 90-minute window of psychological outpouring. Real Madrid are the common thieves of the beautiful game. Pickpockets was the word I wanted to use in the context of this game, but that makes me sound like a bad loser. The referee was French. My heart, as always, was with the fans.
SUNDAY 29 Once again the shambolic organisation of a sporting event overshadows the actual contest.
📌 Again I expected to be bored stuff at a choir concert at the Barbican featuring my wife and the LSO Community Choir, but was again pleasantly surprised.
MONDAY 30 Very convincing essay in the Guardian describing a twisted form of the capitalist economic model that now prevails in Britain. There is no risk attached to profit, and the state has become the underwriter-in-chief for business.
Now that the retail price of energy is effectively decided by Ofgem, the soaring profits of energy giants such as Shell have to be understood as official UK government policy.
TUESDAY 31 There was a sociologist on the radio who gave a class analysis of cricket, saying that historically batsmen were the bosses and bowlers the workers.
📌 Also on the radio, as reported by my wife, was a story about an art exhibition in Baltimore, USA, curated by the gallery’s security staff.