SATURDAY 1 A message arrived from our friend Sue applauding our choice of birthday card. It was an inspired finding by my wife because the image is such an accurate depiction of Sue.
📌 The most scenic of our train rides so far has been the onward journey from Toulouse through the Corbières and Fitou wine regions to Narbonne and from Narbonne to Figueres on the Barcelona train.
📌 First night in Figueres was so relaxing I nodded off early.
📌 In the evening our friend Liane told me how much she likes to try food in tins, but did not believe me when I told her that a complete Christmas dinner is available in a tin. She was horrified by what she saw next…
SUNDAY 2 I learned in the Ed McBain book Cop Hater, that burglary in the US (as defined by Penal Law, Section 402) carries a minimum prison sentence of 10 years. Of course, this could be fiction, but even in the land of make-believe, 10 years in the slammer for burglary is symbolic of a society powerfully determined to protect personal property.
📌 I like to think of my stitchwork tote bags as street art. They are made to be used, not to sit around waiting to be looked at. I visualise them full of courgettes and potatoes stretched and knobbled by their contents. This is as close to street art as I can get, so I was glad to learn I am not the only one travelling this lonely road.
MONDAY 3 Tancat is the Catalan word for “closed”. Thankfully that doesn’t prohibit the sale of wine to go with the cassoulet and the glorious night skies.
📌 So sad to learn that Eamonn has died suddenly at 74. Still have great memories of long chats about photography and drinks with him and Bailey in the Sekforde Arms.
TUESDAY 4 In Figueres the surreal and the ultra conventional seem to fit together perfectly, which is a cultural achievement all by itself. And this unusual chemistry even seeps into the corners of everyday life. Out on the street you can find a 40-metre Salvador Dalí table spoon plonked on a grass verge next to the humble Spanish rambla. Indoors our friend was presented with a Liverpool FC birthday cake even though he supports West Ham United.
📌 The Art Class topic was “Gravitation”. I spent several hours debating with myself the difference between “gravitation” and “gravity” and concluded there wasn’t much, but used my research as the starting point for an image depicting gravitational waves.
📌 At Graham’s birthday lunch…
📌 The Fig-Leaf stitchwork is starting to look frighteningly like a Christmas tree.
WEDNESDAY 5 Rafael Behr says Liz Truss is the Conservative Party’s equivalent of Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, a freak leader who isn’t really up to the job.
📌 Last day in Cataluña included a pool party at Sally & Nigel’s place in Pau followed by a feisty game of poker back in Figueres. Then began the desperate attempt to cram the suitcases and the prospect of our onward journey to Lyon tomorrow.
THURSDAY 6 The train journey from Figueres to Lyon takes in some spectacular scenery, a joy after the calamity of losing my glasses somewhere on Figueres railway station.
📌 A £25 win on the Premium Bonds was welcome news from back in the UK, plus a few bizarre headlines from the newspapers on the fortunes of our struggling prime minister in the wake of her party conference speech, which failed to impress anyone.
📌 It turned out that my glasses were not lost somewhere at Figueres railway station, they had dropped off the string holding them around my neck and slipped between two seats. The accident happened as I foolishly attempted to load an overweight suitcase onto the overhead luggage rack. While I exited the train at Lyon my wife and our two friends, Liz and Bill, searched and found the missing spectacles and the prospect of three days without them disappeared instantly. Phew!
📌 We hit the ground running in Lyon with a walk around our neighbourhood and a drink at the Funky Monkey.
📌 At Lyon’s Museum of Printing and Typography we learned that as fast as printing methods and technologies advanced throughout the centuries so did great leaps forward in paper technology. As bigger and bigger print runs came about to satisfy the appetites of the reading masses, tougher paper stocks were developed, culminating in the indestructible polymer “paper” varieties we see today used to make bank notes.
📌 The streets around our aparthotel room in the Jacobins area are reassuringly lively and the Lyonnais obviously take seriously their city’s reputation as a mecca for food and drink.
FRIDAY 7 All the headlines say the meeting in Prague between Liz Truss and Emmanuel Macron was the start of a beautiful friendship. I seriously doubt that, but it looks good for her, with everyone except the lunatic fringes of the Conservative Party, with whom she will face a lot of grief once she’s back in London. The Guardian’s analysis of Macron’s European Political Group (EPG) meeting was cautious in its praise and expresses the hope that the EPG does not try to become “an anteroom for the EU”. But I think that’s exactly what the EU needs if it is not to disintegrate under the weight of its own dysfunction.
📌 At the Musée des Beaux-Arts I somehow got distracted from the excellent Egypt exhibition and became fascinated by faces of all kinds, though not many of the multitudes of tortured biblical visages my wife dislikes with such intensity.
📌 At lunch in the Old Town we discovered Lyon has an especially tasty local beer.
📌 My obsession with faces continued at the puppet museum and at the museum of the cinema, a nerd’s paradise that brings together miniature film sets, scene details and original artefacts film creatives use to make movies. Plastic heads of Thelma & Louise were a high point.
📌 In news from elsewhere I was very happy to learn that Liverpool is to host next year’s Eurovision Song Contest on behalf of Ukraine and bemused to be told by BBC World News that Vladimir Putin was given a tractor for his 70th birthday.
SATURDAY 8 Yesterday we travelled by funicular to a cathedral at the top of a hill, from where we got a panoramic view of Lyon. I complained about the trees obscuring part of our vista.
📌 At the museum of contemporary art they had a big concept in action called the Manifesto of Fragility. It was surprisingly coherent for such a vague title, pushing together two themed exhibitions – one about life and death and another about place and society. The first I won’t pretend to understand, the second was a compelling study of modern Lebanese art that featured, says my wife, an unusually large number of women artists. The collection made us want to visit Beirut.
📌 Lunch in Jacobins after a minor scare about a missing wallet (eventually found safe and sound) included a creamy mushroom soup and what amounted to a poached-egg bourgignon, better known as oeufs en meurette.
📌 My wife thinks Lyon has an awful lot of piano shops. And too many car parks in prime riverside locations.
📌 On an afternoon cruise on the River Saône the tour guide managed to pull off the most exquisite performance of “bored” ever seen.
SUNDAY 9 The anti-Liz (Truss) stories are both mounting and gathering pace. Simon Jenkins urges Tory MPs to remove her immediately and install Michael Gove as caretaker. I can’t see that happening because it would signal to the public that the Conservative Party is a dead duck. Minimising the size of the defeat at the next election is the only way forward for most MPs.
📌 Whenever we visit art galleries in other cities I especially enjoy seeing the work of local and native artists. Here in Lyon from the Musée des Beaux-Arts my favourite Lyonnaise artist was David Girin.
📌 The train journey from Lyon to Paris leaves you with no doubt why agriculture holds such a precious grip on the French psyche.
📌 It’s 10 years to the day since the stroke that nearly killed me. I’d never wish to be sentimental about the road I’ve travelled since then, but having lunch in Paris with my wife and sister will be enough for the time being to make me look forward to better times.
MONDAY 10 Michael Gove yesterday, Rishi Sunak today. The list of suggested caretaker prime ministers is growing as fast as the widespread belief that the country is politically paralysed.
📌 Returning from holiday always makes me itch for the next one. Travelling by train in Europe feels like a good fit so I’m already on a mission to learn French (because on this trip I fell back in love with the country) and to pore over the Seat 61 website at every opportunity.
TUESDAY 11 The daily prompt from Duolingo to resume my French lessons included a promotional note saying that more people are currently learning to speak Irish on Duolingo than there are native Irish speakers.
📌 I read some news yesterday that school teachers trying to control disruptive pupils have discovered a common cause for bad behaviour: hunger. Then this morning celebrity chef Jamie Oliver gave a radio interview arguing for the extension of free school meals. He made some very dismissive remarks about politicians – the PM included – who claim to want growth in the economy but refuse to accept that only a healthy, properly fed population can make it happen.
📌 I’d like to think Covid accidentally spawned a new virus that infects people with kindness. In France recently I experienced a concern for my wellbeing from railway staff that seemed quite spooky at the time (for France). And today a bored pharmacist in Boots managed to elide vibrant conversation with medical tickbox questions. Then again, all of this could be because I’m obviously old and decrepit and they pity me.
WEDNESDAY 12 It’s so exciting to watch the prime minister squirming on TV. All the horrible reports depicting her as being totally clueless are given flesh when she tries to answer questions from fellow MPs. What comes out of her mouth is an incontinent stream of nothing. It’s as if her entire method of leadership is built on not explaining anything to anyone.
The Tories are debating their options under Liz Truss like a party of chefs fretting over different ways to unscramble eggs.Rafael Behr, the Guardian
📌 In Art Class we built landscape canvases with tissue paper and PVA glue. Next week we will paint onto it a scene supposedly inspired by Turner.
THURSDAY 13 Liz Truss has labelled her critics the “anti-growth coalition”. For some, being part of this guerilla gang is a badge of honour and need no prompting to reheat the argument that measuring Happiness and wellbeing per head of population is a better indicator of prosperity that GDP per head.
📌 The stitchwork of Cecil’s six crazy hippies drawing is starting to shape up and it’s a dream to work on.
FRIDAY 14 Friends from Brighton came to London yesterday to apply for a visa to visit Goa at Christmas. They’ve recently returned from a trip to Turkey and have a new travellers’ philosophy. Previously their approach was to “leave something to come back for”. In other words, don’t worry if you don’t visit the Louvre on this trip to Paris because it will still be there the next time you visit. This has been a abiding mindset for many years. Until now. Yesterday they said their new philosophy was to treat every exotic holiday as if it’s their last. In Turkey this included taking a dangerous riverboat trip from which they very nearly failed to return.
📌 So exciting to be watching the BBC rolling news as Liz Truss’s grip on her government fades to nothing. I was fascinated watching Boris Johnson’s exit, but with every minute Truss makes Britain look like it’s in the last act of a disaster movie. In Spain recently I was surprised to see how interested TV news pundits were in this UK political car crash.
📌 To the Royal Academy for a last chance to see the fabulous Milton Avery exhibition. Rarely does a collection show so well an artist’s artistic progress through line, composition and colour. The portraits were our favourites, though it was fascinating to see how Avery’s portraiture came to influence and change his landscapes so dramatically.
SATURDAY 15 In an interview with a poultry farmer on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today we heard how annual attacks of bird flu have forced farmers to shield chickens in barns to avoid infection. This means that fewer free-range eggs can be produced. With no remedy or vaccination programme against avian flu, free-range eggs will disappear from British shops.
📌 Marina Hyde has a great idea for identifying the 80,000 Conservative members who voted for Liz Truss to become prime minister. Dip their fingers in indelible ink so you know who they are, and if you find yourself standing next to one of them in a queue, you can pass on your thoughts about what they did to your country.
SUNDAY 16 I can imagine only one fanciful scenario in which the Conservatives can rescue their perilous position: persuade Liz Truss to call a general election then quickly sack her and reinstall Boris by coronation. Even that might not work, but they are finished as a political force for the time being, so the sooner they go the better.
📌 The BBC’s News 24 is wall-to wall speculation and doom about how many more days Liz Truss can last as PM.
MONDAY 17 New chancellor Jeremy Hunt has dismantled all of Liz Truss’s economic plans and Liz herself has gone into hiding and is refusing to answer questions in parliament. The drama is intense, so it was fitting that I found time to turn my attention to the moody skies of JMW Turner in preparation for this week’s Art Class, in which we will paint in the style of Turner on to the canvases we made last week using coloured tissue paper and PVA glue.
📌 There’s serious speculation among the TV political pundits on whether the return of Boris is imminent.
📌 Penny Mordaunt did a surprisingly efficient job of needling Keir Starmer in parliament this afternoon.
📌 My wife bumped into a local resident today who’d had her electricity cut off and was looking for advice, and candles.
TUESDAY 18 Sympathy for Liz Truss must be in short supply right now. Few will have noticed the undertones of misogyny that shade all the dismissals of incompetence and heartlessness that have been heaped upon her over her casual crashing of the UK economy. But don’t forget for one moment, says Owen Jones, that the Conservative Party is a killing machine and soon she will be gone. Her new chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, might look like a smiley, benign, common-sense veteran of British politics right now, but underneath all the faux gravitas he is an evil austerity monster. So don’t rush to rehabilitate Liz Truss once she’s been dispatched by her own people (cf Theresa May) because she is, and always will be, a part of the Conservative coalition from 2010 onwards, that has reduced Britain to this sorry state.
📌 St Luke’s was buzzing today as it was St Luke’s Day. I was reminded what an exemplar of a community centre it is, working with and for the South Islington/City of London people with great results. I became a fixture, sitting on the sofa in reception doing some stitchwork while fun and laughter rang out all around me. I was also reminded that St Luke was the patron saint of physicians and artists.
📌 More speculation on which Tory MP will eventually replace Liz Truss: Theresa May. Plus unattributed quote: “She’s competent. She’s boring. She’ll calm things down.”
WEDNESDAY 19 On the radio last night was a compelling programme titled I Dressed Ziggy Stardust. In it several British Asian women spoke of the influence David Bowie had on their developing sense of identity as young women.
📌 Some reports are suggesting Liz Truss will call a general election today.
📌 She didn’t. She opted for squirming and hectoring instead.
📌 In Art Class we finished our landscapes supposedly inspired by JMW Turner. Nearly everyone else went for an acid-trip interpretation. I chose something I like to call formal but others would call anal, featuring horizontals, and diagonals in the form of overhead telegraph cables and a railway track. I might drop the sky a bit lower and work more on that. The soft-focus horizon is too high in the picture, the roughly ploughed field too dominant.
📌 The government is falling apart hour by hour.
📌 At our local allotment committee meeting we discussed ways to sanction growers who neglect their plots. We call them “Hoggers” because they refuse to surrender the tenancy of the allotment space while keener new growers languish on the waiting list itching to get some carrots growing.
📌 Liz Truss is obviously a fan of Susie Dent’s Word Of The Day – latibulate – which means to find a corner and hide in it.
THURSDAY 20 I don’t think I’ll ever understand the person who gets on the bus and stands searching in their bag for their bus pass.
📌 I’m no fan of Liz Truss, but I enjoy following her determination to tell the “men in grey suits” to shove it. Conservative MPs are complaining incessantly that Truss is a PINO (Prime Minister In Name Only) and that she should resign for “the good of the Party”, but they are lying. They want her to resign so they might get to keep their jobs. Just as I finished writing that sentence, a notification popped up on my phone…
I told Tim sitting nearby that the prime minister had just resigned and he replied: “Which one?”
📌 At Headway we had a batik workshop and I made a cotton flag.
FRIDAY 21 People who drone on that Liz Truss has been treated unfairly and “wasn’t given enough time” to prove her political genius really should check in with reality sometime soon. The facts of her shambles are laid out carefully in an article in the London Review of Books (LRB) by John Lanchester, who states quite clearly that pushing through unfunded tax cuts because that’s what you pledged at your job interview was always destined to hit a brick wall. And so it came to pass that “the markets” turned out to be more Conservative than Liz Truss and gave her big revolutionary plan short shrift, which leaves us in the pitiful state we are now.
📌 At last night’s Headway supper club we had a Guyana Feast with food, drink and art inspired by Cecil’s journey from Guyana to Liverpool as a stowaway in 1958. Between main course and dessert, I interviewed him about his journey. It was hard to stop him talking once he’d started.
📌 It’s so annoying when the ring-pull breaks and you’re forced to dig out the can opener you’d long forgotten how to use.
📌 There’s a mounting belief that the government should abandon the idea of serving out its term of office and accept the role of opposition. The current leadership contest, between all those who lost the last one, is a good guide to where the Conservative Party now stands.
The deserving winner of the race would be the person who can sift through the rubble in the crater where Truss’s economic plans blew up and apologise for amassing so much combustible delusion over so many years.Rafael Behr, the Guardian
SATURDAY 22 It’s exciting to hear that Boris is to return from his Caribbean holiday to appear in the Conservative Party leadership pantomime. Pity there won’t be enough time for him and Rishi to appear live on TV ripping into each other’s plans to steady the ship. Boris is reported to have phoned a friend in Britain and uttered the words, “I’m going to give it a go, Dudders [Sir James Duddridge]”.
📌 I think we know who “the markets” would vote for.
📌 The partying women stitchwork for Vera’s daughter is finished and, as ever, the reverse side is more interesting than the front…
📌 Marc, the son of one of our recently-departed neighbours, Joan, held a small memorial cake-eating session in honour of his mother and told us some stories about her. She tried very hard and failed to get the young Marc interested in oriental art and ballet. And when he introduced one of his girlfriends to her, Joan remarked on what “healthy gums” she had.
SUNDAY 23 In the Observer Will Hutton writes one of his irritatingly strident columns saying what he’d do if he ran the country. As annoying as these columns are in their tone, they often make some good points, the main one here being that Britain’s economic descent is not inevitable.
📌 I had a dream last night in which Oprah Winfrey ignored me. I said to her, “Are you ignoring me?” and she just carried on ignoring me.
📌 Barbican Cinema has started 11am Sunday screenings. The Banshees Of Inisherin is a beautiful piece of melancholy wrapped up in spudfarm Irish humour featuring two friends who somehow start to fight with each other on a tiny Island during the Irish Civil war. The acting is superb, the story sad verging on tragic. The set shots look like paintings and the characters, even the animals, are loveable.
MONDAY 24 As predicted Boris couldn’t muster the 100 pledges of support he needed to join the Conservative Party leadership contest. He pretended that he did, but no-one believed him and he is back out in the cold. He has hinted at a future return but his fate now looks more and more like a sad cross between Nigel Farage and Donald Trump. If he is eventually suspended for having misled Parliament, he will effectively be out of British politics for good. Can’t help thinking, though, that any Boris side-show will assist the passage of the vicious austerity clampdown Rishi has in stall for us.
📌 The super rich once again have their hands on the neck of British politics. They just look a bit different from the last lot.
📌 To become prime minister, Rishi is said to have got 191 votes of support from his fellow Conservative MPs, of whom there are a total of 357.
📌 I don’t think any of the contestants on TV’s Pointless are interested in the paltry sums of money they might or might not win. All they want is the coveted Pointless trophy.
TUESDAY 25 Rishi has started by telling us we face profound economic problems. What he seems happy to overlook on his first day in office is that he was a key player in the team that brought it about, something I’m sure his opponents will point out in the coming weeks.
📌 The Moggster has bailed out already, depriving Rishi of the pleasure of leaving his footprint on the seat of those chalk-stripe trousers.
WEDNESDAY 26 Rishi has started his new job by trying to put all of the toys back in the pram, as if Liz Truss’s reign was an interregnum of petulance from which the Conservatives can now emerge refreshed. He has reinstalled the ultra lunatic Suella Braverman in the Home Office, and Michael Gove, who appears to make his way through British politics pretending to be Billy No Mates.
Rishi also wants the party to return to the 2019 election manifesto pledges, on which they won a stonking majority. He wants his appointment as PM to be seen as the start of a new era. One headline-writer dubbed it the start of a “new error”.
📌 In her leaving speech Liz Truss pronounced the name of the ancient philosopher Seneca as “Seneeka”, not to be confused with the 80s pop singer.
📌 Been trying to name songs with big singalong ironic choruses. Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World and Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The USA stand out, but it’s a struggle to find British examples.
📌 Fine viscose machine threads delivered for super-detail stitchwork. Happy days!
THURSDAY 27 A powerful hour-long radio story about dementia, The Door In The Pillow, made me stop to think harder about a subject I’ve unconsciously been avoiding for some time.
📌 Around 20% of global warming is caused by “agricultural methane”, which is shorthand for cow poo and farts. And the EU is so hooked on animal agribusiness that it is failing its pledge to reduce its methane emissions. What I wanted to know is whether animal methane can be repurposed to heat cold homes. And the answer is YES, but of course the “complex” reasons for not doing it prevail.
📌 Rishi’s rise to the top job prompts a fascinating article in the Guardian on how the Tories have beaten Labour in winning the support of wealthy Hindus.
📌 Rumours circulate that Rishi deliberately reappointed leaky Suella so that he could quickly lance the ERG boil.
📌 At Headway Alex told me she had a dream in which I was embroidering pink marshmallows. I forgot to ask if she was medicating at the time.
📌 Jennifer sent the booklet that came from the online curated collection I did of the Monash University artworks. It’s better quality than I imagined.
FRIDAY 28 A mole inspection of my upper body did not reveal anything to worry about. The test for bowel cancer was likewise reassuring.
📌 Liz Truss had asked King Charles III not to attend the Cop27 climate summit and surprisingly he agreed. Rishi will not attend either, which might in fact irritate the new King even more, given his passion for the subject and Britain’s self-exclusion from the debate.
📌 At a Headway meeting to thrash out brain-injury ideas for next year’s exhibition in the Curve Gallery at the Barbican I made myself unpopular by suggesting that the first experience visitors should have on entering the exhibition is to be blindfolded and subjected to the noise of an MRI scanner drilling through their skull.
SATURDAY 29 At the Headway/Barbican brainstorm Mike once again got told off for taking photographs. I understand the privacy concern, but Mike’s brain injury left him with poor short-term memory and he uses photographs to remember the immediate past.
📌 While playing minder to Séan, 12, last night I tried to get him interested in Taskmaster. He preferred Ghosts.
📌 RIP Ian Jack, a gent and a lovely prose stylist. Got to work with him very briefly at the Independent On Sunday.
📌 Whenever visitors come to stay we inevitably end up watching TV programmes that wouldn’t normally enter our radar. Tonight it was a show called I Can See Your Voice.
SUNDAY 30 The day after an evening entertaining guests always means the fridge is in a mess. My wife has a slapdash attitude to principles such as placing non-dairy foodstuffs on the Dairy Shelf (olives, I ask you!). And she gives space priority to half-finished bottles of wine over essentials such as milk.
📌 To keep him amused last night I gave 12-year-old Séan my iPad to explore and he used one of the apps to create a digital illustration announcing “Billy is the best”. The painting was revealing in another way: for years I have been spelling his name wrong.
📌 My wife told me the Russell & Bromley shoes I put on today looked “a bit Old Man”.
📌 To the Barbican for Symphonic Gospel, mainly because the remnants of my wife’s disbanded community choir were on stage. I shouldn’t complain about Gospel being what Gospel has become, but I found the experience both preachy and slightly creepy. The conductor, André Thomas, used the performance to deliver a succession of corny black-history homilies when all I wanted was to enjoy the beauty of hearing and watching lots of people singing together.
MONDAY 31 Not sure I’ll be watching any of the World Cup from Qatar, which begins in November.
📌 Blocked kitchen sink and neither of us can remember where we put the Big Plunger.
📌 Big Plunger located in that place we had long ago designated for the Big Plunger and other such stuff.
📌 There came an almighty glug and the kitchen sink was unblocked and sanity restored.
Read all of my scrapbook diaries…
PLEASE MESSAGE WITH ANY CORRECTIONS, BIG OR SMALL.