January 1-7, 2023
SUNDAY 1 I’ve never known a New Year’s Day to be special, but today it was, and probably not really. Nine people and a dog got up very late, had breakfast, then eight of them marched across Winchester to a pub called The Queen. There they sat drinking micro-brewery beer and wine, ate several bowls of freshly-cooked chips and walked home in the rain. Oh, the joy, topped by a quick portrait of the dog in our group, Myrtle.
MONDAY 2 The taking down of the Christmas decorations is a reminder that the holiday is over and normal service will soon be resumed. The Guardian’s First Edition newsletter has a postulation on what might happen in Ukraine over the coming year as relentless drone bombing continues. The idea that the conflict is about Ukraine’s relationship with Russia has long since disappeared. It is to do with Vladimir Putin’s hold over the Russian people and his determination to test the resolve of the United States in maintaining its own world-power status. China could end up being the winner in this global conflict that is still sometimes portrayed as a little local squirmish.
📌 I was so happy with the AI painting of Jill’s dog Myrtle that I decided to work on some variations.
📌 The loaf of soda bread I intended to make this afternoon for our evening “cheese feast” quickly became the loaf of rye bread we had in the freezer from before Christmas.
TUESDAY 3 A running source of irritation in our household recently has been the switchover of ITV Hub to ITV X. The old Hub, which was basically a catchup service for online TV users (ie, Smart TVs, tablets, laptops, etc) was, with the launch of ITV X (a super new streaming service, plus catchup), supposed to happen automatically on all devices. And on our digital devices it did happen automatically (ITV Hub magically became ITV X), but not on our TV. It emerged that some older Smart TVs were not capable of dealing with the supersophistication of this new ITV service and were excluded from the switchover, cast aside, like lepers. The worldwide web quickly became awash with anger. We feared that our 3-year-old TV was one of these leprotic contraptions, but last night, determined to restore TV justice, my wife discovered a backdoor way of updating our TV software to include ITV X. Rejoice. Now we can watch A Spy Among Friends.
📌 Alan Bennett’s annual Diary collection for the London Review of Books seems unusually stacked with memoir items. Past installments have included political rage alongside meanderings with Rupert in Yorkshire antique shops. But towards the end of this year’s collection Bennett says that writing about Boris Johnson he found tedious and that Liz Truss had been and gone before he could pick up his pen.
📌 The headlines in the Telegraph are free, but if you try to read the stories a threatening subscription demand pops up before you’ve finished the first sentence. Which just makes you determined to get the story elsewhere.
📌 Finally finished the Ginkgo tree leaf stitchwork by lacing in some yellow after Michael said the Ginkgo at the end of his road is very yellow. Then I hit on the idea of putting real artworks through the AI generator to see what comes out. Below is an AI Impressionist version of my leaf.
📌 My wife started to panic when one of the contestants on Pointless said their name was Alexa. Thankfully, they lost in the first round and exited pronto.
📌 Listening to Michelle Obama reading an extract from her book The Light We Carry made me want to look up the word homily.
WEDNESDAY 4 The lessons on the Casio keyboard I got for Christmas are going well. One of the problems I have is holding my fingers in such a way that hitting the right notes in a chord is natural. Today, on fingering the chords A and G, the first and third fingers of my right hand refuse to stay away from the keyboard as the thumb, middle and little fingers strike the chord. My first finger wants to do what the middle finger should be doing. If I persevere and hold my fingers in the correct position very soon all my fingers ache. I guess the pain is part of the progress, as is the pain of reading back the gibberish I’ve just written.
📌 I just watched Rishi start his big speech about maths lessons in schools and turned it off immediately. He really is a hopeless div. He knows there’s a national shortage of maths teachers yet he pledges more maths lessons with the wide-eyed look of someone who has just discovered that the sky is in fact green and the fields are blue. He then went on to mouth more unconvincing words about change being tough but it’s worth it, etc, which made me glad I’d decided to switch him off in the first place.
📌 We finished the TV series Stonehouse bewildered that we’d failed at the time to spot the absurd humour in the John Stonehouse affair. It all seemed quite serious at the time (and we were very young). Or maybe Matthew MacFadyen’s portrayal of Stonehouse juiced up the ridiculousness of this dimwitted MP into a comedy character for the times we live in. Whatever the case, Stonehouse’s daughter Julia is not a fan of the series.
THURSDAY 5 Writing about his famous 87th Street Precinct crime stories the author Ed McBain (aka Evan Hunter) identified what he called the “conglomerate hero”. Once his publisher had commissioned him to write a series of stories rather than a one-off single story, he developed the idea of the hero as a thing rather than an individual. In each of the 87th Precinct stories the main character, or principal detective, changes, but the environment (McBain’s “mythical city” Isola), the crimes and the police procedures stay fixed. The idea of the conglomerate hero is fascinating and it reminds me that once, while discussing the film Local Hero with my wife, I pompously claimed that the “hero” of Bill Forsyth’s classic 1983 film was not Burt Lancaster but Scotland (and the Scottish).
📌 If for one moment Rishi gets to grips with the job and actually wants to do something the country might one day thank him for, he could start by reading Larry Elliott’s piercing gaze into the future.
Central banks are raising interest rates, exposing the vulnerability of “zombie” companies that have survived only thanks to a prolonged period of low interest rates.Larry Elliot, the Guardian
📌 At Headway Sean, an ex BT engineer, told us he fitted the TV cable to Bob The Builder‘s house. He said Bob (aka actor Neil Morrissey) had a curvy front door that induced a feeling of drunkenness.
📌 Merry, our neighbour’s cat who went missing on Christmas Eve, has been found alive and unharmed.
📌 As I got on the 243 bus at Laburnum Street, the driver was telling the man behind me to pick up the plastic cup he’d just thrown on the ground and to put it in the nearby bin. The driver waited until the man did as he was told, then allowed him to board the bus. Later the same driver actually got off the bus to help a lost passenger locate the correct bus stop for her destination.
📌 Looks like the US Republican Party is following the British Conservative Party.
FRIDAY 6 Corsage, the boring film we saw at the cinema last night, which was basically about a 19th-Century rad-fem empress trapped inside the Austro-Hungarian monarchy (with subtitles), included wacky references to the present day. There were modern pop songs adapted and played on the lute, and at one point the disgruntled empress showed the middle finger to her husband’s dinner guests. But the modern touch I liked most was posh Austrians from the 1870s guzzling pints of lager with their breakfast. It was like an advert for Wetherspoons made by the same agency that does the M&S food ads.
📌 I had a dream that I revisited the office of the magazine at the Guardian I worked on for 20 years before my brain injury. It was now a shop in a mall with loud music, selling all the clothes and homewares featured in the magazine.
📌 The Guardian has a gripping photo gallery showing its top close-up photographs of the year. My favourite is the one of two drops of oil merging to create the image of a shocked alien.