WEDNESDAY 1 News that my art teacher had a puncture and would be late allowed me to lie in bed reading the latest newsletter from It’s Nice That, which rambled on about the continuing rise in design of something called Maximalism.
📌 You can’t beat a Guardian headline determined to conform to stereotype.
📌 The Art Class project this week was to start a self-portrait using the work of Lucian Freud as inspiration.
THURSDAY 2 At a meeting in St Giles church last night, each of our eight local councillors stood up to tell us what they’ve done on our behalf over the past year. As they did, a list of the committees, subcommittees, groups and boards they sit on was projected on to a large screen alongside a photograph of themselves trying to look like they mean business. The lists were useful in the narrow sense of knowing who you need to talk to if you have an issue with, say, rough sleeping or anything to do with small-business rates. In a bigger sense together they illustrated the interminable layers of administration that is the DNA of the City of London Corporation (our Council). This must be one of the most twisted self-feeding governmental beasts ever created. Staring at those lists of council committees was like gazing into a bucket of worms and trying to work out where all the heads and tails join up.
📌 Australia is to take the Queen’s head off its bank notes. Bit hasty if you ask me.
📌 The Conservatives are “practically begging to be put into opposition”, writes Rafael Behr in the Guardian.
📌 One of our friends recently described me as a “cultural disruptor”. I had to look it up, and I think they are probably correct.
📌 The Guardian has a feisty editorial on the way economics is reported in the media and on methods of reporting facts that close the conversation rather than open it.
📌 Spotted an old Citroën LNA parked in Laburnum Street. Didn’t know that LNA stands for Hélèna.
📌 Worked on a few more self portraits for Art Class. I really must stop now.
📌 To the Crick Institute for a Science On Screen showing of the film Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind plus a panel discussion with neuro experts about the functioning of memory. A day’s memories are consolidated during deep sleep, we were told by a Crick scientist.
FRIDAY 3 The dreaded thought for his morning is that the contestant we dislike most on Junior Bake Off for his smug countenance and air of entitled superiority will win this evening’s final.
📌 At Tate Modern’s Cezanne exhibition we learned there wasn’t much he couldn’t do with apples and crumpled tablecloths. But he certainly tried.
📌 Yippee! The much unloved contestant on Junior Bake Off lost to his chief rival, Amelia.
📌 My wife scored 20 in today’s Quordle challenge. I settled down with a glass of white wine to have a go. I got it in 18.
SATURDAY 4 We finished the first season of The White Lotus last night and two impressions stuck. First is the inventive twist on the classic Whodunnit? in which a body is found and the suspects lined up for the guessing game and the ultimate revelation. The White Lotus starts with a coffin and then we’re left to work out which suspect is in it, because they all want to kill each other. The second impression is the beauty of the series’ music – spooky and evocative of Hawaii (the story’s location), but also weirdly hymnal.
📌 Some fella on the 46 bus said hello to another passenger. “Don’t you remember me?” he said, “I saw you in Sainsbury’s 23 years ago.”
📌At the Garden Gate pub in Hampstead for lunch with a friend I learned that adult dogs are lactose intolerant. Except the one we were with, Alfie, who guzzled a dish of Cheddar.
📌 Watching the Six Nations rugby this evening brought to mind the Echo & The Bunnymen song Nothing Ever Lasts Forever. I didn’t know any of the England players toiling against Scotland. The players of my time were Wilkinson, Dawson, Carling, Gusgott, Underwood and Rob Andrew. The only thing that lasts forever is your life.
SUNDAY 5 Nematodes eventually came up at the Golden Baggers allotment group AGM, which was a relief because earlier in the week I had urged fellow allotmenteers to join the Baggers committee by saying that the monthly meetings were “like the Vicar of Dibley with nematodes on the agenda”.
MONDAY 6 It came to me during the gripping final episode of Happy Valley (Season 3) that with the proliferation of on-demand streaming platforms, film and TV have the ability to last longer in the public imagination than they once did. The gap between Season 2 and Season 3 of Happy Valley was 6 years because they were waiting for one of the actors to reach the age of 16. This gap made the new series “much anticipated” in a real sense and thanks to streaming the viewing public was able to watch both of the earlier seasons prior to the latest one.
📌 The countdown has started on the end of Dominic Raab.
📌 Tried focaccia today and, wow what a lovely, easy bread to make.
📌 Liz Truss is patrolling the political seafront again looking confident about a return to power. If she succeeds it will be a real indicator of just how dumb the Conservative Party has become. Labour must be hoping she does.
📌 Even Dominic Raab would be embarrassed by the way Vera treats Kenny.
📌 The weekly Sensemaker published by Tortoise Media is another of those useful newsletters that frees you from reading a lot of long, tortured articles that can be summarised in a few paragraphs.
TUESDAY 7 No doubt prompted by the massive 7.8 earthquake in Turkey, Vice reports of a “newly discovered” subsurface layer of the earth, on which the Earth’s tectonic plates effectively float. This wasn’t news to me. At 15 in school (1975) we learned in Geology class about the Mohirovicic Discontinuity and the Sial, a layer of the Earth made of a silicon-aluminium mix that somehow acted as lubricant on which the Earth’s tectonic plates slipped and slid, bumped and crashed.
📌 Got into a painting frenzy when I really should have been doing something useful and ended up with a weird study of Boris Johnson’s right eye.
WEDNESDAY 8 Might Britain be unconsciously following the French in its inclination toward industrial action?
📌 In Art Class, the task was meant to be the completion of the self-portraits we started last week. I mucked around a lot to show willing but in all honesty I was already sick of the sight of my own face. I did discover the beauty of brushing water into photocopies. The water picks up the printers’ ink and swirls it around willy-nilly. Lots of bad staining but some surprisingly happy accidents, too.
📌 I told Michelle I’d like to do a series of bare trees in stitchwork and asked her to look out for any good examples around her rural home. Next day came an avalanche of tree pictures. I’ll be working on this for the rest of my life.
📌 Vera said Jack Daniel’s is on offer at Waitrose. She bought 3 bottles at £21 each.
THURSDAY 9 It didn’t take Rishi long to get hanging and flogging back at the centre of Conservative Party philosophy.
📌 At Headway writing group our task was to write 100 words with the title ‘The Meaning Of Headway’. I wrote: “Stuart calls Headway The Way Of The Head. Sometimes he says it in Spanish: ‘El camino de la cabeza’, I think it is. He does it in French, too: ‘Le chemin de la tête? Typical Stuart. Masters degree in modern languages, blah. That expression, though – The Way Of the Head – opens up a lot of different ways of looking at it. This Way or that? Which Way to head? Anyway, according to the promo literature, Headway is ‘a charity supporting people affected by brain injury’. Then you then asked me what ‘people affected by…’ means. The only answer I have is Lots.”
Ade wrote a dubious simile in his piece about someone who was “sweating like a lesbian in a fish shop”, closely followed by another one about someone behaving “like a peado in a prep school”. James told us some hair-raising anecdotes about growing up with Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes as family friends.
📌 Interesting to contrast the images used in the news media for the report on the jailing of former Labour MP Jared O’Mara for fiddling his expenses.
📌 Invited to the Crick Institute for the opening of Cut & Paste an exhibition on gene editing. While waiting for the speeches to start we swotted up on Rosalind Franklin, the “Dark Lady of DNA” and the “Sylvia Plath of Molecular Biology”. Rosalind died at 37. She worked alongside Francis Crick and James Watson on the discovery of the structure of DNA but was pushed aside in the acknowledgements. Cristina introduced us to two implausibly young Crick scientists who were committed fan girls of Rosalind Franklin and argued that she should be awarded a Nobel Prize posthumously. The exhibition was packed with questions on the ethical issues around gene editing. Eg, If you could have edited your genes prior to birth, would have given yourself a smaller nose? Would you gene-edit cows so they don’t fart methane? Exciting propositions, but also potentially dangerous was the message.
FRIDAY 10 Chancellor Jeremy Hunt makes the “can’t afford it” plea as if the nation’s wealth was his own.
📌 I think living in London insulates us to the poor state of mobile phone network coverage outside the capital. As soon as you get anywhere outside London you will inevitably run into network blackspots. This is a 21st Century problem, for sure, but unfortunately the 21st Century has spawned a generation for whom connectivity is power. A class system based on network availability/affordability is the inevitable outcome.
📌 We finished Season 2 of The White Lotus and its novel take on the Whodunnit dramatic pattern continued right up to the final revelation. Plus a cast of brilliant characters. I caught a whiff of Ruth Rendell in their paranoia and desperation, softened with empathetic humour.
SATURDAY 11 In Brighton for a civil-ceremony party, plus a chance to wander around seeing what’s changed since we lived here. The charity shops in Brighton still offer some surprises.
📌 Seriously pleased to see our Brighton friend recovering from major surgery in such fantastic spirit, slimmed and looking good. A lot of determined physiotherapy to come, but the will to get strong and back in action is definitely there.
SUNDAY 12 It was a joy at last night’s civil-ceremony party to bump into old friends we haven’t seen for years. It made us realise how much we miss them.
📌 Failed to stop a sneeze and spilled hot tea not only all over myself and the duvet but into the small plastic pot in which I store my daily meds. They promptly turned into a pool of pharmaceutical sludge that I had to flush down the toilet.
📌 No one would ever dare put the headline on it, but “Lockdown Was A Capitalist Con” is the upshot of a Larry Elliott piece in the Guardian.
📌 The rail-replacement bus driver took the Dyke Road roundabout a bit too fast and ejected a toddler from a pushchair.
📌 Our friends were dogsitting a two-year-old called Little Ernie, which opened up the opportunity for a cute AI portrait in “the style of” Vincent van Gogh.
📌 MONDAY 13 Fascinating revelations in the Guardian about Wagner, the state-sponsored Russian terror group who’ve taken over military operations in Ukraine, and the total breakdown of the Russian laws they are supposedly subject to.
📌 Making progress with a stitchwork of Tirzah’s Mr Angry emoji from her big brain painting.
TUESDAY 14 I’m told the dress code for this evening’s Valentines surprise is smart-casual.
📌 I asked a friend recently about her son, now at university, and she described his lifestyle: Uber taxicabs everywhere and ordering meals from Deliveroo, etc. It’s a far cry from our student days, we agreed, when how to create something inspiring from a can of tomato soup was a big part of our lives. But as a fabulous essay in the latest issue of the London Review of Books makes clear, generational separation is obviously no new thing. The essay’s author, a university teacher, grumbles at some of the habits GenZ has adopted to distinguish itself from its elders, but the most serious crime he could name is overusing the word “relatable”. Not being able to use a can opener would have been my choice.
WEDNESDAY 15 Last night’s Valentine’s Surprise was a seat in the Barbican’s main theatre to see a screening of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet accompanied by a choir singing songs from the film to juice up the tragedy of the story. As if it needed juicing up. It was a strange experience, two of life’s veterans surrounded by young couples still feeling their way in the relationships game. Some of the women clutched bunches of flowers and some of the men thought it OK to barge out of the performance mid-scene to get more beer. My wife said Juliet (Claire Danes) was nowhere near “alluring” enough for a young Leo Dicaprio (Romeo).
📌 To add a bit of spice to my gym sessions I stepped on to the treadmill and started the Grand Staircase Hike, which the machine describes as “a sequence of layered sedimentary rock that stretches across Arizona and Utah… Get ready for a geological rainbow, from the pink sands of Zion Canyon, to the orange hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, to the black volcanic debris of Sunset Crater.”
📌 Nicola Sturgeon has quit. She looked quite tearful during her speech and I’m not sure she’s the type to fake it.
📌 In Art Class last week we did exaggerated portraits and I took a photo of our friend Marge and distorted it in the Photo Booth app. Marge then used the photo to create her own self-portrait, which IMHO is brilliant.
📌 Raquel Welch, RIP at 82.
THURSDAY 16 Someone at the Guardian has decided it’s time to let Simon Jenkins hang himself. His argument today that bad apples (BBC chair Richard Sharp) are best left inside the barrel is clearly the sign of a thoughtful man on the brink of insanity.
📌 Lancashire police are rightly in hot water over the decision the publicise personal details of a missing person it had previously described as suffering from “vulnerabilities”. Can’t help thinking this is the thin end of a very ugly wedge.
📌 At the Headway writing group (soon to be renamed Babyshoes) our assignment was to write 100 words exactly on Political Correctness. Mine was: “It wasn’t the right time to say it. The female members in the group were an edgy coalition of hardline fems and blue-stocking passive aggressors. He tried to picture the scene if he said it… ‘Why don’t we just simplify the solution and put signs on the toilet doors saying PENIS and VAGINA. Males who think of themselves as women but still have a penis go in the PENIS door. And females who think of themselves as men but don’t yet have a penis enter via the VAGINA.’ He thought that last line might get a much-needed laugh. It didn’t.”
📌 Keir Starmer’s anti-Corbyn mission has a real chance of blowing up in his face. It is a gift to his enemies.
📌 To Barbican Cinema 3 for Women Talking, a film on domestic abuse in a 21st Century US religious community and an “imagined” rebellion by the abused women. The grim subject matter was lifted by a stellar cast (Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Frances McDormand), amazing photography and a superb story structure that turned a group debate on what to do about the rapists within the community into a what felt like a courtroom drama.
FRIDAY 17 My wife bought a fabulous new nightie at Primark. It features a design by the artist Keith Haring. We kept calling him Richard Herring, who is a comedian and a master blogger.
📌 Hardline Unionists and the ERG are talking tough, but Rishi desperately needs a political win and his fudge on the Northern Ireland Protocol is a chance to make himself look vaguely competent.
📌 A confederacy of dunce politicians is getting wound up by the idea of the “15-minute City”, a “socialist conspiracy” that makes it easy for everyone to get to schools, hospitals, shops and bus stops.
📌 Sat quietly in the Barbican listening to three middle-class 30ish men talking. First they raked over the problems for Russia in its war with Ukraine. Then they moved on to female fertility. One of them reported a fateful look in the eyes of some of his 31-year-old childless female friends. He was very specific about the 31.
📌 I started to laugh uncontrollably while typing this SMS to my wife. Anyone looking over my shoulder must have been puzzled.
📌 Photographically, the Barbican just never stops giving.
SATURDAY 18 A New Statesman article reports journalists quitting the BBC in droves after chair Richard Sharp was revealed to have been Boris’s favourite financial advisor. What the article doesn’t say but suggests is that government toadies such as Sharp are deliberately placed inside public institutions not to innovate or to develop the enterprise but to suffocate it. The article describes a rotting process at work. What this means for the future of public-service broadcasting is hard to say. It would be nice to think that all the TV and radio stars nurtured by the BBC would coalesce into a public-service broadcasting equivalent of United Artists, the US film corporation started in the 1920s by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and DW Griffith. It would be nice also to think that any new talent-led broadcasting collective did not suffer the same fate (SOLD) as UA did.
📌 At our neighbour Dave’s birthday party in Fish Central he told us about working as a civil engineer on the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, which he says was built too close to an area of seismic activity. Dave also told us he warned of the possible collapse of the Gerard’s Cross Tunnel but was ignored.
SUNDAY 19 We finished the TV detective series The Gold last night. The story centred on the 1983 Brink’s-Mat bullion robbery but stretched its limbs to become a fabulous study of British class using gold as the signifier.
📌 Labour has its work cut out if it is to benefit from the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon and win the hearts of Scottish voters, writes Andrew Rawnsley. Watch out for the re-emergence of veteran Scottish Labour people such as Gordon Brown and Douglas Alexander. But don’t assume Scottish Independence has been buried with Sturgeon’s departure.
There is a chunky majority for independence among Scots who are younger than 50. There’s also evidence that Scots don’t change pro-independence views as they get older. If demography is destiny, and if something big does not change, Scotland is on a trajectory towards separation at some point.Andrew Rawnsley, the Observer
Scottish Independence is coming one day, so Labour needs to soft-land it by finding a way to dress up Unionism in a way that makes it look very like Independence.
📌 The Angry Man stitchwork emoji is finished and about the size of a coaster… Or a sew-on patch.
MONDAY 20 The Netflix film All Quiet on the Western Front has won a heap of Baftas. In Germany it has been ridiculed as over-simplistic and “horny for Oscars”. Dramatising the power of pacifism might not be an entirely bad thing, says an article in the New Statesman, and the film’s success, plus the unfolding Russia-Ukraine conflict, is an opportunity to reflect more deeply on how German attitudes to peace and war have evolved through the 20th Century into the 21st.
📌 Rishi is dithering over the Northern Ireland Protocol. If he pushes on with his new deal with the EU he will alienate the DUP and the lunatic fringe of the Conservative Party. If he doesn’t he will miss the chance to remake the Conservative Party in a form that might one day make it fit for a return to government.
TUESDAY 21 Yesterday my wife felt slightly unwell, did a COVID test and watched the dreaded two lines appear on the test strip. Today I will be banished to the spare bedroom to practice scales on my Casio keyboard and devise meals made from whatever is in the freezer. Fingers crossed I don’t get infected. My wife’s temperament always takes an annoying dip when she’s ill, so if I get infected too, there will be two bad moods in competition.
📌 Sam is back working in colour with a very cuddly specimen.
📌 According to a Tortoise podcast, the main point of Prince Harry’s book Spare has been missed. Yes, he had a scrap with his brother. Yes, he had it off with a posh woman in a field behind a pub. But the real thrust of Spare, says the Tortoise reporter, is Harry’s psycho revenge mission against the British tabloid press, who he blames for killing his mother when he was just 12 years old.
WEDNESDAY 22 Doing Art Class remotely (wife has COVID). The project is to draw/paint one of our classmates. I had an old photo of Sheila, so she became my subject…
📌 The government is trying to pull a divide-and-conquer stunt with striking health-service workers. It is targeting elite workers and their unions hoping they will betray their colleagues further down the chain. If the RCN (Royal College of Nurses) caves in, the doctors will be next. But higher pay for select groups, even if accepted, will not end the long queues of ambulances sat outside hospitals or move patients from hospitals to social care any faster. But it might give Rishi a good-news story to tell ahead of the May elections.
THURSDAY 23 Interested to learn that the V&A has “acquired” a vast collection of David Bowie memorabilia and is to use it to launch a new gallery of the performing arts in east London. This is good news and let’s hope the definition of the performing arts stretches down into popular culture. It would be fitting for the V&A to host an exhibition of, say, the costumes worn on TV’s Strictly Come Dancing. But that is unlikely. Interesting also to note that the planned David Bowie wing of the V&A has attracted funding from the controversial Len Blavatnik, a slippery philanthropist who likes to have his surname added to important cultural buildings.
📌 Boris is determined to leave British politics with a bang. If he pitches himself against Rishi over Northern Ireland there really can be only one winner.
📌 We’re visiting Liverpool in March so my wife and her friend can see Elton John in concert. The date got bumped to make way for the Eurovision Song Contest, which Liverpool is hosting on behalf of Ukraine. We’ll be in the city for five days, with plenty of time to explore, but the habit of roaming the streets alone with open eyes as I did in when I was 17 will look suspicious now I am no longer an impressionable youth. It might even look creepy.
FRIDAY 24 Rishi should stand firm against the lunatics in his own party and push his Northern Ireland Protocol plan through parliament, writes David Gauke in the New Statesman, echoing what I wrote here on Monday.
📌 When my wife tested positive for Covid on Sunday we knew we’d be locked indoors with makeshift meals and TV box sets. We’re at the end of Season 1 of The Morning Show and things are looking positive. Or negative.
📌 To the Barbican for a talking shop on how arts institutions can do power sharing with communities.
📌 There is general agreement in our house that Ralf Little is the worst ever Death In Paradise cop.
SATURDAY 25 One week on and Rishi is still dithering over how he can successfully parlay his solution to the failures of Boris’s Northern Ireland Protocol. No one seems interested in selling the idea that Northern Ireland inside the EU and the rest of Britain outside it could be a good thing.
📌 Fascinating background story on Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine a year ago and what might have been had Western European nations acted differently.
📌 Whatever happened to the idea that in tough times businesses should favour customers over shareholders. Tesco Mobile writes to tell me that from April my monthly tariff will go up by 10.5%. Could that increase not at least be split and shareholders accept lower profits and reduced dividends until better times return?
📌 The Socialist Worker reports that 98% of junior doctors voted in favour of strike action on a turnout of 77%.
📌 I wonder if Rishi will unveil his Northern Ireland Protocol fix by saying Boris’s “oven-ready deal” has been defrosted, cooked and is now ready to eat.
SUNDAY 26 Last night we were invited by Sandra to the basement room of a Pizza Express restaurant in Holborn, where we ate pizza, drank wine and watched a Steely Dan tribute band. What the 11-piece ensemble lacked in meeting the poetic nuance of the original Fagen-Becker songs they made up for in technical mastery. Thankfully they played a lot of songs from my two favourite Steely Dan albums, Can’t Buy A Thrill and Aja. And one of the two women in the band was just 21 (“yesterday”) but nevertheless knocked out a passable rendition of Dirty Work.
📌 I really hope no-one decides it’s a good idea to make a follow-up to Marcel The Shell With Shoes On. It’s one of those lovely films in which adults and children can share delight. It’s a one-off, a real gem that tells a deep story about the times we live in.
MONDAY 27 The Liverpool Echo reports a Good Morning Britain survey saying a massive majority believe high-vis jackets should be compulsory for cyclists.
📌 Never seen anyone deal with total humiliation with such humour as Patsy Kensit on TV’s House of Games. We cheered whenever she managed to scrape a single point.
📌 At a community meeting yesterday the Golden Baggers, our allotment group, drafted an application for money from the Mayor of London to host a Global Picnic in June, a celebration of international cuisines and music.
TUESDAY 28 Rishi pulled off a massive PR victory yesterday in roping King Charles’s III into his Northern Ireland Protocol deal with the EU. He knew he could count in the media to make it look like any whingers from the DUP or from his own back benches, plus Boris, will look like spoilsports if they don’t say hooray.
📌 The Windsor Framework sounds like something from a double-glazing catalogue.
📌 Two physiotherapists visited our 96-year-old frail neighbour to see how she was coping. During the visit our neighbour had a slight fall but the physios said they were “not allowed” to help her to her feet and called for a paramedic.
📌 Rishi’s big moment in swinging a deal with the EU for Northern Ireland has been overshadowed by a pair of weirdos on the run who have dumped their 2-month-old baby somewhere and won’t say where.
📌 Somebody on TV’s The Chase said they wanted to win enough money to buy their parents a bungalow. “Don’t you ever watch The Chase,” my wife shouted at the TV, “Nobody ever wins anything on The Chase.”
📌 The Headway Writing Group task this week was to write a 100-word story with the title Ziggy Stardust in Wonderland. I wrote… “Ziggy played guitar, and when he stepped into Wonderland he wasn’t disappointed. Every inch of wall space, floor to ceiling, was guitar. He once tried to count them but always got stuck at the mint-condition 1954 Gibson Les Paul. Not that Wonderland was actually Wonderland yet. Back then it was still a shop on Old Street called Professional Music Technology. Ziggy liked to say what fantastic service you got from PMT. His girlfriend Yvonne never laughed at that. But PMT eventually became Wonderland and Ziggy asked Yvonne to marry him. They lived happily ever after, but not with each other.”
Read all of my scrapbook diaries…
PLEASE MESSAGE WITH ANY CORRECTIONS, BIG OR SMALL.