SATURDAY 1 I never fail to fall for an April Fool, because I reckon deep down we all want to believe in the power of the story.
📌 Pain management has become a thing for us, obviously because of what happened on this day last week but also because we’re getting old.
📌 At Marge’s for nice wine and nibbles we re-examined the character of The Maniac in Accidental Death of an Anarchist, which we saw together last week in Hammersmith. Marge has seen the play 3 or 4 times and her son Steve, now a theatre director and academic, studied the play for his A-levels. He even played The Maniac as an actor at some time. It is an intriguing role that can spectrum from utter madness to playful non-conformism. And the play, Marge says, can swing from deep and earnest political critique to fun-filled social satire. That’s probably why the character and the play can always be reimagined for the times we live in.
SUNDAY 2 Every school holiday, vast queues of traffic clog Dover en route to France and irate middle-class parents complain about it as French border controllers conduct the customs checks the British public voted for on 23 June 2016.
📌 An article in the Observer suggests that Rishi is going soft on Brexit.
📌 The City was shut down to traffic for a marathon, which meant a nice stroll over to Marks & Spencer in New Change to buy a luxury fish pie was ruined by no available bus for the return home.
📌 Magpie Murders is an interesting twist on the conventional whodunnit. It starts with the mysterious death of a successful crime writer, but then we are introduced to the whodunnit he was writing before his death. This pitches the archetypal dual-plot whodunnit in a new way – present (death of writer) and past (writer’s 1950s-set whodunnit). They start to merge – as do fiction and reality – to create a guessing game where the storylines knit together into a mesmerising puzzle. And so do the characters, which in each storyline are played by the same actors. Just realised the last paragraph is a plot-twister all by itself. It made sense when I was writing it, but got complicated when I read it back.
MONDAY 3 Sam’s Roman soldier has a great pair of legs.
📌 Another powerful new TV crime drama is Blue Lights, which studies the growing pains of the PSNI through the experiences of a group of young trainees, who may or may not make it to become real cops.
📌 Up on Cromwell Highwalk, the famed Barbican hammered concrete is showing signs of wear and tear.
TUESDAY 4 At a friend’s birthday meal last night I was told that among the group I was known for “having good shoes”.
📌 Comparing Donald Trump with Al Capone has become a media trope. No doubt the courtroom saga will be playing all through the night.
📌 I’ve never had much sympathy with sports people who get injured as a result of their own stupidity then moan about lounging around doing nothing during recovery. Since I stupidly injured my left shoulder I’ve been that moaner, and not only does the disability sap the spirit, the self-pity does, too. Feeling sorry for yourself is exhausting. Even a simple stitchwork project is draining.
WEDNESDAY 5 On the radio My Life in Seven Swimming Pools told of a Palestinian man in Gaza who became obsessed with teaching children to swim so they might find the freedom from strife that he himself had found as a child splashing in water. One after one, his pools and his pupils are bombed out of action, forever snagging his ambitious search for a purity of spirit in a landscape of destruction.
📌 All I’m asking myself is whether Donald Trump’s words and actions in the New York courtroom, plus the slow swell of legal rat-traps that face him in the coming year, will make him more or less likely to become the next president of the United States.
📌 Rishi’s been caught bungling at the very thing he likes to think he’s good at – spreadsheets.
📌 In its ‘Daily Sensmaker’ Tortoise has an impressive compendium of facts about Finland’s strategic and military strengths now that it has joined NATO. The US obviously sees Finland’s membership of NATO as a poke in the eye for Putin. And if Sweden’s membership is eventually ratified, the alleged reasons Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (telling the West to back off) start to look like a very big shot in the foot. The difficult peace Russia and Finland had always managed to maintain has also been blown to bits.
THURSDAY 6 The Guardian reckons the Conservatives have stolen Labour policies so easily because Labour – and leader Keir Starmer in particular – are so dull and uninspiring that nobody noticed they had any decent policies in the first place.
📌 At Babyshoes (Headway Writing Group) I did a 100-word story with the title ‘Going Underground’. It was… “All those stories he’d written that went ‘beneath the surface’. There was the one about the illegal fracking caper in Scotland, and the one about the dead South African diamond miner whose skull became the superstructure for Damian Hirst’s For The Love Of God. But the one he liked most was about a Hollywood movie star who fell down a hole in his back garden and became a human resident of a Gopher Town. The gophers rescued him, fed him and brought him back to fitness. Now he could go back to his old life. But did he want to?”
To mark my absence last week, some of the group’s members had written pieces titled ‘Billy’s Chair’, which was very touching. Stuart’s centred on my working-class Liverpudlian background and Alan described me in his story as “witty and trim” (my wife disputed the “trim”). Claire wrote very sentimentally about me being missing in action.
📌 Our friend Rachel has had her leg operation. She’s been told she might limp and suffer from arthritis.
📌 To cheer ourselves up we went to the cinema. That was a mistake. God’s Creatures is proof that you can’t make drama out of drudge. My wife fell asleep at an indeterminate moment and woke up at the end, which I think was meant to be a young woman driving away from the burdens of her life. My wife didn’t even know (spoiler alert) that Paul Mescal died, and his mother (ultra-tortured, totally twitchy Emily Watson) was complicit.
FRIDAY 7 Fascinating Opinion piece by Guardian Economics Editor Larry Elliott on the role of AI in economies of the near future. It includes reference to something called Moravec’s Paradox…
For robots, the hard problems are easy and the easy problems hard.
…which leads to Larry’s conclusion that to be properly useful to humankind AI needs its own 3Rs: regulation, retraining, redistribution.
SATURDAY 8 On the radio Frank Skinner told a Johnny Cash story. He said that when Johnny and Bob Dylan went fishing together, Cash said, they “spent five hours not saying anything to each other. That was when I knew we’d become really great friends.”
📌 All I heard was that an 8ft gorilla called Gary had been stolen from somewhere in Scotland then spotted heading south on the M40. It prompted me to imagine a comedy caper in which Vladimir Putin commissions some baddies to apenap a gorilla for one of his Crimean girlfriends, Friski. The girlfriend sees Gary, pronounces him the wrong colour and scorns Vlad for his failure to provide for her needs. Vlad sends Gary back to his captors and refuses to pay the agreed nabbing fee. Gary ends up living on a remote farm back in Scotland watching Gogglebox on TV with his human foster parents. Then I learned that Gary was just a statue.
SUNDAY 9 There’s been a lot of commentary about the police raid on Nicola Sturgeon’s house in Glasgow and the erection of a blue tent in the front garden, inside which police officers with spades are said to be digging in search of hidden “evidence” in relation to a pile of missing money. I’m not sure my front garden is where I’d hide my loot, but who knows what desperate people do. The other big talking point is Sturgeon’s “very ordinary” house, which looks like Beth and Eric’s place in the Scottish TV sitcom Two Doors Down. It will be funny to see if two new characters, Nicola and Peter, pop up in the next series.
📌 At an evening meal with two of my cousins I discovered that one of my deceased relatives had gambling problems.
MONDAY 10 Easter got into full swing with two Ealing Comedies (Lavender Hill Mob and Passport to Pimlico) and ET on the TV.
📌 China’s military manoeuvres around Taiwan make World War 3 look like something about to happen very soon.
📌 The Royal Family have created a Coronation emoji for Charles III.
TUESDAY 11 One thing guaranteed to get my goat is the person who boards the bus then rummages in their pockets or, worse, a massive bag, to find their bus pass.
📌 It’s the 60th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s, The Birds, which I remember as one of the most haunting films of my childhood. It was based on Daphne du Maurier’s 1952 short story of the same name, but lacks, according to an article in the Conversation, Du Maurier’s prescient understanding of ecology.
Du Maurier observed a world in which humans were becoming increasingly disassociated from their environment.
The article goes further, seeing people and nature in direct conflict. In the story the worm is turned and the birds seek revenge on humans.
As the birds attack the eyes, sight becomes a metaphor for humans failing to see the changes in nature.
📌 My big text stitchwork for the Headway Summer exhibition in the Barbican’s Curve Gallery is rocking on despite my recent injuries. If asked I say I stole the idea from Cornelia Parker’s Magna Carta embroidery, a 13m depiction in stitch of the Wikipedia UK entry for “Magna Carta”. That isn’t strictly true. Michelle at Headway had been urging me to do text stitchwork for some time. Seeing Parker’s piece in an exhibition at Tate Britain last year made me see how typography and stitch work well together.
📌 Back to Liverpool to visit our friend Rachel in Aintree Hospital, where she is recovering from a reconstructed right leg. And if you have an appetite for even more alliteration her doctors are talking about how she can be “repatriated” to a hospital in London, where she actually lives.
📌 Our 9th-floor hotel room on the Liverpool waterfront had great views from the lift lobby, but not from our bedroom. Good job the food in Queens was as good as the last time we were there.
WEDNESDAY 12 US president Joe Biden’s visit to Belfast gave the Guardian the opportunity to repeat Barack Obama’s joke about US presidents and their alleged familial connections with the Emerald Isle.
I’ve come home to find the apostrophe that we lost somewhere along the way.Barack Obama
📌 The item my wife spotted in the corner of the hospital waiting room brought to mind the early 1980s TV sitcom Only When I Laugh.
📌 My sister’s old school is now a petrol station.
THURSDAY 13 I submitted my 100-word story, ‘Body in the Canal’, to the Headway Babyshoes writing group, realising as I did it that the stories I’m submitting are not really stories at all. They are merely the gist of a story the reader is required to imagine for themselves: “Errol raised his chunky arm and pointed to the stern of Thomas’s houseboat. A tangle of brown, stringy debris swirled in the water. ‘Body,’ Errol said quietly. The deceased – white, female, 24 – had spent the previous evening at a party on one of the ‘hospitality boats’ that now patrolled that stretch of the Regents Canal. Her name was Chloe. By the time the police arrived a group of Headway members, led by Errol, had already mustered into a makeshift team of detectives. Their future investigations became a valuable revenue stream for the charity that supports people affected by brain injury.”
📌 Suella just got a massive slap from fellow Conservative Sayeeda Warsi.
If we are going to have honest conversations, let’s start by saying this – black and brown people can be racist too.
📌 RIP Mary Quant, 93.
📌 The judges on the BBC TV dance show Strictly Come Dancing are said to be after whopping pay rises to their already whopping salaries. I hope the BBC shows them how to exit the stage.
FRIDAY 14 Another ridiculously young gaming enthusiast has cracked the code and humiliated the US government and military by publishing secret documents. Jack, a 21-year-old Massachusetts serviceman, wanted to show off to his online friends.
📌 Even more Conservatives are piling in on Suella. Rishi looks powerless in his own party, again.
📌 It will be fascinating to see how the DUP performs in next month’s local elections. There has been chatter recently about ways to rewrite the Good Friday Agreement to prevent future collapses in the Stormont Assembly, but Tony Blair argues against urgent reform of the legislation he helped put in place to secure the peace in Northern Ireland. But what if a once-dominant party that has the power to wield a legislative veto loses popularity and no longer represents the majority of its community? What if it is overtaken at the ballot box by its rivals? In May that could be where the DUP is headed.
SATURDAY 15 When workers say no to their own unions, we really are in a new landscape of industrial relations.
📌 References to Chinese political history in the Inspector Chen Cao books I’m enjoying at the moment are sometimes baffling. I’ve forgotten almost everything I knew about China becoming a republic and Mao’s Cultural Revolution. I misremembered much of what came after Mao. Thankfully, the New Statesman just published a recap of Xi Jinping’s rise to power that lays out the backstory and the people (all very determined men) who make modern China what it is. The article also suggests an interesting idea about Xi and Daddy issues.
📌 A low-cost highly-effective malaria vaccine developed at Oxford University is being rolled out in Ghana. The vaccine is seen as a global game-changer in controlling the deadly strains of malaria that have plagued the continent for centuries.
📌 Very weirdly, I have started to pity Boris Johnson. His belief that he can rise again and become Prime Minister a second time is so delusional it makes you wonder about his mental health. Now that the wagons are circling, it is hard even to imagine him settling into a benign domestic comfort zone, writing incendiary newspaper columns and coining reactionary soundbites. He probably needs to crash and burn in some way.
SUNDAY 16 Our friend has been repatriated from hospital in Liverpool back to London. Now begins the long slog of physiotherapy to get her smashed leg working again.
📌 The TV series Rain Dogs, starring Daisy-May Cooper is a bleak but powerful study of dysfunctional and toxic relationships. It is billed as a comedy, but we’re still not sure we can overcome the unremitting darkness and watch the whole series.
📌 On Celebrity Bake Off the contestants were asked to make a cake depicting their first celebrity crush. Both of the male contestants chose men as their subjects. All of the women chose men, too. I struggled to work out how I would complete the task for my own first celebrity crush cake.
MONDAY 17 According to a learned article in the Conversation on modern trends in written communication, I can’t be sure anyone reading this sentence will interpret it in the way I mean it. Some might detect passive aggressive vibes, others will get a whiff of sarcasm. And why are all my picture captions in italic?
📌 Barely a day goes by without the revelation that one or another member of the government is under investigation for alleged wrongdoing. Are greater numbers of politicians grassing each other up, or are the investigators on some kind of hyperactivity booster?
📌 Catching up with last term’s final project for Art Class. The theme was stationery, and I stole a picture from the Deviant Art website and re-imagined it as a portrait made from mangled coloured paper clips.
📌 Tortoise’s Daily Sensemaker and Slow News podcast has a close look at the decline of the Conservative Party’s lunatic ERG Group. Several Tories proclaim it to be dead for good and one of its former leading lights is quoted calling Boris a “pound-shop Nigel Farage”.
TUESDAY 18 A German photographer, Boris Eldagsen, won a top photography prize with an AI generated image. Two issues stand out. The process of making AI images is as creative as any other method. It depends on the imagination, vision and skill of the image-maker. It is as artistically valid as a smocked painter with palette and brush in hand. Moreover, good AI art requires intelligence, which goes against the idea of the artist as being blessed with some kind of special genius. That’s a myth that has served the art business for centuries. The second point about the Eldagsen AI picture is it’s a cracking portrait. Look closely at the eyes and the hands.
📌 Rishi’s big plan to force schoolchildren to learn maths has been whacked by a maths expert chosen by No10 to pimp the project.
WEDNESDAY 19 An article in The Conversation says Jeremy Corbyn is unlikely to succeed in regaining his Islington North seat if he stands as an independent at the next general election.
📌 Today’s Art Class project was to create a blackout poetry image from Seamus Heaney’s The Underground. I resisted the temptation to create a new poem and simply picked out my favourite words from Heaney’s, blacked out everything else then looked at what shape the words made. At first I had settled on them forming a circle, which fed into the idea of a tunnel. Then Marge said the word pattern resembled a human head, so I went for that.
📌 The requirement to show photo ID at the ballot box is so obviously a crude push to suppress votes that it will probably end in vast numbers of people simply deciding not to bother.
📌 To the Barbican for Loving Highsmith full of great expectations, only to be bored stiff by what must be one of the dreariest documentary biographies ever made.
📌 Qiu Xiaolong’s Inspector Chen stories are full of Shanghai foodie references. In the chapter I’m reading at the moment Chen has just scoffed a meal of sparrow gizzards and duck heads “with the skulls removed, so people could easily reach the tongues, or suck out the brains.”
THURSDAY 20 The Netherlands is looking to expand its euthanasia laws to include children under 12 who have excruciatingly painful and disturbing illnesses that cannot be treated or relieved medically. Belgium already has such a law.
📌 A history group on Facebook posted a picture of a posh suffragette, Lady Florence Norman, on a motor-scooter in 1916.
📌 It wouldn’t be Thursday unless a rampaging bull was spotted and shot dead “near” a school in Cheshire.
📌 As surprising as the day Martin McGinness and Gerry Adams announced they were giving up the armed struggle in favour of plain old politics, Extinction Rebellion has agreed to help with security at this weekend’s London Marathon, a predicted target of environmental protestors.
📌 To Barbican Cinema with Marge for a screen-steam of the National Theatre’s Good, featuring David Tennant and Sharon Small in a play that points to one of the overlooked horrors of the Holocaust, namely the complicity of a vain and easily flattered intelligentsia. Wikipedia’s Plot Overview of the CP Taylor play summarises the story perfectly, with the chilling dispassion that is Wiki’s trademark. I lost count during the performance of the number of different characters Sharon Small switched in and out of with ease. One of them was a mansplaying Nazi officer. Echoes of recent British social and political upheavals bled through the whole play.
FRIDAY 21 One of the big questions to come from the resignation of bullyboy Dominic Raab is why Rishi gave him a job in the first place. Ditto Suella Braverman. Only Rishi knows the answer, but maybe he just wanted to keep his party’s lunatics in the room so he can knock them off one by one. A competent killer is the look he’s going for. It could backfire. Dominic Raab has a black belt in karate.
📌 The chatterati are working overtime on Dominic Raab. On BBC News a reporter called Chloe stood in front of a massive touchscreen and scrolled up and down the incriminating report by Adam Tolley KC, pointing out on which page Dom called a civil servant “utterly useless”. I’m looking forward to some of the funnier sketches that will inevitably appear on this subject over the weekend.
SATURDAY 22 Fascinating long-read in the New Statesman on how the master-servant relationship between Russia and China has switched. Didn’t know that Russia has in the past annexed parts of China.
📌 RIP Barry Humphreys, aka Dame Edna Everage, Sir Les Patterson, 89.
📌 RIP Logan Roy, evil TV media megalomaniac.
📌 To the Alice Neel exhibition at the Barbican for a quick first look (we will revisit). Shade and shadow were a big thing with Alice. Everyone looks a bit grubby and no-one knows how to smile in pose. Oh, how the times have changed!
SUNDAY 23 Andrew Rawnsley sounds both depressed and angry at the sordid state of UK political standards. His list of woes is a long one. He calls for the political will to clean up the filth, to restore some public trust in our so-called democracy. Yet he stops short of advocating a special investigating unit, like AC12, to scare the pants off those who tempted by corruption.
📌 To RHS Wisley for a community day out. Thousands upon thousands of tulips gave the whole area a painterly feel.
MONDAY 24 Now Rishi has lost Dominic Raab in a fit of bad temper, speculation turns to Suella Braverman. Is he ready to sack her and rid the party of all its crazed ideologues, or will he draw them closer? The New Statesman thinks he is now more than ever dependent on Suella to keep the “swivel-eyed loons” onside.
📌 One of the people who coordinates a voluntary project we’re involved in is dyslexic and we feel guilty chuckling every time we get messages about meetings in the Barbican library because Barbican comes out as “Barbarian”.
📌 The UK Foreign Office has abandoned British citizens stranded in war-torn Sudan. It evacuated diplomats and their families in a secret weekend rescue mission, but has told everyone else to sit tight and dodge the bullets to the best of their ability.
TUESDAY 25 I’m trying each day to practice my scales on the piano. I think my favourite is F.
📌 The Diplomat is one of those generic American political dramas that moves at breakneck speed through global affairs with razor-sharp snappy dialogue and a pushy force of nature that tries to make every country other than the US look like an also-ran. Its hooks are gripping and its twists unravelable. In other words it mesmerises in the moment, but no real drama ever gets a chance to breathe in the mists of artifice.
WEDNESDAY 26 In Wake Up To Money on the radio they were discussing the causes of the high inflation that has ushered in our so-called Cost Of Living Crisis. They don’t call it The Nation’s Failure, which is what it is. Some loose cannon at the Bank of England says that high inflation is the result of high wage claims. In other words, workers should suck it up and make do with less. Others say that our high inflation is caused by the Bank of England pumping silly volumes of money into a national economy that can’t stand on its own two feet. I rewound to Farming Today to hear about the UK farmer who went on TV’s Love Island, found love and brought it back to his farm, where the couple joyously make social-media content together featuring lambs.
📌 We are loving Colin From Accounts, a beautiful Australian rom-com series that manages to push together micro-brewing, gynaecology, testicular cancer and a very cute border terrier called Colin.
📌 My contribution to this week’s Babyshoes writing group at Headway was 100 words exactly with the title A Change Of Key. Here it is…
What he didn’t know was that it was never meant to be him. It wasn’t meant to be any of them. A swingers party to her, Lisa, was just like, like…. like totally no. He didn’t know because she didn’t know. That’s how swingers parties work. She put her hand in the black bag and felt around for something she liked the feel of. She thought she’d found it then realized it was one of those disgusting penis keyrings. She dropped it and pulled out a Teletubbies keyring instead. That’s how she ended up in bed with Tinky Winky’s dad.
📌 There is a fascinating new trend on social media of people sharing their abject failures at Wordle, as if in defiance of all the smart-arse show-offs who do it in two.
📌 A meeting with Katie, our financial adviser (aka, The Money Mum), established that we will probably not die in poverty. But arriving at this happy place took more time than we could imagine and I missed this week’s Art Class. The task was to interrogate our own facial features, namely eyes, nose, mouth and ears. I did it while we talked about earnings, savings, pensions, preferred holiday destinations, etc, and tried to predict the near future. Our friend Janet in Brighton said I made myself look like a “benefit-scrounging member of the aristocracy”.
THURSDAY 27 Yesterday, at a meeting with our financial adviser, she told me I was “a poster boy” for income protection insurance (IP). This is a type of insurance policy bought by employers to insure their staff against accidents or unforeseen events that result in the employer being unable to work. Having a stroke, as in my case, is a good example. For the past 10 years my income has been “protected” by an insurance policy my employer held with Canada Life Insurance. What I didn’t know until Katie told me yesterday was that for group employers IP doesn’t cost very much, because the claim risk is very low, but for the one person in a big crowd of employees who suffers an unfortunate setback, the benefits are very high, and in my case transformative.
📌 The Guardian has a blistering attack on the Bank of England, who earlier in the week (see Wednesday 26 above) told us all (but not them) to get used to being poor.
📌 At a planning meeting at the Barbican for the Headway takeover of the Curve gallery in August, the designers showed us drawings of an ingenious and very elegant ramp to guide visitors into the exhibition. It demonstrates that accessibility, when treated as an architectural feature and an “experience”, can be a thing of beauty.
FRIDAY 28 Full Fact has an interesting take on the government’s recent boast to have boosted the number of police officers by 20,000. That is roughly the same number it got rid of between 2010 and 2017.
📌 Clearing out our Brighton apartment in preparation for the new owner to arrive we’ve come across several items we’ve held on to over the years purely for sentimental reasons. The future of my mother-in-law’s old sewing machine is at the moment unknown. It is a museum piece.
📌 At the Paris House in Brighton tonight we did a team Quordle and scored 16.
SATURDAY 29 The Conversation detects serious intent in Sinn Féin’s acceptance of an invitation to attend the coronation of Charles III.
📌 I can sense a growing interest in next weekend’s coronation of King Charles III. At a Thai restaurant in Brighton our friend Sue tells us that her foreign language students are all very excited and keen to learn everything they can about the royal family. Sue tells them proudly that as a younger woman she was often mistaken for Princess Diana.
📌 My wife knows, off the top of her head, who is 10th in line to the throne.
SUNDAY 30 Fast-food restaurant chain TGI Friday has stopped feeding its minimum-wage workers.
📌 In preparing to leave Brighton we have been reflecting and remembering the city we came to more than 30 years ago. It has changed a lot in many ways (when we arrived it was still a town). The sea front is unrecognisable, although still a bit weather-worn. Most of the restaurants and shops have changed ownership several times. But some things don’t change. The blue plaque on the wall of the Holiday Inn commemorating a historic visit by Charles Dickens reminded my wife that the Holiday Inn used to be the Bedford Hotel, where she once visited a friend attending a conference for the sole purpose of using her hotel room bath.
📌 Back to the Paris House for a performance by a jazz crooner known to his friends as “Dave Sinatra”. It is said that sometimes Dave’s performances are so disappointing that his mother comes onstage and takes over, pushing Dave aside with a stern look of disapproval. At one point I thought Dave was tipping me the wink, then I realised that sat behind me was what I believed to be a well-groomed woman of a certain age. As I typed that last sentence I wondered whether she spied what I’d written about her. She did, and told me later that she was pleased to have been described as “well-groomed”. She was no more than 30 years of age.
Read all of my scrapbook diaries…
PLEASE MESSAGE WITH ANY CORRECTIONS, BIG OR SMALL.