Scrapbook 2018

A diary collection of words and images from the past year

Includes the death of an old friend, a Liverpudlian schoolboy who wants to be a spy, and our 30th anniversary in Brussels.

5 January
Just noticed that the ‘Leather trousers’ TV couple advertising Hungry House have disappeared from The Big Bang Theory on E4. The sponsorship deal must have finished. Boo.

7 January, London
Former Guardian Editor Peter Preston has died, aged 79 See Obituary.

Towards the end of 1992 I was working on a fixed-term contract as a subeditor at the Guardian’s Weekend magazine, when I got a message from Michael Pilgrim, then editor of the Observer’s colour-supplement Sunday equivalent. He wanted to talk, so we met in a nearby greasy-spoon cafe and he offered me the job of Chief Subeditor on the Observer Magazine. The Guardian and the Observer were sister papers and I knew Michael slightly from the past. He had been editor of Record Mirror when I was working at Spotlight Publications stablemate Sounds. He knew my abilities and wanted a solid pair of hands. I was flattered by the offer but also very happy with the work I was then doing at the Guardian. First under the editorship of Roger Alton and then with Deborah Orr, a day’s work on Weekend was as stimulating as it can get. The stories were lively, fascinating and a pleasure to work on. The writing was outstanding and new leaps in design were underway following the magazine’s move to full colour. I was very happy where I was.

But I was coming to the end of a six-month contract with Weekend, with no guarantee of future employment, so I decided to tell editor Deborah about Pilgrim’s offer. All she said was “leave it with me”.

The next week I got an email from Peter Preston and a request to “pop down to my office”. I got there to find him at his desk and the offer of a staff job. The meeting was short and warm. Peter had worked in my hometown Liverpool when he was younger and retained fond memories. He told me of the loyalty I had inspired in Deborah, who, I was told, practically ordered him to give me a job and, furthermore, to “tell Pilgrim to keep his fucking hands off my people”.

The starting rate for a Guardian subeditor at the time was £29,000 a year. Peter told me this bluntly, as if negotiation was out of the question, then added softly, “you can talk me up to thirty if you want.” I took him up on that and he offered his polio-affected hand in congratulation, which I remember thinking was a brave thing to do. I’m not sure Peter would ever have seen it that way.

All of this sounds quaint now, but back then what made a publication better than its rivals was the passion and commitment of its workers, its internal ethos. Only those on the inside could see this in action, and sometimes you could never be sure whether a gross stand-up, foaming-at-the mouth argument was a personal tiff between two clashing egos or a fight over journalistic principles. The two often merged in a way that made them indistinguishable. Peter was as passionate as the next person, but he rarely externalised it publicly. His authority was quiet. Weekend editor Deborah was not someone you would choose to mess with. She did not suffer fools easily and did not hesitate to express her displeasure with rich expletives. But she was fair and showed respect where respect was due. She loved good writing and good design and was as open in her praise as she was in her beady-eyed, nit-picking criticism.

Magazine editors have budgets and they use the money to buy the best stories they can find. How much to pay and what is value for money is one of the skills of the job. But without subsidy most of a magazine’s revenue comes from advertising, so there is always a fight over how many of the magazine’s pages are taken by money-spinning advertising and the number given to reader-friendly editorial. Editorial people often remark that readers do not open magazines for the ads. Advertising people counter that ads pay staff wages and allow the magazine to continue to exist.

At Weekend, key people in the editorial and advertising departments would meet weekly to scrap it out. As production editor, my job was to enact the decisions made at these meetings, to negotiate and to marshal the teamwork that would produce what Deborah modestly described as “the best fucking magazine in the world”. This was more a statement of aspiration than a flash of arrogance. Peter would sometimes sit in on these meetings, along with Managing Editor Ian ‘Chalkie’ Wright, who held the Guardian’s purse strings. The form was for Advertising to report on its position and its requirements for that week, followed by Editorial, who would state the proposed contents for the next issue and why it was so brilliant.

At one meeting Deborah outlined a fabulous upcoming investigative story, with superb pictures, that could easily accommodate double the usual number of editorial pages. She knew advertising would resist because editorial pages are a cost and not a profit. And they did. Making the magazine bigger to fit an exceptional piece of journalism did not make short-term commercial sense. Not only would this deprive advertising of valuable space (ie, money), it would inflate costs even further because more paper and more hours at the printer sends your “price per page” through the roof. Preston did not flinch. He looked at Chalkie, got the nod, and ordered extra pages to be added to accommodate Deborah’s wishes. Deborah and I looked at each other in amazement.

“Up-paging” would never be this easy again, least of all for a feature authored by Peter Preston. Later, when Weekend was planning a story to promote an exhibition by the paper’s satirical cartoonist Steve Bell, Weekend’s features editor wondered out loud who might write it. “Preston,” I offered without hesitation. The editor then asked if I would sound him out. Peter was keen and straightaway asked how many words. Quality features in Weekend at the time ran to around 4,000 words. When I offered this, he declined. “I’ve probably got three thousand, but not four,”  he said. Three thousand it was, then. Thanks, Guv. And Peter Preston being staff, there was no fee to pay. Happy days.

Understatement seemed to be in his DNA. At around 7pm in the open-plan offices at Guardian HQ in Farringdon Road, the smell of pipe smoke started to drift around. This was the sign that Preston was on the prowl. He had seen the first edition of that day’s paper off to bed and now moved upstairs from the first floor to the second, where the Features department sat. He would stop and chat, making no attempt to interfere with your work or to impress. It was on one such occasion that we talked about film and I ended up loaning him a book about Ingmar Bergman.

I never got it back, and I never plucked up the courage to remind him.

10 January
January City Matters column.

The new baby boomers…
Right up there on my Christmas reading list alongside the new Donna Leon Brunetti saga was a City Corporation report on social wellbeing within the Square Mile. Three things jumped out. The first is that being lonely is not the same as being alone. The second is that loneliness can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The third? That one of the groups worst hit by loneliness and isolation is young parents.

I expected to see older people, people from different ethnic backgrounds and the disabled (physically and mentally) on a list of those who feel excluded. I might even have added teenagers, LGBT or homeless people to the tally. But young parents was a surprise.

The City Corporation has an interest in tackling loneliness, even if it’s only as part of a wider remit on facing up to modern social ills. And on Golden Lane it has been working behind the scenes to train volunteer residents in the art of Community Building.

‘Builders’ are people who stop to chat and generally act like good neighbours. Sometimes they also act as ‘Community Connectors’, offering handy local tips and plugging people into information and services. And if the recommendations of my Christmas reading are carried out, they will soon be joined by ‘Maternity Champions’.

The City’s business relies heavily on the daily arrival from outside the Square Mile of many thousands of young professionals. Add to this its young resident population and the sum is a human dynamo that cannot be ignored. Many of the workers might have been uprooted from secure and supportive family networks elsewhere. Many of the young residents will be so drained by the sheer hard work of bringing up baby that they simply drop out of community activities.

No wonder the Corporation puts the social wellbeing of these people at the centre of its action plan. They are the present and the future of its success.

Time, ladies and gentlemen, please…
Like our Common Councilmen, Community Builders and Maternity Champions don’t get paid. What they get instead is City of London Time Credits.This is a scheme in which you offer one hour of your time doing something for the community (pulling weeds from paving cracks, for example). For this you get a crisp piece of paper that looks like a foreign banknote. You can spend it not on cups of tea in the local café, or milk and bread at the supermarket, but on fun things like going to the cinema, riding the Thames Clipper or watching Millwall FC.

Earn and spend.

One Time Credit equals one hour of fun. I recently spent two of mine on a visit to the superb Courtauld art gallery at Somerset House to see the exhibition ‘Soutine’s Portraits’ (finishes 21 January), which revealed the artist’s great skill in painting pinched faces with unnaturally long noses.

Pay, the way to go…
A proper wage for Common Councillors (City Matters, issue 062) is a cause worth supporting. Only when our elected members are given professional status can voters expect a professional service, fully transparent and compliant with progressive democratic principles.

Tree cheers (not)…
The estate became a laughing stock over the festive holiday as passers-by scoffed at its pathetic Christmas tree. Not only was this the scraggiest of specimens, what is presumed to be an overdose of austerity at the City Corporation saw it left stark naked, with no lights or decoration over the entire holiday. It wasn’t even planted properly in its traditional place at the centre of the stone rotunda at the end of Basterfield lawn, so the first gust of winter wind left it tilted drunkenly to one side as if trying to stagger home from a not-very-good party.

Residents took to social media to note their displeasure, but would nevertheless like to apologise to anyone forced to feast their eyes on such an embarrassment.

The naked truth.

Yr rnt iz du…
A new texting service that allows residents to check stuff like rents and repairs will be introduced at a workshop in the Ralph Perring Centre on 30 January (5-7pm). This sounds like a good idea, with plenty of scope for future development. Text messaging is already used successfully for GP and hospital appointments, and at a recent Healthwatch conference there was talk of using it to prompt outpatients to take their medication or to get up and stretch occasionally. The possibilities are endless, so it’s fingers crossed that a Christmas Tree Complaints number will be issued in time for Santa’s next arrival.
An edited version of this column appeared in the newspaper City Matters, issue number 063

15 January, London
Disturbing and powerful.

Frances McDormand, so impressive

17 January, London
Got the train to Kings Cross with M today. She said she had intended to send J an email confirming our meeting next week, but wasn’t sure she won the battle with her computer email system. “I think I might have put my finger in the wrong hole,” she giggled in her charming Colombian accent.

18 January, London
In the window of the Arancini Brothers, a fast-food shop on Old Street that specialises in rice balls and salad, etc, there is a large mono picture/image of a jolly Italian man holding a tuba in his right hand, balancing it precariously, in fact. A tuba! ***** To Southey’s in New Bond Street, Mayfair, with Headway for the Outside In ‘Journeys’ exhibition. Outside, working on the pavement with all his art kit, was “The Chewing Gum Man” painting ‘Girl With A Pearl Earring’ onto a splodge of discarded and flattened gum. He told us that recently somebody scraped on of his paintings off the pavement  and sold it on eBay. My Outside In exhibition favourite was ‘Central Tree/Spinning Hats’ by Phil Baird.

Phil Baird stunner

The people from Outside In were charming, helpful and very interested in the work of our studio artists.

25 January, London
In the middle of busy traffic on a road in Hackney, a man holds out his hand asking for money. The taxi driver says it is common.
While visiting an arty print studio in an abandoned factory in east London, we saw on the pavement a small pile of miniature gas canisters. They are, D told me, the empty discarded paraphernalia of night clubbers who inhale laughing gas for kicks.
In the S2L studio Z was working on a picture that looked like Joan of Arc or some other historical heroine on horseback. But she had not given the woman a face. I remarked on this and Z replied, “I haven’t seen her face yet.”

31 January, London
The easiest way for me to cut my toenails is to do it into the toilet. But today’s efforts were made harder when the nail clippers accidentally dropped into the bowl. With nothing available to scoop them out, I gritted teeth and plunged my right hand in. As afterwards I ran it under the hot-water tap, I wondered whether the Fatberg currently on display in the Museum of London contains any of my toe-clippings.

4 February, London
A makeshift Golden Lane/Peabody/Barbican quiz team came last in Pete’s Sunday-night quiz upstairs in the Artillery Arms, with a score of 42. They were beaten by, among others, a stellar performance from a mixed-gender team called We Put The Men In Menstrual. The theme of the quiz was sport, and not knowing the colours of the rings on an archery board and that the longest-ever rally in table tennis was 9-hours-something-or-other was a heavy burden to carry. Apologies. The theme for next week’s quiz, says Pete, is WOMEN. Sunday, 7.30pm. Artillery Arms, Bunhill Row, etc.

14 February
February City Matters column.

Protection racket…
The ‘munching’ has finished and Bernard Morgan House has gone. It hasn’t been a painless journey for those closest to the clanking machinery, the noise, the dust and the endless queues of dumper-trucks. There have been some touching memorial tributes at the site of the former police section house – flowers taped to lamp posts – but the best of them appeared on social media from the Save Golden Lane protest group, who displayed the single image of one of the building’s classy decorative tiles that were dispatched during demolition.

At the start of the project there was a half-hearted pledge to save the tiles for recycling, but as time went on this looked less and less likely. They are now presumed to have been trashed along with all the other rubble.

Bernard Morgan tile

Yes, the passing of Bernard Morgan House has left a nasty taste, but it might not be entirely in vain. The site hoardings that picture its proposed replacement, The Denizen, show luxury apartments designed to look like a bad-taste version of the baddy’s lair in a Bond movie. The images have garnered residents in opposition and a plan is afoot to discourage any similar developments by making the estate a conservation area. We are joined in this by residents from the Barbican, and the City Corporation has now provisionally awarded the two estates ‘Conservation Area’ status. Hopefully this will usher in a fresh approach to the preservation of the built environment and a sense of duty towards its maintenance and care. Hopefully…

There’s already a hitch. A small area between the neighbouring estates did not pass the Corporation’s conservation test and has been excluded from any special protection. This zone includes the Jewin Welsh Church in Fann Street and the handsome red-brick block on Golden Lane formerly occupied by the Cripplegate Institute but now home to global financial behemoth UBS. The zone also covers the Barbican Wildlife Garden, a magical place and good friend and partner to our own Golden Baggers food-growing project.

If you’re swotty enough to study the reasons for the exclusion of this contentious area (lots of coffee required), you can agree that, strictly speaking, it might not tick all the boxes. What is certain is that the City Corporation’s decision is a miserly one. The zone is part of the neighbourhood’s history. A Welsh church and a wildlife garden are the kind of things that make a community special. So, in a rare show of unity, Golden Lane and Barbican residents have formed a dream team to lobby for the inclusion of this disputed territory in the Conservation plan.

Golden Girl, Joan
Many of us were happy to join veteran resident Joan Flannery recently in the Sir Ralph Perring Centre to celebrate her 90th birthday. Joan has lived on Golden Lane for 48 years, most recently in Great Arthur House, and is known for her quick wit and gentle sarcasm. She grew up in my hometown Liverpool and sometimes slips into a classic Scouse accent. With family and friends serving tea and cake, the room rang out with bawdy laughter and good cheer. Joan even took time to pass on a top tip for seniors: keep a list of your medication and healthcare details in the fridge door, because that’s where emergency-service workers look first.

Joan, 90

A happy accident…
I don’t often get emails that were meant for someone else, but it was nevertheless refreshing to get one from Mary Durcan, one of our nine elected members on Common Council. It told us what she has been up to recently on behalf of the City Corporation ward of Cripplegate. She began by stating, ominously, that water has been a theme of her activities, starting late last year with an 8.30am shift on the Lord Mayor’s flotilla (in the rain). Other aquatic engagements included a thrilling visit to the Thames Fishery Research Experiment in Tilbury (more rain), where she saw some big fish. Emerging from the moody waters of the Thames estuary, Mary then went to a “stunning” Grade I listed cemetery at Manor Park, where City residents can get cut-price burials (note to self: get on the waiting list). It all made being a councillor sound quite exciting.

Old shop, new start…
Good charity shops are thin on the ground around here, so it’s nice to see our local, Widows & Widowers on Whitecross Street, newly made over and transformed from a no-go Chaos Corner full of tat into a streamlined, go-with-the-flow shopping experience. Pink linen shirt, £5, thank you very much.

Charity footwear

An edited version of this column appeared in the City Matters newspaper, issue 067

City Matters page.

20 February, Liverpool
Into University is a charity, started by J’s cousin Rachel, that supports young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in getting a place at university. They run after school classes and mentoring projects in many centres around London. They also have branches nationwide. They recently opened one in Anfield, Liverpool, where I was born. The project is a partnership between IU, Liverpool University and LFC Foundation, the charity arm of Liverpool Football Club.The event’s evening reception  took place at Liverpool FC’s Anfield stadium, and I was lucky enough to get an invite. On the train north, I had my first encounter with a talking toilet. As soon as you lock the door a jolly-sounding woman tells you politely what not to do with sanitary products and nappies. She sounded like she really loved her job (“I knew what I was getting into when I became a toilet,” she says), but I did get the unnerving sense that I was being watched.

At the day reception we heard speeches from staff and students. Then Liverpool goalie Simon Mignolet told us how he studied political science at university in Belgium. The IU approach is for a goal-centred programme of academic support, creating an enriched nurturing environment for dedicated pupils to do homework, to study and to follow their dreams.

The ethos was right there to see when we arrived. The walls of the reception room were covered with photographs of the young students holding signs stating their professional ambitions. Many wanted to be teachers. Nearly the same number wanted to be footballers. One, Ethan, said he wanted to become a spy. Beneath the word SPY he had written “don’t tell anyone”.

Ethan, Liverpool’s very own 007 waiting to happen.

The same theme was played out for visitors with a Flipboard asking the question, “What did you want to be when you were growing up?” Again, teachers and footballers were the desired occupations, though one or two curious alternatives appeared. One said, “pub landlord” and another, “high level drugs enforcement officer”. I put “marine biologist”.

25 February, Botley, Hampshire
Someone has tied up their horse to a post outside Halfords.

3 March, London
I still haven’t been out for three days (snow). This must be what it was like in the war. I am eating stuff that has been at the back of the cupboard for a year. The freezer is nearly empty. Theresa May would be proud of me.

5 March, London
Two Russian exiles in Wiltshire, father and daughter, have suffered a mysterious poisoning and are in hospital “fighting for their lives”. Putin and agents of the Russian secret service are being fingered in the media. This, it seems, is the price a country might be forced to pay when it consents to grant residency to “enemies” of a foreign state. What the cost is to the host country’s way of life is a matter of debate.

6 March, London
Maybe one day everyone will describe themselves as a “citizen-producer”.

14 March, London
Ben was talking about some Japanese thing about transience and imperfection called Wabi-sabi. To illustrate he explained it to me as the idea that “there is a little bit of sadness in everyone”.
There is a building over the road from Whitechapel Hospital that was once the Working Lads Institute. It sounds like something to do with the child labour and juvenile delinquency of 19C London.

14 March, London
March City Matters column.


15 March, London At Headway, E is playing Oasis on her phone for C. His head is tilted back and a big grin has settled on his face. His favourite is Some Might Say. Later we did a group rendition of Wonderwall and C was again in the land of bliss.

17 March, London
It is snowing outside, and I am reading in the Guardian an article by Ian Jack about beggars, begging, rough sleepers and homelessness. At the end of the piece he describes a growing fellowship between beggar and begged-from that defines a shift in attitudes. More people now stop to talk to beggars and fetch them food and warm drinks. It sort of correlates with conversations I have had previously with successful and relatively wealthy people in which they speak of the very thin line that separates the rich from the poor. One of them went as far as to say that, but for one small lucky break, he too would be on the street begging or festering in a squalid prison.

22 March, London
Near Anchor Yard on Old Street lives a man in a tent. On the pavement, taking visitors in and welcoming them to his snug abode.

25 March, London
Better late than never. The six primary emotions in bad selfies.

It’s all about me

30 March, Brighton

Cathay Pacific completes two-leg journey, letting women wear trousers

Airline becomes one of few in Asia giving its female flight attendants an alternative to skirts, the Guardian

7 April, London
Dear Sue
Jane says she saw a portable rabbit hutch on Hatfield lawn tonight and a ginger rabbit making free with the long grass. The estate is teetering on the brink of revolution.

8 April, London
There is a new Agatha Christie drama on TV, Ordeal by Innocence, starring Bill Nighy and Anna Chancellor as his murdered wife. What I like is that it is textbook AC apart from the detective. In turn, each of the suspects acts as detective, which thickens the plot no end. The viewer becomes ‘complicit’ in the puzzle, which I like. It’s a nice new twist on an old but faithful formula.

11 April, London
April column.

Hyper localism at its best

12 April, London
Juventas beaten by Real Madrid in Champions League quarter final. A controversial penalty and Cristiano Ronaldo had something to do with it. Juve goalie Gianluigi Buffon was not happy, so I painted him a picture.

Buffon pissed off

13 April, London
I wrote this turgid essay below ages ago, parked it and forgot about it. They put it on the Headway website and Cris Vidal said she liked it. I hate it.

It started with a blink. That’s how Chippy says yes or no. A day-service volunteer in the art studio was showing him pictures from a magazine, and the lady with the crown caught his eye. If I could say the rest was history, I would. But that would be a lie. Chippy’s pictures begin pretty much in the way described above, but their journey from start to finish is a story all by itself, a slow, rocky road from eye to hand to board and back the way you travelled last time, or maybe via a different route, with different sights to see with different travelling companions and a whole new set of bag-carriers.

Every ‘Chippy’ is a tactical leap of faith. Only good communication, a lot of love, and a masters degree in patience can pull it off. Each finished piece is actually a dialogue rather than a single voice. Watching studio boss Michelle coax Chippy in collaboration through a picture is one of my favourite pastimes. They have evolved a relationship in fondness akin to a longtime comedy duo, where a cutting look is forgiven in an instant and an easy adaptation to each other’s irritating quirks becomes effortless.

To then partner Chippy with one of the studio’s most commanding artists would, in most cases, be dismissed as one small step from insanity. Stephen Staunton – sometimes just ‘Staunton’, like Picasso or Rembrandt – always brings a massive presence to any room. Most people take a step back, wondering whether the correct response is fear or amazement. He is profoundly deaf, so his world is aggressively delimited but fine-tuned by all his other senses. There is a brutality about him that stops you in your tracks.

Separate and individual Chippy and Stephen may be, but what brought them together for this project are two primal elements of art: shape and pattern. A studio chat between manager Michelle Carlile and coordinator Alex Brady saw both of them flirting with ideas around pattern and brain injury. They noticed that many of the Submit to Love studio’s artists use pattern and shape by instinct, no professional prompting required. It is as if pattern and shape offer some kind of psychological anchor to a troubled and struggling mind. It sounded like a cliché waiting to be born, but it was worth exploring.

Stephen’s work, with its powerful geometry, fits this idea no problem. All the expression is in the colour and stroke. The pattern is the skeleton that holds the whole thing together. Chippy’s work doesn’t fit the pattern/shape idea so easily. Until you watch him at it. Chippy is unable to look straight ahead in a conventional way, so his peripheral vision has become acutely trained in compensation. It’s actually more like an extra sense. This is the sense with which he picks out shape and line.

There is a mountain of documentation behind this joint work. Its progress has been photographed at every stage and from every angle and a fearsome inventory of accreditation and consent compiled. Not only have both artists suffered brain injuries, they have been isolated further: Stephen with his deafness and Chippy, unable to speak and confined to a wheelchair. The task of making this happen was an ethical and logistical tightrope walk.

To complicate the project further would have amounted to an act of extreme self-punishment. But this is the hard-nose part. Because when you decide to exhibit a piece of art, to put it out there for the world to see, someone has to decide on context. This image was destined to appear in a shop window space in Dalston, east London, so how would it fit, and who are the passing viewers likely to be? What should the background look like? These are what I call ‘engineering’ decisions. They can make or break a project, but rarely is enough quality attention given to the preparation of the ‘environment’ in which the finished image will be displayed. Smelly pubs are full of great art that nobody pays any attention to.

When Matt Chappel agreed to join the project I was excited. Like Chippy and Stephen, Matt is severely limited physically, but I am fascinated by the intensity of thought he pours into his work. In action he looks like he is using art to work existentially through the trauma of his brain injury. I watch the line of his jaw tighten and I see his hand respond, sometimes gentle and sweeping, sometimes recklessly squirty and plunging. Matt’s paintings push you into switching from a comfortable position to one of high alert. This can be quite nerve-racking.

Complex colour is a big part of Matt’s strength as an artist, so the decision to go for a leopard print background, with its typical abrupt contrasts of black/yellow/white/black could have failed badly. The background unit would comprise 12 rectangles pieced together to create a wall of pattern. Anything could happen between Phase 1 and Phase 12.

It wasn’t until Matt had finished the first ’tile’ of 12 and had started on the second that I could envisage how brilliantly this was going to pan out. The speed with which he started fluently mixing the colours with his brush got faster and faster. Sometimes he was stroking the paint in a carefree manner, then he would poke agitatedly. Both methods succeeded in merging his chosen shades in the yellow/orange/beige/brown spectrum so that, when dry, a whole new tone formed itself. How the hell did he do that, I was asking myself continually. The addition of the black at the end was more an act of composition. Those spots form the eye-grabbers that move you around the whole space. They are points on a map.

Now set these two finished elements together, the queen’s head and the skin of a killer animal, and a flood of metaphor erupts in front of you. It’s hard not to attach the word KITSCH because that is exactly what it is, and shamelessly so. I can see the art of the three characters I sit with week after week. There they are: Chippy ambling and scratching, Stephen stabbing his kaleidoscope of colour and Matt putting in enough energy to power a rocket to Mars and back. It’s a classic case of the result being more than the sum of the individual parts, so you end up asking how can something so audacious possibly succeed? I stopped trying to answer that question after about five minutes and just stood back in amazement. It should never have worked, but it did. Leave it at that and just give thanks.

15 April, London
I made this flyer as some promo for an exhibition in Enfield featuring Sam and Errol. The sqiggly line around their names is an outline of the borough of Enfield.

19 April, Hackney
Pictogram based on Japanese script.

I wanted to make it look vaguely human

20 April, London
It is a warm evening and some nutcase in a straw hat is sitting on his balcony in Stanley Cohen House playing a violin, badly. The suspected cause is drink and maybe drugs.

21 April, London
To the Natural History Museum with Séan.

Children love animals

23 April, London
Bumped into Leggings Sue, who was on her way home to lie down and ingest a large quantity of dark chocolate, which, she swears, is the best relief for severe migraine.

3 May, London
Stuart says that Mural in French is Wall. But this is meant to be on the floor.

Rug rat Dr Kai (feet shown) and her magic carpet.

Dr Kai dropped into the studio today and laid her mind-wandering vision out on the floor. It’s all there in the weave:  magic feminism, maths, philosophy, empowerment and ritual. All made in Belgium by the best rug rats known to the world of art. We (me and Stewart) especially liked the image of Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer and Charles Babbage accomplice, who died tragically young.

3 May, London
Just heard that Eric has died. They said it was some complication following diverticulitis, but we all know it was a broken heart. The Brighton Argus did a story about him.

Cheers, Eric (with Glen, the love of his life). Your jarra is empty.

5 May, Chichester
The homeless person’s equivalent of the towel on the sunbed is the sleeping bag in the shop doorway.

5 May, Chichester
Insta picture of me and Alex before our presentation.

6 May 2018, London
Spotted at Magdalen House, Winchester.

Showing the finger.

8 May, London
I am reading Ben’s book, Tell Me The Planets, which is a blistering read. It is a very warm and human interlacing of stories related to himself, his family and dramatic tales from survivors of brain injury, centring on Mathew and his perCYSTent trauma. I like the technique and his way of letting the stories tell themselves. It makes me want to do something similar about my friendship with Stuart. Two people who know next to nothing about each other but have become friends, though I don’t even know if Stuart thinks of me as a friend.

9 May , London Just sent this to Laura at Headway, to forward to screenwriter John Wrathall.

The pitch
Cash-strapped inner-London charity supporting people with brain injury finds a new revenue stream as a private detective agency. It uses the unique sleuthing powers of its vulnerable yet perceptive members to crack cases the local police can no longer afford to investigate due to austerity cuts.

The body of a young woman is spotted in the canal.

9 May, London
Just sent to several Guardian people.

Dear Fellow Travellers Maggie and I had a wonderful short session in the Lincoln Lounge today, despite being interrupted by Dave U doing an appraisal. The sesh lasted one hour, and if we had been even closer to KP, travelling times could have come down further. My proposal is that we plan for these short sessions, set food and stuff in place, and abandon the massive blow-out thing. It is important to stay in touch in a quality way that we can all feel comfortable with and I would trade seeing you more often but for a shorter time than trying to squeeze things into a mysterious evening date that might never happen. Tell me what you think.

9 May, London
City Matters column, May

Can you believe it, a shop called PMT?

10 May, London
M says that her stalker is a mansplayer. He dresses well and is ‘hot’ by her description. She says he stares at her and stands behind her at the queue for the escalator, breathing heavily. She says she can sense his presence at all times but does not feel threatened. I suggested a ‘reverse stalk’ in which she turns the tables on him and started breathing down his neck, but she was uncomfortable with that idea. I tried some cod psychology and managed to accidentally hint that the man might be quite a desperate character, to which she replied sarcastically, “Thanks very much”. We ended up joking about a serious subject, which in this case I’m not sure is a good thing.

10 May, Hackney
S at Headway says he went to Overchurch school and now lives in a place called Overbury. We toyed with album titles such as ‘From Overchurch to Overbury’ and ‘Overchurch, Overbury, Over & Out’. He said he was bullied by insensitive kids like me. He wore a school cap and his school blazer had coloured piping. Red tag to a bully. Smell the fear. It lives with him to this day. He asked me if I was a “scally”. I told him no, I never quite measured up in that department.

10 May, Hackney
At Ben’s book launch I spoke to the comedian Robert Newman. When I told him how I had my stroke at work, in front of people, he remarked “how humiliating!” When I described once editing one of his overlong rants about climate change, he said, “So, editing my copy gave you a stroke?” I said yes, that’s about the size of it and looked for someone else to talk to. The Carly Simon song ‘You’re So Vain’ came to mind, with a slight word change: “you probably think my stroke is about you”.

11 May, Brighton
Romantic message from J: We need a new mop head xx.

14 May, London
At St Luke’s they are having a ‘goodbye’ for Jeanie. Barbara says in her speech that they will name the bench outside the front of the building “Jeanie’s Bench” because that is where she sat, rain or shine, smoking her fags with the hunger of a starving lion. Jeanie entered her funeral service to the sound of Norman Wisdom singing ‘Don’t Laugh At Me Cos I’m A Fool’ and exited to Frank Sinatra doing ‘My Way’.

15 May, London
At the launch of Sam and Errol’s exhibition at the Dugdale Centre in Enfield Town, I got chatting with Errol’s mum, a lively Jamaican who has lived in Enfield for most of her life. She told me she was sad that Errol did not have any friends. I told her that he had loads at Headway. She was pleased to hear that I had met Errol’s brother, Patrick.

By Sam Jevon
By Errol Drysdale

14 May, London
At a St Luke’s Men’s Shed barbecue in King Square Gardens, Richard tells us that in 1969 he boarded a ship in Southampton bound for Australia. He was 21 and it was his first Navy posting. His duty was to peel potatoes. They called him a “spud barber”, he said.

18 May, Paris
Notice displayed on the number 65 bus.

Anyone read French? Is this about harassment on public transport?

18 May, Paris
Kate once visited the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb. That is up there with the sausage museum in Spain and the sardine museum in Jose Mourinho’s hometown Setubal inPortugal.

23 May, London
At the Headway magazine (Matter) launch last night Ben mentioned my contribution. When I pointed out that I had done nothing, he said I had made him and Laura feel easier with a piece of editorial advice, which amounted to “just get loads of stuff in and then decide what’s best. Use that and hold the rest”. It sounded kinda poetic with that “best/rest” rhyme.

A ‘Jason’ on the cover

24 May, London
I arrived at Headway today to be told that Pat Jackson had died suddenly last week. He was a miserable sod, always in cheap wraparound mirror-finish shades, who perked up at any mention of Elvis. I am grateful to him for always laughing very loudly at any bad joke or feeble remark I put his way. Michelle gave me the news and Tony B told me later that Pat was one of the first people he met on joining Headway. He told me that Pat was kind-of living on borrowed time, having fought and survived cancer some years ago.

24 May, London
At Headway, S and I are looking at a painting on the wall. “In A Forest. Isn’t that a song by The Cure”, says S, reading the painting’s title. We spend some time on Google, locate the song, A Forest, listen to it and earnestly discuss Robert Smith’s singing voice. Then I notice that the painting is signed, by the artist B T Pole. Only then do I realise that we are looking at a picture called ‘BT Pole In A Forest’. What larks, eh? People with brain injuries do the silliest things.

25 May, London
Bumped into L, who had a good moan about how life on the estate has changed for the worse. She has lived here 62 years and is especially pissed off at residents who complain about children playing. I am with her on that. She was having a problem with Channel 10 on her telly. I has disappeared. She likes the detective programmes on Channel 10 (ITV3), and the re-runs of Dallas and Dynasty on Channel 61. She and her deceased husband were big Arsenal fans. She said that what is now the People’s Choice café on Goswell Road used to be run by a fella connected to Arsenal FC and that players used to turn up for cups of tea and a chat. One of Lela’s children (in their 60s) died recently, which she swears caused the heart attack she suffered last Christmas.

25 May, London
J has just got back from the hospital. She needed an injection in her hip and asked the nurse if she should take off her jeans. No need, said the nurse, who then described how men take their trousers off automatically – enthusiastically – even when they don’t need to.

27 May, London In Bruce Grove, Tottenham, there is a neglected and partly derelict building called the Trades Hall. On its wall is a blue plaque commemorating Luke Howard, “namer of clouds”.

27 May, London
In Lidl in Enfield Town the penny finally drops that the secret (not) of Lidl’s success is its resemblance to the continental markets and stores we visit on our holidays. With the prices to match.

31 May, London
In a chat with Emily at Headway, we both got Kim & Aggie mixed up with Trinny & Susannah.

2 June, Brighton
Spotted outside the Taj Middle Eastern supermarket.

Cardboard Compression as art.

6 June, London
City Matters column for June.

Sport was meant to be the subject of this month’s column. Arsenal are widely supported here on Golden Lane and their ponderous appointment of a new manager has been a hot topic, and not just for those old enough to remember who Dick Emery was. The booking congestion at the Golden Lane tennis courts is another issue. And there is one resident (a Leyton Orient fan) whose dream is to see “walking football” introduced to the estate. All of that will have to wait, because the environment has barged in demanding attention.

First is the CoLPAI development of the former Richard Cloudesley site, which stands to rob us of several proud birch trees. An online petition to “Save Our Trees” is up for signing on and staff from both the City Corporation and Islington Council have bleeding eyeballs working through the small print of the planning verdict in case someone overlooked something. It wouldn’t be the first time. Add to this the latest news about the City’s ultra-poor air quality and cutting down healthy trees and replacing them with flaky promises of new ones “sometime soonish” seems indefensible.

A much nicer experience was this year’s Golden Baggers day trip, to the Turn End house and garden in Buckinghamshire, and in planning for this year’s Open Garden Squares Weekend (9-10 June), which will no doubt once again see hundreds of green-fingered enthusiasts trooping through our award-winning allotments. It was nice also to attend a reception for one Golden Bagger, artist Liz Davis (aka, “Buffy”), who for the past nine years has been sneaking around the neighbourhood collecting weirdly-named (sorry, rare) plant species (Hairy Cockspur?), drying them under scientific scrutiny and mounting them on the finest art paper. Her exhibition, ‘Wild City’, is at the Town House Gallery in Fournier Street E1 until 17 June.

It was also a bonus to be invited by our new estate manager, Michelle, to join an al-fresco discussion about the Golden Lane pond. The pond sits in an idyllic and relaxing spot at the back the community centre between Bowater House and Bayer House and is flanked by fabulous shrub roses. But it is suffering. Slime is festering below the surface of the water, the reeds are gasping for breath and the innocent turtles thrash around looking totally clueless. The fountain and pump are unsightly and a wholescale renovation is overdue. Buffy is shouting “homes for frogs” at passing strangers.

Michelle is keen to rescue the pond’s beauty from the jaws of neglect, but getting residents to agree on anything around here is hard work, and tainted by a dash of status envy, since the Barbican’s handsome water features get more loving attention from the City Corporation than do Golden Lane’s. A general meeting is planned for June 21 so all pond views can be captured. Expect some feisty exchanges.

And we mustn’t forget that the environment includes buildings. The scaffolding on Great Arthur House is coming down, though the dust and psychological damage to residents during the tiresome two-year window-replacement project will take much longer to clear up.

The dust is unlikely to settle on Bernard Morgan House anytime soon. One the accidental pleasures of the demolition of the former police section house is that the Eglwys Jewin Welsh church in Fann Street, with its distinctive green roof, can now be seen out in the open, in all its heavenly glory. Not for long. The BMH site is being prepared for a mammoth block of luxury flats nobody on the average UK wage could ever afford. The developers, Taylor Wimpey, are clearly nervous about the building’s designated name, The Denizen. They have been surveying residents for an alternative, something a bit less flashy and superior, I guess.

Their list of possible new names did not include Big Ugly Monster (BUM) so I spoiled my ballot paper in protest. Then something very funny happened. A relic WW2 bomb was unearthed by a JCB. The area was closed off and everyone in Bowater House and Cuthbert-Harrowing House put their fingers in their ears. They needn’t have bothered. It’s was a false alarm, and the digging soon resumed.

The “Bernard Morgan Bomb” incident got some of our senior residents talking about the old Ealing comedy film ‘Passport to Pimlico’ (1949), in which the accidental explosion of an undetonated German WW2 bomb uncovers a tomb full of treasure and an ancient royal charter declaring the surrounding area an independent state. Postwar rationing and austerity end immediately and the pubs stay open for 24 hours a day. Sounds good to me.
An edited version of this column appeared in the City Matters newspaper, issue 075.

City Matters page.

6 June, London
Something magical happened today. Because I am cheap, I use Spotify Free, rather than pay the £10 monthly subscription. The thing is, the curated collections in Spotify Free only allow you to play songs on SHUFFLE. So you don’t know what you are getting next. It’s random, sort of. I was obviously overjoyed when Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’ came on, but imagine the ecstasy when the next song was Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’. OK, you had to be there. Two fantastic love songs (in different ways) and two songs that have such a powerful piano voice.

7 June, London
Sitting in the Two Brewers enjoying a pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord ale, listening to Neil Young on my earbuds and reading Sherlock Holmes (Sign of Four), I come to a pause. On removing the earbuds, I notice that Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’ is playing on pub sound system. That is the song I was listening to on my earbuds.

7 June, Hackney, London
At Headway today there was a difficult interval with P. P is a bit of a food fascist and believes everyone but himself is ingesting poison in the form of the everyday meal. The food at Headway is cooked fresh on the day, but today P saw fault where innocent mistake was probably the real case. The “savoury bread-and-butter pudding with green-bean and red-onion salad” was the victim of his rant. While most of us just got on with eating this bargain meal at £2.50, P told his table (loudly) that we were suffering a systemic disgrace in silence. We were lapdogs to a food culture that is not only degenerate but evil. At some point, P2 said something along the lines of “OK, we hear what you are saying, move on” and he went mental (“Go back to Ireland, Irish girl). Yes, the bread-and-butter pudding was overcooked and very crunchy; the salad was actually more of a salsa, but P targeted P2 and, when James tried to pacify him, he switched into full-blown psycho. I sat there wondering what kind of training enables a Headway staffer to bring this fragile situation under control. I thought about setting off the fire alarm, but instead merely got out of my seat and moved away. By this time, P is actually enjoying his bad behaviour, swearing, threatening physical violence and acting like a totally unhinged dickhead. I was outside by now, but somehow the staff managed to usher him out to the arch. This meant the arch was unavailable to other members to use and that M, who had not witnessed what I had, was tasked with defusing the bomb. My heart went out to her. This was all witnessed by a man from the borough of Newham, who was checking on HEL’s performance. He told me later when he interviewed me how impressed he was. Members who spoke to me later about the incident agreed that brain injury is no excuse for being a tosser. For that, I loved them even more.

12 June, Islington, London
Peggy Ennis has two interesting ways to describe dementia to those who know little about it. In the first she likens the inner wiring of the right side of the human brain to a set of fairy lights that are not performing at their peak. Some of the bulbs are dim, some are flickering. Others have packed up altogether. It all means we are no longer quite as bright or as flashy as we used to be.

In the second description Peggy uses the metaphor of the bookcase. Imagine, she says, a bookcase made of plywood. Each of its shelves are full of books; each of the shelves represents 10 years of your life; all of the books on each shelf are your memories of that decade. On the bottom shelf are your earliest memories, on the top are your most recent. Push the shelf slightly and it will sway; push it harder and the books on the top shelf will begin to fall off. More pushing and the books on the other shelves will do likewise, but the books on the bottom shelf (your long-term memories) will only fall off after an almighty shove. As you try desperately to put the falling books back on their shelves, many of them will get mixed up. In other words, you become confused. This is what dementia is like.

Now imagine a bookcase made from solid oak. The books on the top shelves might fall, but the stability of the unit will hold many of them in place, allowing the displaced books to be re-stacked on the shelves with some sense of order. This, Peggy says, illustrates the importance of “brain fitness”. Keep your brain exercised and nourished and the effects of dementia can be eased. She has a slogan for this exercise: “a healthy heart means a healthy head”. In other words, regular exercise keeps your mind in tip-top condition.

In the dementia awareness training Peggy delivered to a small group at St Luke’s Community Centre, she then spoke about the left side of the brain and the importance of the emotions. Quite often, she said, we will forget what people told us, what their names were, where we met them and what time they arrived. But we will remember how they made us feel, so using our emotional recollections rather than our factual ones is a good way to compensate once dementia and/or memory difficulties set in. Happy, sad, angry, disgusted, frightened or shocked: these are the experiences we can use to put those book back on the right shelf.

Peggy told us how people with dementia can appear a bit confused, bonkers even. To someone with dementia a polished vinyl floor might look like water; a black rubber slipmat outside a supermarket door might look like a hole in the ground. This took me straight to a film idea, ‘Dementia Tour Of London’, a kind of funny/serious travelogue in which offspring and parent with early onset wander the capital’s streets seeing everything from a demented point of view.

14 June, Hackney, London
Two SLT (Speech and Language Therapy) revelations at Headway today. Sam joining the band we have with Music Therapy student Sam as the token ‘girl singer’ was brilliant, and I believe she got a lot out of it. She steamed through the lyrics of Steely Dan’s ‘Do It Again’ fearlessly. Them she took on the job of banging the cymbal at the end of the chorus WITH HER RIGHT HAND (Sam is left handed). Song-singing as an alternative to reading practice must always be worth a try. Inhibitions fall and confidence rises by having a band – albeit a crap one of me, Stuart and Barrie – to support you.

The second revelation came at Pat’s touching memorial in the arch, led by Michelle and Ben. Member after member (Cecil, Tony A, Errol), many with acute speech difficulties, lined up to talk fondly about Pat, driven by pure emotion and the will to do the decent thing. Others ad-libbed cheeky comments (special thanks to Eddie) and we all sang Elvis’s ‘Always On My Mind’.

14 June, London
I am becoming more and more convinced that in Abraham Lincoln’s determination to establish an American government “of the people, by the people, for the people”, the Corporation of London saw an opportunity to translate it to government “of the people, by the rich, for the rich”.

20 June, London
Being on regular medication can be quite daunting, and not just for the patient. Ahead of a recent holiday to Spain, I visited Portman Pharmacy in Cherry Tree Walk to request a regular repeat prescription. The idea is that the pharmacy contacts your GP surgery and, hey presto, two days later, your life-saving medication is ready for collection. Twice in a row now, this seemingly simple and streamlined process has crashed. In the most recent case, having made my request to the pharmacy on a Friday and told the medication would be back for collection the following Wednesday, it wasn’t there. What’s more, the chief pharmacist mined new depths of bad manners and arrogance to tell me, first, that the GP surgery was to blame, and then that it was MY fault because my “expectations are too high”. Despite having mobility problems caused by a stroke, I then made the journey to my GP surgery, the Neaman Clinic, was treated with great courtesy, collected the prescription and got my medication from another pharmacy. Endov Portman pharmacy, hello Boots New Change.

21 June, Hackney
Cecil on his 80th birthday in Headway kitchen.

Birthday boy

23 June, Winchester

If the real point if the European Union is to achieve an ever closer union among the people’s of Europe, the British have never really wanted a place in it.

Helen Thompson, LRB, 21 June 2018

28 June, Murcia
In a tapas/enoteca restaurant in a place called Baños y Mendigo (Baths & Beggar) we watched England go down 1-0 to Belgium. At the end there was some speculation as to whether England manager Gareth Southgate was being strategic in trying to come second in the group (he made 8 changes to a team that had won 6-1 in its previous game), but that sounds very risky to me.

29 June, San Pedro Something Or Other, near a La Manga, Murcia
About 50m from the sandy beach is an inflatable playground, with slides, trampolines, climbing frames, etc. The water here is still and quite shallow, so this is an ideal spot for such a glorified bouncy castle. Its best feature is a vertical climbing wall in the shape of the grand upper deck of a cruise liner. What would have been portholes on the cruiser are toe holes for the climber to scale straight from the sea to the top of the deck, from which they can then slide back into the sea, and so the joyous, safe process repeats itself.

5 July, Hackney
At Headway Y said something S had told me before: that having memory problems makes it impossible to think about the future. I will ask them one day whether that means the future is suspended or postponed, rather than it simply no longer exists.

6 July, London

‘Theresa May secures approval from
cabinet to negotiate soft Brexit’

PM proposes creation of ‘UK-EU free trade area’ and matching food standards

I am starting the think that having a government on the edge of a knife is not such a bad thing. It means that a robust opposition can actually do some work in shaping policy. More and more these days, it is work at select committee level of government that is having the greatest effect. This is how a healthy parliamentary democracy should work.

6 July, London
A bunch of Henley knobheads have just got on the train at Paddington we are getting to Cholsey. One of them is wearing a white long-sleeve linen shirt with a grey-beige paisley tie and matching “handkerchief” in the shirt’s top left-hand pocket. Now they are joined by another set of noisy hoorays. A cork just popped and a blonde woman in a silver pleated skirt and pink high-heel sandals is guffawing obediently to the greasy overprivileged smarmos sitting opposite. Pimm’s in cans now. A navy like men blazer with pink chalk stripes is hanging by the window. I can feel the urge for a class war coming on.

6 July, Cholsey
Remembering what Y and S at Headway had said about the future, and watching M struggling, I wonder is this what it is like as you approach the end of your life? Do you decide it is pointless to keep thinking about the future? Or does any concept of the future just slowly recede over a period of time leading up to your death?

17 July, London
Email exchange with M at the Guardian Education Centre.

Hi M I just thought I ought to mention something weird that happened in yesterday’s workshop. One of the pupils at the back table on the left was a bit stary. She gazed at me in an intense way. One of her fellow tablemates saw her do it and pulled a face of disapproval. Stary Girl then told me I had “lovely eyes”. I replied, “Thank you, my wife says they are the best thing about me.”

I thought nothing of it and carried on. When I returned to that table later, Stary Girl stared at me again and asked, “Sir, where are you from?” I told her I was from Liverpool and again carried on, but afterwards consciously avoided that table, which was a pity because the rest of the pupils on it were really quite bright and switched on.

I know this probably amounts to nothing, but I also know it could be seen in a less innocent way, so I thought it best to let you know. Best regards Billy

Hi Billy
Thanks for mentioning this. I think I know who you mean – she had long brown hair. She was trying to be disruptive throughout the session, and on the whole the teachers and us kept a check on this. Really sorry this happened to you and that you felt uncomfortable – you did the right thing by avoiding that table.  We have had no mention of this from the school and we got an email today saying thank you for a great session. Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow.  The school have been before and are from Cornwall – the teacher is on our advisory network. Thank you for your amazing work and support. The students and us gain so much for you input into the sessions and your superb advice. With many thanks

27 July, London
Email to Cris V at Headway regarding our recent involvement in the Science Museum Lates project for the 70th anniversary of the nhs.

Hi Cris
Sorry we didn’t get to talk yesterday. I had to catch a train to Liverpool for a big family reunion.

My feedback on the Lates event is this: it was difficult to tell how successful it was as I was so close to the centre of the action. It seemed well attended and the space we were in was ideal, a perfect match. The interactive collage workshop/table was outstanding and can be adapted for lots of other projects in the future. It’s a winner.

The element I was involved with was not a success for me. I had planned my questions for Y in the belief that the title of our conversation was ‘You Must Remember This’. I arrived to find that the title was in fact ‘Am I My Past Or My Present?’

I tried quickly to rewrite the script to fit this title, but did not want to tell Y because she was very nervous and we had agreed there would be “no surprises” in our presentation. In other words, I was winging it.

At our talk, I thought it was going OK until a latecomer, who maybe hadn’t heard the introduction, heckled me, accusing me of not allowing Yoki to speak. No one tried to calm him, so I had to deal with the situation. Eventually, Thomas stepped in. I regret the way I spoke to the heckler as P told me later he believed him to have brain injury. I maybe should have been more sensitive to that possibility, but in the moment I was more sensitive as to how the commotion would affect Y.

As it turned out, she was brilliant. It has been a pleasure to work with her. Every time we did our ‘conversation’, her answers became richer and richer. I never wanted to plunge her into the unknown, but that is one of the risks at public events.

All in all, our bit was a mess, and all I could hope for was that not many people noticed.

9 August, Hackney
For the third week in a row, S at Headway has remembered my name, stating it to me directly as a greeting, as in “Hello, Billy, how are you?

11 August, London
At Tate Modern.


21 August, London
The City of London Corporation is a systemic dictatorship. Discuss.

21 August, London
On the train to Basingstoke.


It starts with a quote from HG Wells: “Who bears affection for this or that spadeful of mud in my garden? Who cares a throb of the heart for all the tons of chalk in Kent or all the lumps of limestone in Yorkshire? But men love England, which is made up of such things.”

22 August, Moulsford, 03.45
RIP Margaret, 95.

23 August, London
Great birthday message from cousin Jan in Florida, who called me an “old spinner of wicked tales”. Put it on the headstone now.

30 August, Hackney
Latest map artwork, front and back.

Tell it like it is, Stuart…

31 August, London
Blog for Margaret about what I do at the Guardian workshops.

Among the story options for the Education Centre’s ‘Victorians’ primary workshop is one about an explosion in 1866 at the Oaks Colliery in Barnsley, Yorkshire. When I advise students how to write a good headline, I ask them to find an ACTIVE VERB that tells the reader what happened. This is not as simple as it sounds. The verb they choose will show emphasis and nuance. It will show the reader how they have interpreted the facts, the meaning they attach to what happened. ‘Yorkshire colliery EXPLODES’ is not wrong. ‘Colliery explosion KILLS 361’ tells a deeper story.

But the word EXPLOSION is problematic. Nine characters, three syllables, it doesn’t really pack much of a punch [its density doesn’t actually carry much weight?]. I asked one Y6 pupil if she could think of a shorter word beginning with the letter B that could be used instead of EXPLOSION. I was hoping for BLAST. The girl put on her thinking cap, ran a few words through her head, then leaned slowly towards me, filled her lungs and shouted “BANG!” in my left ear.

I’m not even sure “Colliery blast kills 361” is the best headline for that story. The word BLAST has problems of its own. But the beauty of trying to find it with my shouty student was that I got to witness a young mind thinking on its feet in real time. And that goes to the heart of working in journalism. The headline might not have been quite as good as it could have been, but the experience was true. It was exciting and rewarding. It was also great fun.

Journalism is obviously a useful way to frame curriculum subjects in reality, and experience always trumps theory. The Education Centre’s workshops go to great lengths to show that. Deadlines are enforced strictly, bad spelling or grammar is laid bare for all to see. Trying to write the same headline six times is part of the job. Teachers squirm when I ask them cheekily, “Miss, how do you spell embarrassed?” The students love that one.

I get to see pupils from Y5 up. The younger ones are fabulously honest and wickedly funny. They call me Sir, which I like. The Secondary students are in search of identity, so attitudes and opinions bubble up. I spend more time helping them to find their own voice than on how nouns can be transformed into verbs.  

But in all cases I am looking for talent and wondering how I can nurture it. Some students arrive with sound writing skills, some with a good knowledge of research and information gathering. The moments I cherish most are when I can tell a student (and sometimes their teachers) that they are secretly very good at one of the less glamorous but essential journalistic tasks. Spotting that a picture could be improved by some careful cropping, or that a standfirst or pullquote repeats a word already used in the headline; these are the tiny nuts and bolts of quality that matter much more than is ever acknowledged. One of my personal triumphs is when I helped an SEN pupil type their name at the top of the story. Something simple and basic to the many is a mountain to the few.

Bad moments are rare. I get frustrated in a small way when some pupils expect me to do the job for them. All teaching is a mix of show and tell, but the implied unspoken contract is that pupil and teacher are in partnership. I am there to HELP them, not to be their servant. I can be quite blunt in stating this, of planting a stern piece of advice then walking away to see what happens. To return later to find a wrong spelling corrected or a headline improved, is a delight.

I have been volunteering in the Education Centre for close to five years. I arrived in search of something useful to do with my life after suffering a stroke. Before that I was on the editorial team of the Guardian’s Weekend magazine for 20 years. The great moments I recall from my working life are matched equally nowadays with the joy of passing on my skills to younger generations. Sometimes I am staggered by the talent I get to work with. Not long ago, two Y9 pupils (students work in pairs) looked totally stumped by the empty space on their page waiting for a headline about France winning the World Cup. “France CLAIM World Cup victory” would have been good enough, but when I revisited their desk five minutes later, I saw “Football’s coming à la Maison”. Brilliant.

An edited version of this article appeared on the Guardian Education Centre web page.

1 September, London
At Guildhall Art Gallery.


2 September, London
At the British Museum.


4 September, London
The storming of the CityCorp’s Cripplegate noticeboard gathers pace.

Doris announcement

12 September, Moulsford
Funeral day for Margaret.

She was such a womanist in her later years.

14 September, London
The Roof of the Sir Ralph Perring Centre on the Golden Lane Estate is a potential death trap for delinquent male teenagers, who prowl its dizzy heights in testosteronic competition and juvenile joshing with one another. I spotted one unlucky specimen today attempting a tricky climbdown, only to twist over on his ankle during the final drop. He staggered painfully to his feet and was ushered away supported by two friends, who both looked like they were enjoying his pain. I smiled a smile bordering on laughter, and felt slightly ashamed.

21 September, London
Yesterday Cris V gave me a copy of the feedback document from the Science Museum event we took part in back in July. The event featured me and Y talking about memory and remembering; basically, two people with brain injuries jibber-jabbering. The best bit of the feedback for me was one answer to the question, “What motivated you to attend the event?” Some comedian answered that it “sounded fun”. Bloody hilarious.

22 September, Brussels
30th Anniversary weekend. Liverpool 3 Southampton 0. Top of the world, Ma.


23 September, Brussels
30 years ago today. Walthamstow register office, ‘Theme From The Deer Hunter’. Quickly-bought ring for me from H Samuel, Camden High Street. Today is surreal.


23 September, Brussels
In Museé Magritte we spotted a group of young women in traditional dress; long patterned pleated skirts, white blouses closed to the throat and a kind of loosely bowed neck tie or ribbon thing. They wore circular squat pillbox hats/headdresses in patterned red/burgundy (hair tied up or back) and body-hugging waistcoats in the same colour (sketch below gives a rough idea).


They were Latvian, we discovered and here in Brussels for a festival. On one of the women I noticed a small tear just below the collar of her blouse at the back. The tear looked like a mark of wear (a bit grubby) and it made me wonder whether this blouse had been passed down through generations. Was she wearing her grandmother’s festival blouse?

23 September, Brussels
Champagne, cheese, grapes and the last episode of Bodyguard in our hotel room.


24 September, London
Back home. Vanity Fair on ITV catch-up.

In a world where everyone is striving for what’s not worth having.

27 September, Hackney
S was looking around in a shifty manner today while we were doing reading practice. Perhaps she is nervous about being seen doing it.

28 September, Brighton
Email to Natasha, Director of Services, Headway East London.

Hi Tash
I just spotted this story in Hackney Citizen about St Leonard’s. I fleetingly once thought that St Leonard’s would be a good ‘partnership’ for HEL and a good location. I knew it had/has loads of empty space. I also knew/know that in the City & Hackney health/social services partnership, the City of London (very rich) could do with contributing a bit more to support Hackney (very poor), though the Corporation of London (arseholes) would argue differently. These are of course the gross generalisations of a tabloid journalist, and of little real interest, but anchoring HEL more in the community is something I’m interested in, so I thought I would pass it in on.

28 September, Brighton
Email to Jade at CoL Community Engagement re the training that started one year ago with an 8-week Action for Happiness course of workshops.

I was sceptical of the Action for Happiness idea, and one year on some of my doubts have been sidelined, but the jury is still out. I never liked the Buddhist flavour. This is probably a misconception, but a lot of buddhism seems to emphasise the individual, whereas I believe in the team. The persecution of the Royhingya muslims by the Myanmar military is another stain that has not been cleaned for me. At times it looks like it is drifting blind into genocide, and that makes me nervous. ‘Political ranting aside, I think it is worth mentioning how the Action for Happiness workshop threw together a group of driven strangers who all shared a desire nurture change: for a greater understanding of one another and for a way to work together that would be transformative. ‘Continuity has also been important for me. Dovetailing the Action for Happiness workshop with the Community Building project has been a great success. Thanks to the training workshops that followed, I am now a better planner, a better listener and a better friend to my neighbours. ‘Overall, the biggest impact for me has been to see the strength in others. Their weaknesses they can keep, but show me what you’re good at and I’ll be like a rat up a drainpipe finding a way to make the most of it.


28 September, Brighton
In Paris House, Western Road.

Pub grub, and drink

5 October, Paris
It is such a long time since I last spotted a bit of rolled-up carpet in a Parisian gutter.

6 October, Paris
Not only do they have those hire bicycles you can just leave anywhere on the pavement, they also have a motorised scooter equivalent. The marginalisation of the pedestrian is in full swing here in Paris.

6 Octobe, Paris
Spotted in the 15th Arr.


6 October, Paris
Out and about in Convention.

Local crone
Flip flops and chips

7 October 2018, Paris
A day at the Longchamp races.

Smartie suit and Peaky Blinder, all in one picture
Love’s young dream
View from the cheap seats

8 October, London
Just back from a weekend in Paris, where not only do they have those hire bikes (Mobike) you can leave anywhere on the pavement, but a motorised scooter equivalent. Now I read in City Matters, number 083, a story that hints at a future where the highway conflict shifts from motorist versus cyclist to motorist and cyclist and scooterist, or whatever, versus pedestrian. As the City’s ‘Culture Mile’ tourism programme gains momentum, footfall will increase, but so will the march of technology and the public highways will become the province of all kinds of gadgetry. The distinction between road and pavement is breaking down and the City will become a much more dangerous place for walkers.

City Matters clipping

11 October, Hackney
The best thing for me at the Headway Co-Production workshop today was Rosy’s answer to the question: ‘Why HEL members should be involved in decision making?” Rosy (not Ross) is not a day-service member, but she did benefit from talking to day-members, which she did actively. I especially enjoyed a conversation with her and Phil Chimes during one of the breaks about being a cop (pre brain injury). We shared the experience of not being able to multi-process. We both can only do things serially, start-finish, start-finish, etc. Rosy said also that she retained some of her pre-brain injury embedded characteristics, what I frivolously referred to as “being plod”. She was still very observant, suspecting and cautious. She had not “lost it” as she told her closest friends.

12 October, London

Fascinating puppet show. Are pupeteers hand dancers dressed in black?

October, Hackney
A bit of writing for Michelle about the masks project with Steven.

The studio’s current artist-in-residence is Steven Wright, who found fame turning his house in Dulwich, south London, into a living museum of Outsider Art. He called it his “House of Dreams”, so it was interesting to see him bring his dreamworld to Submit to Love.

One of his first projects was to get members making masks. The temptation to draw parallels between masks and dreams is strong. It could be said that both are multi-layered confessions, and Steven agreed that masks are more often about revealing than concealing.

Our members took first-base inspiration from a serious book about Mexican masks, but roamed freely with the subject thereafter. So it wouldn’t be a good idea to read too much into these masks. Some of them are of real people (Michael Jackson), some are just for fun. Some are self portraits. AD’s image of herself depicts a wild-headed woman with her tongue sticking out. It’s a remarkable likeness, both physical and metaphorical, of the AD I know. Studio manager Michelle modelled herself on an evil crone with sunken eyes and a hooked nose. As I said, don’t read too much into these things. Errol Drysdale did the mask of a lion. That’s a good character fit, too.

Mask project.

One of the fascinating things these masks all have in common is that inside them, their essence, their soul, is one day: Tuesday, October 16, 2018. This is because they all started as scrunched-up pages from that day’s copy of the Metro newspaper, on top of which is layer upon layer of Modrock.

The front-page headline in the Metro on that Tuesday was “MEXIT!” followed by a story about how Prince Harry’s wife, Meghan, will be enduring the pain of childbirth on the same day the UK is scheduled to leave the EU. Good luck with that, thought Sam Jevon as she turned this story into the outsized nose of a grinning idiot.

Other stories that day included one about Katya from Strictly Come Dancing trying to repair her marriage after a slip of the tongue with a long-haired comedian called Seann. There was something about Universal Credit not only being a pathway to misery for tens of thousands, especially women, but a total waste of billions for the taxpayer. But my favourite story was an interview with the artist Finn Stone (aka, the Mad Hatter), whose north-London house looks like it just came out of Steven Wright’s toilet.

It is weirdly comforting to think that the Metro newspaper’s worldly wisdom is embedded in these creations. More so that each of them carries an identical tabloid voodoo and yet look so vastly different. It’s both enlivening and creepy in one take.

I still can’t resist mentioning that huge pink nose to Sam Jevon at every opportunity. She giggles coquettishly, but I’m pretty sure she’s wishing I’d just shut up and piss off.

22 October, London
The cynic in me says this film is all about Bradley Cooper’s desire to cast himself in a love story with Lady Gaga.


24 October, London
A sort of cross between ‘Kids From Fame’ and ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’.

Great fun.

25 October, London
At the Photographers’ Gallery in London.

Children looking remotely happy are rare in this exhibition.

26 October, London
Early this morning I heard on BBC Radio 4 Extra a gripping 20-minute play made in 1978 called ‘The Revenge’. It was written by the actor Andrew Sachs, who is also the story’s principal character. The stand-out feature of the play is that contains no spoken words. The drama is communicated purely by sound. To get the idea, think of the difference in sound between someone breathing calmly, at ease and in a relaxed manner, and someone breathing desperately during a chase.

27 October, London


28 October, London


Interesting introduction from a woman who told us about Czechoslovakia’s early adoption of votes for women (1918). This film (St Wenceslas) cries out for a women’s Monty Python-style remake.

2 November, London
Amazing geometry and texture at Tate Modern.


7 November, London
Archiving Don McPhee’s pictures today at the Guardian, it dawned on me, as I checked some colour negatives of ice-skaters in Blackpool, that many of these negs have never been seen, let alone printed. Back in the day, once Don (or any other staff photographer) had delivered a shoot and the Guardian picture editor had made a selection, the remaining frames were surplus and unlikely ever to see the light of day again. Excuse the pun. There were some fantastic unused shots of skates, feet and lower legs that have probably been seen by around three people, and that includes me. It made me feel slightly sad, but also happy that the arrival of digital photography at least offers the possibility that such a waste of creative energy is not everlasting.

11 November, London
There has been a lot of talk recently about the possibility of Remembrance fading now that the 100-year anniversary of the first world war has arrived. So I have decided to rebrand 11 November for myself as ‘Death of Innocence Day’. DOI Day.

11 November, London
Nice photo exhibition, which includes a shot of a woman doing a stand-up wee on Waterloo Bridge.


13 November, London
At the Memory Group today, Charlie, an ex East End docker now living in the Barbican, declared Jeremy Corbyn “not left-wing enough” for him.

19 November, London

Great study of black/white US politics made personal.

22 November 2018, London
Photographers are crap reporters. At the Guardian Archive today I was indexing pictures and growing more and more pissed off by the minute by photographers who give the most scant information about their work. Items labelled “TUC Conference, Blackpool” contain countless headshots of various people but no clue as to who the hell they are. A diligent researcher would no doubt be able to piece that information together, but the reality is that any good picture editor would simply select a photo properly labelled and reject the ones not.

On another note, I came across a sheet of colour negatives by Don McPhee labelled “John Major at Emmerdale”. They looked like great picture of the PM in the Woolpack Inn, etc, but it struck me then that one of the dying skills of the picture editor is to be able to “read the negative”. Being able to “see” the picture, its quality, its composition and its suitability for publication is a skill that must have largely disappeared, or is at least consigned to academic study in the same way that typography has become its own specialist arts subject.

2 December, Pangbourne
Sodden newspaper on metal bench at Platform 2 of Pangbourne railway station.


2 December 2018, London
Got these roughs from Hackney artist Coline L’Archiver. We did a jazz/art workshop at Headway last week with the aim of producing artwork that might appear on T-shirts for a jazz event. Mine is the crappy Letraset thing, a case of do it faster, make it better.


And this from Errol…


4 December, London
On a ‘Best of Ennio Morricone’ album is a fab version of ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’ from the film The Mission played on flute, guitar and pan-pipes.

6 December, London
Memory sent to Hackney artist Coline L’Archiver to go with the jazz artwork.

“Many many years before I became an artist at the Submit to Love studio at Headway East London, I worked as a writer in the music press. One day, for some reason, I was invited to the retirement party of Jack Hutton, the managing director of the company I worked for. Jack was an old jazzer, so the party was at Ronnie Scott’s in Soho. It was a lively event at which Jack made a speech. He told stories from his past as a young reporter, one of which was the occasion on which he interviewed John Coltrane. Jack finished his interview by asking Coltrane if he had any advice. Yes, answered the master, “Have sex and travel”. Only when Jack returned to the office and repeated his gem of a quote to a senior editor did he learn that “Have sex and travel” is a roundabout way of telling someone to “Fuck off!” Jack’s unhappy brush with a legend was the inspiration for my typographical piece HAVE SAX AND TRAVEL. It is a small detail in the rich tapestry of jazz, but one that nevertheless always makes me smile.”

20 December, London
At Headway today during Christmas lunch, SD told me a story from when he was a young boy in Birkenhead. While his mother was ill in hospital – dying from cancer as it happens – his father employed a woman called Rose as a home help. According to SD, this woman abused her trusted position to run up massive bills and even to pilfer the contents of the young SD’s plastic piggy bank. When his father came to check the contents of the piggy bank and found it empty, he blamed and scolded SD for spending it all on sweets. A smack around the head is what SD got when he protested his innocence. SD said I was the first person he had ever told that story to. Unfortunately, he started the story by describing Rose as his “nanny”, which led instantly to cruel jibes from me about SD’s fellowship with Jacob Rees-Mogg.

21 December, London
Paula, Sean and Sue came round for pizza and a viewing of the film Elf, which coincidentally stars both Lou Grant (Ed Asner) and Professor Proton (Bob Newhart). Sean’s treat as an 8-year-old was to talk to Alexa, and he wasted no time in getting familiar. But unlike the adults we have introduced to her, he did not treat her as a slave. He spoke to her politely, asking questions such as who was the first Roman Emperor and which was the heaviest dinosaur. Alexa was polite back, even to the extent of her response to Sean’s declaration of his love for her. “Wow!” she replied, “That’s very flattering.”

22 December, London
Saw M from GAH at the bus stop today. She said she had been unwell with a cold and had gone to get her hair cut to cheer herself up, but it didn’t work. She also told me that when her husband T was still alive (he died in 2016), they had given up buying each other Christmas presents because they had everything they wanted. Nevertheless, each year Ted still bought her some Chanel perfume. Since his death she has bought it for herself, but told me she rarely had much use for perfume “these days”.

22 December, London
Merry Wives of Windsor at the Barbican Theatre. Roll together off-the-shelf, writing-to-order Shakespeare humour, Are You Being Served, ‘Allo ‘Allo, The Only Way Is Essex and Carry On Everything and you get the picture. Great Christmas fun. It made me want to re-read all of Shakespeare’s comedies.


23 December, London
Labour and Brexit!

28 December, London
There is a coffee bar in Farringdon that does not take cash. I remember when it was difficult to pay by card. Retailers were suspicious. Card-reading machines were rare and banks did not repay the money very quickly.

30 December, Los Cristianos, Tenerife
Colour combinations. Pink and grey has long been a favourite for me. The grey clouds and the pink sunset here at Paloma Beach is mesmerising. Add a pristine sky blue to those colours and the effect is sublime.


2 thoughts on “Scrapbook 2018

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