Scrapbook 2019

1 January, Los Cristianos, Tenerife This is where the world is today.

1 January, Los Cristianos, Tenerife The fireworks last night were surprisingly spectacular in a very non-grand way.

The one I hadn’t seen before was like a missile aimed at shooting down enemy aircraft, zooming horizontally at a slight incline into the sky.

8 January, Tenerife On the return flight, before takeoff, we were asked not to consume anything containing nuts, or to spray perfumes or use nail polish.

The reason was passengers with allergies. I asked Jane whether the sandwiches she made earlier for our flight home breached this request.

She said she didn’t think so. I told her I could not remember whether or not I used cologne this morning.

10 January, Hackney Just tried to add a Reminder to my calendar, and by the time I opened the window I had forgotten what I was trying to remind myself about.

12 January, London The Melanie version of ‘Ruby Tuesday’ is a better than the Stones original.

15 January, London With Headway and St Luke’s at ‘Modern Couples’ Community View and art workshops at the Barbican.

That’s me in the pork-pie hat

17 January, Hackney Further to SD’s story about his ‘nanny’ Rose (20 December 2018) and her petty thieving activities while in charge of the young SD, he told me today about Maria, who supplanted Rose, and her young daughter Anna.

Maria and Anna would go on to become SD’s mother and sister.

19 January, London It was never about Europe. Brexit is Britain’s reckoning with itself.

19 January, London Rachael and Lisa did a slot at the Globe’s Sam Wannamaker Playhouse called ‘Souled Out’. Pauline McLynn (Mrs Doyle from TV’s Father Ted) was another star turn.

The whole thing was a tragi-comedy juggling act and female retort to the previously very male exploration of the Faustian thing about selling your soul to the Devil.

It put good and evil, morality and ethics, dilemma and conundrum into the pot and shook it up.

Left feeling that all of life itself is some sort of Pact.

20 January, London I have just spotted an unintentional, accidental half-baked metaphor in my last City Matters column.

Towards the end of the piece I explain that I am filing the column from the island of Tenerife and go on to draw a couple of similarities with London.

One is the north-south divide, “and bang in the middle is an active volcano,” I state, describing the alien landscape of Mount Teide.

It never occurred to me at the time that the City is a volatile, strange mini-state within London, remote, rock hard work and potentially dangerous.

It is also constantly renewing itself, which parallels a volcano constantly renewing the earth’s surface.

22 January, London My notes for a talk with two large groups of physios at St George’s University, Tooting, for Headway.

I used the visit as an opportunity to pop in to see the Bridges crew: Heide, Tess and Chrissy. 

During the training talk, one of the students asked me if I was Liverpool or Everton, a reference to the text in my painting ‘Surrender’.

I asked him to guess and he chose Everton. I asked why and he replied, “because you are quite humble.”

23 January, London Rachael and Lisa came to the coffee and chat at the community centre and it was amazing to see the ease with which they slipped into chatting with people such as Naomi, Lela and Brigitte.

It must be part of their skills in getting their ‘Verbatim Theatre’ scripts together. 

24 January, London SL at Headway has written about her brain injury. She used to work in business in the City and it is nice to see in her writing that she has somehow managed to turn the bullet-point list into a form of poetry.

28 January, London A bit of drivel for a Headway award entry, The Best of Hackney

“The voice of brain injury isn’t an especially loud one. It is soft, reluctant, cautious even. Those who have been affected by a catastrophic life-changing event, don’t shout about it too much.

“They are best heard in their actions, and it is in what the members of the Headway East London community in Haggerston do for each other that has the greatest impact.

“Just recently one of them spoke at the bookshop Pages of Hackney about the agony of deciding whether to undergo brain surgery that might OR MIGHT NOT relieve his condition.

“Every two months, a whole team of them prepare and deliver an evening of freshly cooked food and fun for the Headway Eats supper club, attended regularly by up to 60 guests at Headway HQ, Timber Wharf, Kingsland Road.

“And art by Headway members, made in their Submit to Love studio, can be seen all over Hackney, most recently at vfdalston, where member Tony got to show off his unique typographical skills.

“With a lot of love, Headway does Hackney proud by taking what to many looks like an insurmountable disability and turns it into something super-special, something worth shouting about and something worth sharing.”

31 January, London Got to attend a posh exhibition of S2L studio art at Rathbones, an ancient capitalist investment outfit at 8 Finsbury Circus in the City.

The views from the 8th floor were spectacular and the evening was well managed and enjoyable.

I helped Cecil sell his Tower Bridge picture to an unsuspecting punter called Elizabeth, who fell, as I knew she would, for Cecil’s charms.

Jane bought my brain picture for £120. I think it was a pity purchase, so I agreed that the money should come out of the family account.

2 February, London I used to remember my dreams, but not so much since I was visited by You Know What.

2 February, London Séan and Jane were grasping the air in front of them at this.

5 February, London to the Barbican to see rhe film ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’

Absorbing, very funny and not a duff performance. Hard not to recall Withnail when Richard E Grant turns in one of his overcamp romps.

9 February, London At the Golden Lane Jumble Sale. We made £30.

10 February, London There is a lot of talk in the media of how the big two political parties are packed with internal conflict.

Political commentator Andrew Rawnsley states in the Observer that their problems are a symptom of an old voting system that breeds tribalism. He urges reform.

The piece made me wonder what British politics would look like if the parliamentary whipping system was scrapped and every MP had a free vote.

Would this force political rivals to engage in a more meaningful dialogue and negotiate on behalf of the citizens they represent?

11 February, London To the Barbican to see the film ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’. A quite intense love story, beautifully played and photographed.

14 February, London At Headway reading group today SD told us about his “psychopathic Irish girlfriend Mo” and the poor-man’s Valentine’s gifts he lavished on her back in 1989.

Feet were among them. SD and Mo were so poverty-stricken that Valentine’s Day became an embarrassing reminder of their dire straits.

SD says he got some old cardboard, made a box and in it he put small drawings of the things he knew Mo would like but he could not give her: chocolates, bits of jewellery and the like.

Mo suffered with her feet, so SD sketched a new pair of feet for her.

15 February, London Brexit metaphors are all over the place, so I thought I’d give it a crack.

The swivel-eyed loony Tory fringe are like six Premier League fullbacks refusing to play unless the offside rule is changed.

16 February, Brighton

I just got a message from Facebook telling me I posted this illustration three years ago.

I remember its origin. I’d read an inspiring article that claimed that the 21st Century would become the Century of Sharing. I liked the sound of those words. They had a ring, so I started to think how I might illustrate them. 

I also liked the sentiment, the idea that a more caring, sharing society might become a model for future generations to aspire to, blah, blah.

I’m writing this diary entry because yesterday thousands of schoolchildren in Britain went on strike to protest our government’s failure to tackle climate change. 

That sharing symbol/pictogram from internet browsers I user in the picture was a shameless act of theft.

I do like it, though. It looks like a molecular model for water, H2O, which gives the concept a natural, elemental flavour.

In the studio, I later created a sculpture of this idea with three plastic footballs from Poundland, two cardboard tubes, some scrunched-up newspaper and a lot of Modrock.

I painted each of the balls red, green and blue (RGB). 

In the sculpture, the concept shifted to a more political one. The two satellite balls were each marked STATE and MARKET. The central core ball was marked SOCIETY.

The idea is that Market and State can only communicate with one another by journeying the length of the ‘bond’ to and from Society.

Society is thus the key to a better world.

Everything must pass through Society, so build a good one that can handle the different types of traffic.

17 February, Three Bridges Is there a New Barbarism emerging, just in time for post-Brexit Britain? A nation of gentlemen and white savages?

From the Guardian

18 February, Liverpool RIP Sylvia, age 91. Holy Trinity Church, Breck Road/Richmond Bowling Club.

I think some of the following entries have their dates mixed up.

19 February, Liverpool What if… across the political spectrum, MPs simultaneously resigned their party’s whip and united around a Deal Us In coalition to secure a fruitful future relationship with the 27 countries of the European Union?

Have I mentioned this before?

Later:

From Google Maps

I finally got to meet the Rotary Club of Gants Hill. I won’t pretend it was a long-held ambition.

I was there, at Kanchans restaurant, with fundraiser Rosy from Headway and we were on a mission to secure some kind of donation.

Four women, four men, they were charming and showed genuine interest in our pitch. I didn’t tell them that last Thursday, in preparation, I had discussed their organisation with SD at Headway.

We noted that the Rotary Club logo is a wheel with six spokes and 24 cogs. We didn’t quite know what to make of that. It wasn’t exactly a Satanic code. Not that we could see, anyway.

When SD pointed out that there were 5 gaps between the spokes, our imaginations quickened, but only briefly. I think it might just be a wheel.

I sat in a Turkish coffee bar called Gold’s for half an hour before the meeting, sipping camomile tea and reading the introduction to ‘Theft by Finding’ by David Sedaris.

A Turkish music TV station was playing in the corner throughout. In preparation, I also had this about Gants Hill up my sleeve:

“The name could have originated from the Le Gant family, who were stewards of Barking Abbey. The name Gantesgrave appears in records as early as 1291. Alternatively, the name may be derived from ‘Gnats Cross’ in reference to the insects.”

20 February, London An unusually shaped Plane tree outside the British Council, Trafalgar Square. Planes are normally trimmed for upward growth since they pump tons of life-giving water and oxygen into polluted city centres. This one has gone all horizontal.

Then: To the Mall Galleries off Trafalgar Square to see the ‘British Life Photography’ exhibition of those recently awarded prizes.

Included were three by Paul, one of them, from Brighton beach, in the ‘Rural Life’ category.

Later: Seen on Twitter.

21 February, Hackney A bit of promo text for Michelle flogging a collaborative piece called ‘Love London’.

“The heart of London is big and generous and full of love. It beats strongest when its people do their daily dance to the city’s sounds.

“Its smells never fail to entice. Its rhythms guide us powerfully through every step we take.

“We instinctively feel the warm throb of the metropolis and slip easily into its hustle and bustle.

“From north to south, east to west, the London we know and love is above all a creation of its people.

“They come from all over the country and from across the globe in search of London’s passionate embrace. They yield to it and give their hearts back in return.

“This collective work celebrates that beautiful relationship, of London and its people and the partnership they have forged to make our city the envy of the world.”

Utter drivel.

23 February, London We went to a Headway/Hackney Roots fundraiser last night at Chats Palace, a community centre near Homerton Hospital.

Members of Headway Music Group performed with jazz entertainers the Grand Union Orchestra. 

They had a showman trumpeter, Claude, who was good at engaging people, a young hip dude on a very cool semi-acoustic electric bass guitar, a very senior citizen on trombone and electric piano and a senior saxophonist who Jane said resembled the Lady In The Van. A smirking drummer completed the line-up. 

It was an enjoyable evening, mostly because so many Headway members turned up, either as performers or spectators.

Seeing them out in the real world having fun was a joy. The event probably didn’t raise much money but it momentarily elevated Headway members from their daily struggle with brain injury. 

Check out @HeadwayELondon’s Tweet:

25 February, London Keith has just pointed out on Instagram that this drawing I posted was a bit phallic. I honestly never noticed until now, but he is dead right.

26 February, London I’d forgotten how sensual a film ‘The Piano’ is.

Lots of acting with the eyes and lots of touch. Even the sound is powerful, the soft piano, the waves, the rain, the squelching mud, the tribal noises.

29 February, London Couple of digipix.

Plus a marketing idea.

2 March, London At Two Temple Place.

The badge from the Ruskin Today society.

3 March, London There is an article about the Labour Party in the Guardian Weekly that quotes a councillor in Liverpool saying that Momentum is/are just Militant with bus passes. The quote is positioned alongside a cut-out photo of Derek Hatton.

5 March, London My City Matters column, issue 093

The Golden Baggers AGM always raises the bar in the dull-but-necessary meeting category. The homemade cake on offer is superb (this year a yummy ginger parkin), making it a truly pleasurable way to start planning for the growing season ahead. 

The allotment project is now in its ninth year, yet the energy and enthusiasm for progress never flags. The scheme is based around 42 wooden planters (it started as one-tonne builders’ bags, hence the name Baggers), which residents can rent for an annual subscription of £20 (‘Friends’ can join for £5).

Membership is open to all residents, experts or beginners, and on the first Sunday of every month they share more scrumptious home baking at their Social Sunday events. 

I was especially disappointed this year to learn that one of our Hatfield House residents and veteran Bagger has gone to live in America. He was always very generous in sharing his show-stopping tomatoes, so I never needed to grow any of my own. 

Key issues at this year’s AGM were the election of a new Chair and the agreement of a new constitution, the need to attract more ‘Friends’ and to promote the project’s core community values. 

We also discussed the failed attempt to save the trees that border the allotment but will soon disappear as part of the development of the former Richard Cloudesley School and suggested locations for this year’s annual outing. Last year’s trip to Turn End house and gardens in Buckinghamshire will be hard to beat. Anyone wanting to join should write to goldenbaggers@gmail.com.

The Golden Baggers is clearly the most successful resident-led project on the estate and its example is proving influential, most obviously in the activities at our refurbished community centre. 

The Christmas Day tea party was a riot of festive fun and the recent jumble sale added to the feeling that residents revel in the chance to do things together, preferably with cake included. 

Jumble sales are a great chance to hone your people-watching skills. One minute residents will be chatting amicably about family fortunes and local issues; the next they will be cutting a tough deal for that old teapot, holding out for the last 50p.

If anything can take the shine off this neighbourly bliss it is the clumsiness of the council. A number of residents met recently with housing chief Paul Murtagh, who arrived in a foul mood to explain and apologise for the City Corporation’s stuttered response to a potentially deadly gas leak at the building site next to Basterfield House. 

He’d hoped to make his task easier by fixing the meeting  (two months after the event) as a drop-in rather than a full-throated Q&A grilling from the residents most affected. Unfortunately, his plans went awry when some canny individuals promptly rearranged the set-up and started firing their questions. Mr Murtagh looked more and more uncomfortable as the volleys of verbal shots whistled his way. 

While admitting that the City Corporation had failed residents and was searching its soul for “lessons learned”, he stuck to the script that the site work met with all existing laws and regulations. He expressed this forcefully, but tripped slightly when it came to evacuation policy and revealed that, unlike almost every large building in the developed world, there are no emergency muster points or marshalling for the Golden Lane Estate.

On the day of the accident back in December, it was residents, acting on advice from the gas board, who cobbled together a plan of action until the emergency services arrived to offer some leadership. Confused residents eventually found a safe point at Prior Weston School, shaken and feeling sick. 

Mr Murtagh told the meeting that the City Corporation’s advice when faced with an emergency is to sit tight, keep calm and carry on until help arrives. Yes, even if, as has happened before, an unexploded wartime bomb is uncovered! It later emerged that the City Corporation is reviewing how it handles “events such as this one”, but is unable to share or publicise the findings.

The Square Mile’s emergency plan to swerve Brexit appears to have paid off with a hush-hush deal in Paris last month to make sure all the City’s hedge funds and derivative thingies do not turn to dust at midnight on March 29. 

The best revelation about this mysterious caper would be proof of my suspicion that the audacious plot was hatched not at the Bank of England but here on Golden Lane with the help of Bayer House resident and YouTube sensation Elly Space, whose infectious Europop anthem ‘Cancel Brexit’ is powerful enough to turn the tide of history. If you’re still in doubt, go to https://youtu.be/mf4mqPGwtN4  and turn the volume up to 11.

7 March, London

8 March, London

10 March, London There is a big long-read article in the Guardian about Aldi, the two Albrecht brothers, Theo and Karl, their mission, their progress and their business style.

At times, the article seems to imply that the brothers saw a genuine social purpose in finding a way to the lowest price for the shopper.

As if their purpose was to reduce the amount of money people spent on food (shit waiting to happen) in order that they may spend it on better things, that one of life’s essentials – food – should not be a drain or a struggle.

12 March, London

A beautifully ambiguous film. There are two stories.

The child genius is a compelling narrative, but behind the success of Jimmy, the 5-year-old poet-who-doesn’t-know-it, is the failure of his teacher Lisa, who is a lousy mother, wife, nightschool poet and, it turns out, kidnapper.

There is an unstated redemption for Lisa. She succeeded in teaching Jimmy to say “I have a poem” whenever one popped into his head, and by the end of the film it’s unlikely he will ever forget to say it, even if it’s to himself.

(Er, she teaches him about point of view, too, by crawling around on the floor).

14 March, London ‘EU on no-deal Brexit motion: ‘like Titanic voting for iceberg to move’

Leader in The Economist “When historians come to write the tale of Britain’s attempts to leave the European Union, this week may be seen as the moment the country finally grasped the mess it was in. 

“In the campaign, Leavers had promised voters that Brexit would be easy because Britain “holds all the cards”. This week Parliament was so scornful of the exit deal that Theresa May had spent two years negotiating and renegotiating in Brussels that MPs threw it out for a second time, by 149 votes—the fourth-biggest government defeat in modern parliamentary history. 

“The next day MPs rejected what had once been her back-up plan of simply walking out without a deal. The prime minister has lost control. On Wednesday four cabinet ministers failed to back her in a crucial vote. Both main parties, long divided over Brexit, are seeing their factions splintering into ever-angrier sub-factions. And all this just two weeks before exit day.

“Even by the chaotic standards of the three years since the referendum, the country is lost (see article). Mrs May boasted this week of “send[ing] a message to the whole world about the sort of country the United Kingdom will be”. She is not wrong: it is a laughing-stock. An unflappable place supposedly built on compromise and a stiff upper lip is consumed by accusations of treachery and betrayal. Yet the demolition of her plan offers Britain a chance to rethink its misguided approach to leaving the eu. Mrs May has made the worst of a bad job. This week’s chaos gives the country a shot at coming up with something better.

The immediate consequence of the rebellion in Westminster is that Brexit must be delayed. As we went to press, Parliament was to vote for an extension of the March 29th deadline. For its own sake the EU should agree. A no-deal Brexit would hurt Britain grievously, but it would also hurt the eu—and Ireland as grievously as Britain.

“Mrs May’s plan is to hold yet another vote on her deal and to cudgel Brexiteers into supporting it by threatening them with a long extension that she says risks the cancellation of Brexit altogether. At the same time she will twist the arms of moderates by pointing out that a no-deal Brexit could still happen, because avoiding it depends on the agreement of the EU, which is losing patience. 

It is a desperate tactic from a prime minister who has lost her authority. It forces MPs to choose between options they find wretched when they are convinced that better alternatives are available. Even if it succeeds, it would deprive Britain of the stable, truly consenting majority that would serve as the foundation for the daunting series of votes needed to enact Brexit and for the even harder talks on the future relationship with the EU.

To overcome the impasse created by today’s divisions, Britain needs a long extension. The question is how to use it to forge that stable, consenting majority in Parliament and the country.

“An increasingly popular answer is: get rid of Mrs May. The prime minister’s deal has flopped and her authority is shot. A growing number of Tories believe that a new leader with a new mandate could break the logjam. Yet there is a high risk that Conservative Party members would install a replacement who takes the country towards an ultra-hard Brexit. 

“What’s more, replacing Mrs May would do little to solve the riddle of how to put together a deal. The parties are fundamentally split. To believe that a new tenant in Downing Street could put them back together again and engineer a majority is to believe the Brexiteers’ fantasy that theirs is a brilliant project that is merely being badly executed.

Calls for a general election are equally misguided. The country is as divided as the parties. Britain could go through its fourth poll in as many years only to end up where it started. Tory mps might fall into line if they had been elected on a manifesto promising to enact the deal. But would the Conservatives really go into an election based on Mrs May’s scheme, which has twice been given a drubbing by mps and was described this week even by one supportive Tory mp as “the best turd that we have”? It does not have the ring of a successful campaign.

“To break the logjam, Mrs May needs to do two things. The first is to consult Parliament, in a series of indicative votes that will reveal what form of Brexit can command a majority. The second is to call a referendum to make that choice legitimate. Today every faction sticks to its red lines, claiming to be speaking for the people. Only this combination can put those arguments to rest.

“Take these steps in turn. Despite the gridlock, the outlines of a parliamentary compromise are visible. Labour wants permanent membership of the eu’s customs union, which is a bit closer to the eu than Mrs May’s deal. Alternatively, mps may favour a Norway-style set-up—which this newspaper has argued for and would keep Britain in the single market. The eu is open to both. Only if Mrs May cannot establish a consensus should she return to her own much-criticised plan.

“Getting votes for these or any other approach would require thinking beyond party lines. That does not come naturally in Britain’s adversarial, majoritarian policies. But the whipping system is breaking down. Party structures are fraying. Breakaway groups and parties-within-parties are forming on both sides of the Commons, and across it. Offering mps free votes could foster cross-party support for a new approach.

“The second step is a confirmatory referendum. Brexit requires Britain to trade off going its own way with maintaining profitable ties with the eu. Any new Brexit plan that Parliament concocts will inevitably demand compromises that disappoint many, perhaps most, voters. Mrs May and other critics argue that holding another referendum would be undemocratic (never mind that Mrs May is prepared to ask mps to vote on her deal a third or even fourth time). But the original referendum campaign utterly failed to capture the complexities of Brexit. The truly undemocratic course would be to deny voters the chance to vouch that, yes, they are content with how it has turned out.

And so any deal that Parliament approves must be put to the public for a final say. It will be decried by hardline Brexiteers as treasonous and by hardline Remainers as an act of self-harm. Forget them. It is for the public to decide whether they are in favour of the new relationship with the EU — or whether, on reflection, they would rather stick with the one they already have.”

18 March, London ‘To rush through May’s deal would be like cutting corners when building the foundations of a house because you want to move in quickly.’ Matthew D’Ancona, the Guardian

19 March, London A birthday card for my sister.

europe-map-art

20 March, London At the Guardian Archives, one set of Don McPhee negatives I just catalogued is labelled “Bolton Gays”, which sounds like the title of an earthy TV comedy drama.

I dared not look at the pictures on the lightbox.

Other sets of negatives I have filed recently include those labelled “Pigeon Exhibition at Leeds” (ref:1466), “Cars Crushed in Liverpool” (ref:1457), “Bridge Made Of Willow at Marsden” (ref:1452) and “Christmas Pudding Factory near Derby” (ref:1461).

21 March, London ‘It requests permission to carry on playing a game that she has lost.’ Guardian editorial on PM’s begging letter to EU

22 March, London ‘The French EU minister, Nathalie Loiseau, has called her new cat Brexit. “He wakes me up every morning meowing to death because he wants to go out,” she says. “And then when I open the door he stays put, undecided, and then glares at me when I put him out.”’ Gary Younge, the Guardian

23 March, London At the ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ march.

24 March, London Jane was one of the 500 voices in The Public Domain at the Barbican today.

27 March, London To the Hackney CVS Annual Awards because I had nominated Headway for the ‘Best Community Voice’ award.

Rosy was flabbergasted but nevertheless delighted to collect the award in a ceremony that was so inspiring for the number of stories of community success it delivered.

Rosy and me

28 March, London At an anatomy workshop with clay in the studio, Will presents his model of Callum to the man himself.

28 March, London I spotted one of the local market-stall women at this play.

Then I remembered that the play starred a heartthrob actor from TV’s Peaky Blinders and suddenly realised why this was not such an unlikely sighting after all.

The play itself was a bruising tsunami of self-obsession.

29 March, London

30 March, London Joined a Headway public-engagement thing last night in which Ben interviewed A, P and G for the benefit of a collection of Hackney creatives from somewhere up Kingsland Road near Tesco’s.

It was a nice way to shamelessly plug Headway’s many talented artists, and the three Friday enfants did a great job of being themselves, which is an irresistible proposition in itself, especially when G does his Stephen Hawking thing with his Macbook. Hilarious.

The guests loved it and we must remember to give the event some quality follow-up if it is to have any lasting impact.

30 March, London ‘There will be a meeting of EU heads of government on 10 April: it’s probably best not to assume their patience with Britain’s ongoing nervous breakdown will be infinite’ Jonathan Freedland, the Guardian

1 April, London ‘We face the final completion of a Tory project … and the recasting of Britain – or, rather England – as a crabby, racist, inward-looking hole’ John Harris, the Guardian

2 April, London A nagging film.

4 April, London Jane tells me she bought some toilet rolls from Iceland, but discovered to her displeasure that “they’re a bit hard”.

4 April, London Operation Yellowhammer, Project Redfold, Operation Brock, Operation Kingfisher.

These are the names of operations inside government to prepare for a worst-scenario departure from the EU.

They sound like secret-service capers from the Cold War. Perhaps that is where we are now.

5 April, London

This is a big story across all media this morning.

Listening to the interview on the radio, I can’t be sure that reporting it in this way tells the truth.

The way I heard the player speak, and the slightly incoherent comments from him that led up to the quoted words, he might have actually have been saying that he wants to see the back of the inept governance in football that dishes out paltry fines for racism.

But Danny Rose ‘can’t wait to see the back of crap football politics’ is not such a dramatic story.

Of course, I could be wrong and the reporting might actually be a faithful reading of what he said.

8 April, Winchester This is a story in today’s Morning Star.

It continues: “Alex Gordon reminded the party’s executive committee of Jeremy Corbyn’s speech in Coventry in February last year, when the Labour leader had warned that European Union treaties and directives would block some of his party’s policies.

“These included providing state aid to cutting-edge industry, extending public ownership, outlawing the super-exploitation of imported agency labour, reforming public-sector procurement rules and putting an end to outsourcing and privatisation.

“Mr Gordon pointed out that EU membership and Thatcherite economic policies together had transformed Britain’s economy from one with a large industrial sector in a trading surplus with the rest of Europe into a casino economy dominated by City institutions and transnational corporations.

“The latter economy is dependent upon incoming investment and British imperialism’s earnings from financial services, property and cheap labour and raw materials around the world.

“Mr Gordon, a former president of transport union RMT, said: “Today, without an economic Brexit from the EU single market and customs union rules, a future Labour government would face major obstacles in its efforts to implement left and progressive policies.

“This is one reason why the City, big business organisations and many right-wing Labour MPs are so desperate to prevent an economic Brexit, even if they cannot delay or prevent a formal, political Brexit.”

“Meeting on the eve of what may be a decisive week for Britain’s future relations with the EU, the CP leadership reiterated its “uncompromising opposition” to any further postponement of Brexit Day and to any second referendum designed to keep Britain in the EU instead of honouring the people’s decision made in June 2016.

Britain’s Communists also decided to call for a “people’s boycott” of any British involvement in June’s elections to the “EU Commission’s fake parliament” in Brussels.

Meanwhile, CP general secretary Robert Griffiths reported a continuing upturn in party recruitment and membership. He revealed that more than 40 people had joined so far in 2019, the majority of them aged under 33.

10 April, London Polly Toynbee in the Guardian

‘Peter Mitchell, a Liverpool councillor, despairs of new attitudes in the wake of Brexit. “I see society changing before my eyes, empowering the worst. This is the end product of Thatcher’s 1980s, where individualism has won out over collectivism: it’s all me and mine; a selfishness that comes from that idea that the private is better than the public.”’

11 April, London

Chris described this as “cut-price Monet”. The people were cold and lacking personality. The compositions were photojournalistic. He painted his wife naked a lot, often in shoes. I only really liked one picture, ‘Woods in Autumn’ (1939).

11 April, Hackney At the bus stop last night outside Timber Wharf, Kingsland Road, a group of three youngsters on bicycles came weaving past at speed.

A few minutes later I heard a sharp clack, turned around and saw a mobile phone in the centre of the road and the three cyclists disappearing back in the direction from which they had come.

I turned around again and a young woman was standing next to me looking distressed. One of the cyclists had snatched her iPhone then thrown it violently to the ground.

I asked the woman if she was OK, tried to console her on what must have been a jolting experience and glimpsed the condition of her phone.

It was pretty wrecked, but seemingly still in one piece. The woman was shocked. Why would they steal a phone only to smash it to the ground?

I suggested their task might have been to steal a specific type of iPhone, a sort of criminal commission, and that her phone did not meet the requirements.

She attempted a resigned smile at this suggestion and we all got on the 243 bus, waving goodbye to B who had joined us at the bus stop.

I noticed later, spying the internal security camera on the bus that she was talking on her phone. It took this as good news, that she was not too traumatised, and when she thanked us as she departed the bus, I felt slightly less disturbed by the whole event.

13 April, Wallingford ‘I wonder if Nigel’s failure to get elected to parliament seven times has anything to do with voters smelling his selfish priorities a mile off.’ Marina Hyde on Nigel Farage in the Guardian

13 April, Wallingford ‘The UK junior foreign minister Mark Field (MP for Cities if London & Westminster) said on Tuesday that an apology (for the massacre) could have financial implications and that “we debase the currency of apologies if we make them for many events”.’ Guardian editorial on the anniversary of the Amritsar Massacre

13 April, Wallingford There is an article in the Telegraph magazine in which a 30-year-old woman is explaining why she doesn’t want to have children.

In the fourth paragraph she trembles with fear at being in opposition to “society’s expectations of me as a woman”. I have barely reached the last of its 95 words before I have Marie-Claire Chappet cast as a sad misanthrope.

13 April, Wallingford

At the museum. I was told later that photography was not permitted. Apologies.

14 April, Wallingford Food shaming. I have just read that some schools restrict the choices on the lunchtime menus for children on free school meals.

They arrive at the front of the queue, make their lunch request to an adult serving them and are told “no, you are on free school meals, you can’t have that.”

18 April, Hackney

At Headway’s garden today on the Regent’s Canal.

18 April, London

A very corny but also a very sweet film. The role of women, especially motherhood, is the theme.

The story itself resembles a country song in narrative. Rose is the difficult country-singing Glaswegian ex-con mother of two, Julie Walters plays her mother.

Walters’ burning eyes are enough to pull a corny movie out of the mire of soft sentiment, and she don’t half do class with class.

19 April, East Croydon

Easter lunch with Margaret, Sue, Lil, Mia, me and Jane at The George pub, a Wetherspoons on the main high street.

20 April, Sutton A tree outside the Turkish restaurant near the train station.

21 April, London To the Pierre Bonnard exhibition at Tate Modern for an Easter Sunday treat.

At an earlier visit I thought the compositions very studied and a bit photographic.

This time I tried to keep my concentration on the figures and their shapes.

25 April, Brighton A quote in today’s Guardian Weekly magazine from Malcolm Perera, a labourer at the scene of the Easter Sunday terror attack in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

“With my friends I carried 37 bodies and 50 bags of body parts… the smell of blood is still on my body.”

27 April, Brighton “they [Brexiters say] won a referendum and that victory should be honoured. They have a point. The trouble is that the parliament to which they wish to return sovereignty – the very democracy they are fighting for – has not found a way to honour it”. Gary Younge, in the Guardian

28 April, Brighton Two more figures I just did. I also made one of Zinedine Zidane’s legendary 2006 World Cup Final decking of the Italian player Marco Materazzi.

1 May, London Among the titles on the photo-envelopes today during a session at the Guardian Archives were ‘Pig Farmers Demonstration at Immingham’, ‘Prozac User’ and ‘Kirkham Prison Shirt’, all Don McPhee shots from around 1998.

‘Sir Paul McCartney’s House in Manchester’ was in fact in Liverpool, but Box 21 is now finished and indexed.

The final entry was for two sets of colour negatives marked ‘Preston College’ and among the pictures were ones of a cluster of promotional flyers proclaiming “WE DID IT”.

Box 22 opened with five sets of negatives labelled ‘Gay Weekend/Manchester’.

2 May, Somewhere North Of Rugby The speaking toilet on the Virgin train to Bangor tells me that, although she soldiers on with ease at being a bog, it could be worse. “I used to be a public toilet,” she chirps. Later, Jane said, “When we get to Rhyl I’ll go to the loo.”

Here is a bit of microfiction I did yesterday:

3 May, Penllech Farm Bryncroes, Llŷn Peninsula, Wales It’s so cold in this farm house that Jane has been forced to borrow a pair of my long-johns.

It was even cold in the two Aberdaron pubs we visited last night. Jane thinks there is something wrong with us townies because none of the natives seems to feel the cold.

I remember some years ago having the same experience in Edinburgh. Young women with bare legs and flimsy clothing roamed the streets seemingly immune to the icy conditions.

The barmaid in the Ship in Aberdaron pronounces “prynhawn” as prough/prow, as in “prow da” (good afternoon).

Later, back at the farm, we watched a film called ‘Green Book’, which was seemingly about race, but I felt was actually more about class.

These Cuban dolls are sat on a nearby shelf:

4 May, Wales The garden at Penllech Farm has walls with small cavities cut into the stone.

These, Kath tells me, are “goose holes”, a safe haven from predatory foxes.

Hard to believe a wily fox would not identify it as a place to trap unsuspecting foul.

Just wrote this bit of microfiction based on a joke Keith told me:

6 May, Gwynned, Wales A trip to Plas yn Rhiw, the National Trust house and gardens formerly owned by “three unmarried sisters”, the Keatings.

The woods rang out to the noisy cackle of crows or rooks.

7 May 2019, Gwynned, Wales The way K&K talk about T’s hopeless situation shacked up in a filthy HMO in Litherland with no sense of a future, it is like hearing about a new species of human, Homo Aliens, that we all must learn to live with. But these are human ‘animals’ made by other humans.

Later:

8 May, London ‘Do not adjust your reality. This really is happening. There have been glorious, entirely improbable games in Liverpool’s European history, including the mind-bending highs of Istanbul.

‘But this was something else, an effort of will that, frankly, took the breath away. On a rapturous night Liverpool’s season of chasing to the end narrowed first to a fine point; then burst into the most extravagant life as a 1-0 half-time lead against Barcelona became two, then three, then four.

‘With 79 minutes gone, the most celebrated team of the modern age had been reduced to bunch of mooching, stumbling yellow-shirted spectators. A Champions League season that had seemed to be zeroing in on another coronation for Lionel Messi had been wrenched, gleefully, the other way.


‘It will instead be Liverpool in Madrid on the first day of June for another shot at the ultimate. Presumably, Sergio Ramos, season long since over, will receive a comp ticket. These gestures all count.

‘There were two moments that captured the essence of victory. One was the final whistle. Full-time celebrations come and go. We’re used to the huddles and high-fives. But this was something else, a moment of collectivism, sucking the sweetness from the moment, that seemed to speak directly to the performance that preceded it.

‘It was bedlam. There were seething huddles in the aisles, bodies lifted and hugged and grappled. A well-known television pundit whirled his arms around and yelled at the sky. The bench came running on to the pitch. The manager came running on. The players came on. Look closely and the man who runs Robinsons News around the corner probably came on.

‘As Jürgen Klopp took Sadio Mané in his arms and spun him like a beloved ballroom partner, there was a moment of sing-song communion with the Kop. They love these big fat emotional notes here.

‘Who wouldn’t? Resist if you like but this is a part of English football, a sustained chord in its upper registers; and the place, in the end, where victory came from.

‘At moments like these it is customary to pick out a star player. This was something else though, a performance with a startling unity of purpose. It was the unlikely figure of Georginio Wijnaldum, a half-time sub, who scored twice in the second half to level the tie on aggregate; and at the time you just thought, yes, of course. More, more of this.

‘Barcelona had been harried and hurried and stretched thin by the midway point in the second half. Tackles flew in. Toes were crushed, shins barked, ankles hacked.

‘It was classic red fury from the Klopp-metal playbook. When they come out and play like this there is something brilliantly reckless about them. Wherever this team go from here, whatever they end up winning, you suspect moments like these will remain the fondest memories.

‘The move that killed the game came from another place. It was cold. It was ruthless. It was, whisper it, very funny. Trent Alexander-Arnold had already had a sensational game. He is not so much a full-back as a playmaker from the right flank, utterly fearless in his movement and his passing.

As Liverpool won a corner he walked across to take it, looked up, wandered away then suddenly turned and spanked a low, hard cross as the yellow shirts milled about, lost in their own game.

‘Barça had frozen. Alexander-Arnold saw it, caught Divok Origi’s eyes and pinged the perfect cross for a double-take of a winning goal. This was a 20-year-old local lad, product of down the road, out-thinking Barcelona, making them look like callow, pigeon-chested schoolboys.

‘Barça were poor from the start. The problem with being a one-man team is when he does not turn up it tends to leave a hole. Not that victory was in sight yet.

‘Anfield had been the usual portable pageantry of flags and banners and songs before kick-off. With the sky still blue above the away end the Barcelona fans stood and watched and took pictures and joined in the pre-match round of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

‘Barcelona have had a habit of collapsing like a poorly constructed millefeuille in away legs over the past four years. But still, as Jordan Henderson hurled himself about in midfield like a labrador puppy chasing flies, as Mané pressed with sniping menace on the left, there was something valedictory in the air. A 1-0 half‑time lead felt a Viking funeral for a season during which the home team have pushed themselves to the outer limits of their capacity.

‘The opening goal was made by a horrible mistake by Jordi Alba and finished by Origi. Cue uproar. Cue more uproar. Fabinho was booked for late lunge into the ankle of Luis Suárez. Cue outrage, fury, wind, lightning, the sound of horses barking.

‘Barcelona were quaking, taking in great, gulping breaths of air. They finally began to play in stoppage time, a team aware suddenly of what was happening to them. Too late. Liverpool were never going to let this slip.

‘There may have been more gloriously unbound nights in English football’s European history but this was an occasion that stands on its own, the night when the shadow trophies and cups seemed to fade and Liverpool found a moment of pure joy.’ Barney Ronay, the Guardian

8 May, London A gentle reminder via email.

11 May, London There have been some feisty words in the Morning Star over the past few days about “internationalism” and how its definition has been hijacked.

See thisAnd this…

11 May, London Saw the play ‘Avalanche – A Love Story’, starring Maxine Peake, at the Barbican last night.

When the burden of your own obsession gets to a critical mass, your whole world caves in.

Mike Leigh got out of a taxi as we arrived. 

Then:

14 May, London In preparation for our visit to Glasgow, I am reading an Open University book about the Scottish Enlightenment and have just been struck once again by my own naivety.

Earlier today I was at the National Hospital in Queen Square assisting on a brain science research project.

The researcher was Trinidadian and told me of his love for a book of short stories by Samuel Selvon called ‘Ways of Light’.

The naive bit came later when I realised that all these years I had thought of academics as Enlightenment types, and of course that can be true. But not always, and maybe not very often at all.

15 May, London At the Guardian Archive today, I logged Don McPhee photo envelopes from Box 22 with the titles ‘Single Parent, Salford’ and ‘Oasis, Lapland’.

15 May, London Random thought: Does Art always follow the money?

16 May, Glasgow We are in the Merchant Quarter in a big serviced apartment.

To The Pot Still for a quickie before supper at Gamba.

17 May, Glasgow Visited Project Ability on Trongate next door to TJ Hughes.

Was greeted kindly by director Elisabeth and given a tour of the studio/workshop space (huge and very light) where we met a few artists, including stroke survivor John  McNaught. He used to be a painter/decorator.

Then hooked up with K, P, Iz and off to Scotland Street School (I cheekily asked an actor playing fierce Victorian school teacher with leather strap whether she had ever appeared in Taggart).

Then to House For An Art Lover for lunch. We didn’t see the house because a wedding was in progress.

In the evening from the number 6 up to Hyndland we saw a fight at a bus stop and lots of red sandstone buildings.

Glasgow seems a lot like Liverpool, especially in centre around George Square.

My Freedom pass does not work on Glasgow buses.

17 May, Glasgow Strong editorial in the Guardian today about YOU KNOW WHAT.

18 May, Glasgow In the Guardian today, Marina Hyde describes Boris Johnson as a “Frankenstein assemblage of all the rejected personality disorders of the minor Greek gods”.

K says Glaswegians, or ‘Weegies’, call a sandwich a ‘piece’ and that there is a strange politeness in shops in which once you have been served, the shopkeeper will say “That’s you” to signal the completion of the transaction, and that your response to this is to say, “That’s me” in acknowledgement.

To Kelvingrove Museum, then a stroll round the University and lunch in a French bistro.

Gift from Jane.

Early-evening quickie in folkie pub recommend by Christine called Babbity Bowster. There are people sitting around playing violins, banjos, guitars and tin whistles, etc (they are beyond the drinking people in the picture). And some fella with a bit-of-a-bagpipe thing.

The people in the above photo have now gone and been replaced by another group, which contains someone Jane reckons is a dead ringer for Anne Heggarty.

Later:

The wall mural is by the writer Alasdair Gray, apparently. He is said to be a master muralist with works all over the city.

Like Liverpudlians, Glaswegians seem to slip into and initiate conversations in a very natural way.

A man in the Ubiquitous Chip tonight told us he had us marked out as “theatre types” then went on, with little prompting, to ramble quickly from Brexit to Me Too. Maybe he was pissed.

19 May, Glasgow Lazy day doing art stuff.

Then to Paesano Pizza, the “third best pizza in the UK”, according to Trip Advisor. A Glasgow institution, canteen style.

20 May, passing through Lancaster railway station There is a Short Cuts article about Brexit in the London Review of Books, Volume 41, Number 9, in which the author, Tom Crewe, concludes: “But it’s also possible to see the vote to Leave in another way: as a moment when reality triumphed over storytelling. The referendum was an opportunity for a section of the population to signal that they didn’t believe in the existence of the country they were told they lived in – a land of high employment and opportunity, a prosperous and just nation at ease with itself – and that the gap between everyday life and everyday rhetoric had become too great. That disillusion is now, happily, general. Brexit, whatever the dangers, is forcing Britain to get to know itself better. Not all countries are given that opportunity.” 

This chimes with the happiness I felt seeing David and Tim, father and son, deep in earnest Brexit conversation alongside the sandwiches and cake during Mike’s 70th birthday party in November last year.

Sketch done on train.

And here’s one I did earlier of Christ at the Renaissance Nudes exhibition at the Royal Academy.

21 May, London Catalan Cristina at Headway has done a deal with Tate Modern’s Tate Exchange for some members to talk later this week each for 10 minutes about a picture from Tate Modern’s permanent collection.

I am included in the talkers, along with Chris, Mike and Lobna. This is the picture, in Room 1 of the Start Gallery by US photographer William Eggleston, I have opted to gas on about.

My talk will start with an introduction about myself and move swiftly to the experience in my early 20s of a trip to America with my cousin Kate during which we motored from Florida to New Orleans in Louisiana, passing through Alabama and Mississippi.

Although this early 1970s scene from the “American South” is strange because it has a car perched on top of a building, in other respects it is very ordinary. My own photos from that road trip (a decade later) depict similarly routine settings. 

If it seems right to do so, I will include in my talk a recollection of listening to the home-made cassette tape of U2’s first album, Boy, I had brought with me, which my older cousin Jan and her husband Jim (our drivers) detested.

Then I will talk in more detail about why I’m drawn to this picture, its use of line and colour, and conclude with a mention of the talk’s supposed theme, ‘Movement.’

I will talk about my ‘gallery method’ of buzzing around looking for pictures that ’talk’ to me.

I will talk about the composition of the Eggleston photo, how the chaos of the telegraph poles and wires push up into the pacific blue sky.

I will talk about typography as eye candy.

I will talk about colour, sometimes used to make divisions in a composition, at other times to illustrate harmony (the blue/turquoise/green combo of this picture)

Finally I will draw attention to the curve of that blue/turquoise/green arc and point to its contrast with the straight lines and triangles also seen on the photograph.

In conclusion I will say that movement can be symbolic and metaphorical as well as actual; it can take place in time as well as space. Back then as a young man, I was on a route from A to B,  from Florida to Louisiana. But I was also on a journey, a rite of passage in an unknown place. How my life would pan out afterwards was also unknown.

When this photograph was taken, Barack Obama was still in high school. This could be seen to hint at some movement in American attitudes to race and society. Or maybe that’s too much of a stretcher?

22 May, London Some of the Don McPhee pictures from the late 1990s (Box 22) I catalogued at the Guardian Archive today were titled:

‘Euro launched in Rotheram’, ‘Peat bogs in Yorkshire’, ‘Euthanasia conference in Telford’ and ‘Cliff Richard lookalikes’.

22 May, London This one is called ‘Another Bloody Nude’. A theft from the RA exhibition.

23 May, London ‘By the time she was prepared to speak the language of compromise her capacity to deliver it had shrivelled to nothing.’ Guardian editorial on Theresa May’s failure at Brexit

23 May, London The William Eggleston picture I was supposed to talk about had been replaced, so I had to improvise. It all worked out OK.

24 May, London ‘These elections are not for a government. They are an answer to a stupid question, asked incessantly by Nigel Farage: do you approve of how the big parties have handled Brexit? It would take a strong stomach for anyone to go to the polling station and put a cross against that.’ Simon Jenkins on the Euro elections, the Guardian

25 May, London In Brighton for the last days of the Festival to see Paul’s photographs at an Open House at Percival Mansions in Kemptown.

For some reason I am prompted to recall the names of two former local councillors, Jason Kitkat and Nimrod Ping.

This is a picture of William Pye’s ‘secret’ water-sculpture garden.

A picture made earlier. Not sure why I had the Breakfast Club in mind.

27 May, London Email to Connie

Hi Connie. 

Get a cup of tea, put your feet up…

Michelle grabbed me at the Barbican thing on Sunday and told me about a studio project you have going called ‘God Is…’ I think she was hoping I might conjure some magical words to go with the image in progress.

Given my status as a fully paid-up militant atheist, that is wishful thinking. However, I do have some ideas about God that might fly with someone else. 

1. I once had a drunken conversation with an Irish catholic teacher in which I tried to convince him that me, an atheist, could blag my way past the bouncers into Heaven, the Kingdom of God. I parlayed this into a 10-minute play based around an experience I had in hospital after my stroke in which the hospital’s pastor came creeping around one day trying to recruit vulnerable patients into his squalid flock. I recently boiled this play down to a bit of micro-fiction (see story below).

Dogcollared, by Billy Mann

It was the smell that got him. The mothball stench of the clergy. His stalker tried to make innocent conversation, another dead giveaway.

Keep your nerve, Billy, don’t look up, lock him out. Peripheral vision spotted a hole in a navy-blue Shetland wool cardigan.

Yes, it’s a Kindle. I have around 250 books on it. 

Steady on, Billy, you are opening the door. Stop now, or you’re a goner.

He wanted to tell him that even though he didn’t believe in God, there was an argument for God’s existence he could live with. It went like this:

God is a concept.

Concepts exist, therefore…

God exists.

Instead he kept his head down in his Donna Leon and lost himself in thought about the women in Brunetti’s life – Paola, Elettra, Griffoni.

The end

2. I never got past page 1 of the book ’50 Shades of Grey’, but I loved the title. It reminded me of my early days on magazines when we tried to goose up dodgy black-and-white free PR pictures by using duotones.

At the Barbican thing on Sunday Michelle was talking about God in relation to light and dark, black and white. I wanted to reply that there is no such thing (er, a bit like God).

White is 0% black and Black is 0% white. Black is also 100% black, but its spectrum includes, mmm, fifty shades of grey, or even 98 if you want to push it.

Our duotones back in the day were a percentage of black, most commonly a ghosted image in 30% black of some crap New Romantic singer behind some spurious text.

When it was available, we could duotone with Cyan, Magenta and Yellow, too, which was great fun.

3. The image Michelle showed me on her phone triggered the title ‘365 Colours of God’ or something (‘God in Colour, 24:7’).

She emailed it to me, but I haven’t really looked at it properly yet. If anything else comes up, I’ll let you know.

4. One of my favourite Rolling Stones songs is ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, and for a long time I argued that God and Satan were twins separated at birth, or maybe even gay lovers. Bit edgy, that idea.

5. Another favourite song is ‘God’ by John Lennon, which opens with the line, “God is a concept by which we measure our pain”.

In the early meetings for Matter, I suggested Josh might write an essay discussing this idea. Ben got quite excited by that, but it never happened.

And later, as an addition:

Hi Connie

Just had a look at the picture and if you can flog that image (a woman with a massive set of male genitals up her long, floaty skirt) as anything to do with God, you are a bloody genius.

Then I got a WhatsApp message from my sister, quoting her diary from 1 January 1975 I which she describes my behaviour the previous evening. I was, it seems, “smooching with all the girls”. I don’t believe it.

27 May, London Just found this one hiding in my Autodesk gallery.

28 May, London To see Rocketman at the Barbican.

This film was a bit corny in places, and it’s always squirmy when actors sitting at the kitchen table suddenly break into song.

I hadn’t realised how significantly Elton John’s rise to fame took place in America. I liked how the age transitions came across and how the performed songs took up a biographical role, feeding the narrative.

‘Tiny Dancer’ was a standout for me. It made me like the Bernie Taupin character even more.

29 May, London My latest City Matters column. I’m disappointed to not be on a page with the puzzles, which is always a joy, but delighted to see Chris’s ‘Venus’ picture used so big.

29 May, London Good piece on post-Brexit Britain.

31 May, Brighton I can find something to like in most things.

2 June, London Barney Ronay in the Guardian on Liverpool’s 2-0 defeat of Tottenham Hotspur in the Uefa Champions League final.

And so, back into the red. In the end it seemed fitting that Liverpool should win this Champions League final through an effort of shared will. This was a night when the gears refused to click, the circuits rarely sparked, and when taking that last step was always likely to be a matter of spirit and bloody-minded certainty.

How do you make a champion team? At the final whistle in Madrid, as the air seemed to fizz and crackle and the red and white shapes melted into the green, Jürgen Klopp hugged Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson to his chest, his great beaming, bearded face looming over them like a proud father of twins.

Liverpool’s full-backs have been a dual-track express train this season, making every part of this team function a little easier. They seem both deeply Liverpool and deeply Klopp too, a local lad with a midfielder’s range of passing and movement and an upwardly mobile Scot fed with that strange red-shirted fury, echoes of the great teams of the pre-modern era.

A few yards away Jordan Henderson seemed in pain. He bent down and held his head, feeling the force of the moment, an impossible high in a career of tough times too. Henderson has seemed to be leaving this team pretty much ever since he got here. He hasn’t and has instead kept on coming for seven years. He is now captain of the European champions, a player whose force of will has seemed to bloom under Klopp’s touch. Talent, flash, easy gifts. These are some seriously overrated commodities.

What makes a champion team? Even as both teams played below their limits here there were hints and signs and glimpses of light all over the pitch. For the last three years there has been a sense of puzzlement about the champions of Europe, the feeling in Real Madrid’s supremacy of a narrative that points only to itself, a triumph of brilliantly marshalled star power.

But this has been coming; just as sometimes sport really does seem to be trying to tell you something. There had been talk before this game that Liverpool had to win here, that failure would have been a fatal dent in the regeneration of the club. This was never really true. By any metric just being present two years in a row was a sublime achievement for the players, the management, the owners, the – God help us – brand.

Plus of course the story follows its own arc. It is easy to forget that Klopp’s first game in England was against these opponents, a 0-0 draw at White Hart Lane marked by a series of slightly wild collisions as that game of counter-press found a ragged first expression. This was a bookend: same teams, different stage, different energy, different scale.

How did we get here? Nothing has been thrown away. The parts have been glossed and greased and worked at by a manager who, for all his talk of energy and fun, is a meticulous coach. Not to mention a coach who can read his club and the people around it.

Shortly after that hug with Klopp Alexander-Arnold left the main body of Liverpool players and scuttled across a little naughtily to the red end all on his own to punch the air and take that wall of answering happiness.

There is a kind of “third-way” football capitalism in all this. Liverpool under Klopp has been a pointedly inclusive project, geared to connect with something other than simply success on the pitch. Those hedge fund owners have invested brilliantly – not just in themselves or in the team (heavily) but in the ground and its surrounds, in understanding the importance of that connection. Alexander-Arnold embodies this. Aged 20 a sporting life won’t, can’t get much better.

Another thing that makes a champion team: champion players. If this game really did have to be pointed one way by a moment of chance 22 seconds in, it was probably right that the man stepping up to benefit should be Mohamed Salah.

What was Moussa Sissoko pointing at? Deep in the right hand of side of his penalty area, faced by Sadio Mané, who had stopped and was looking around for a pass, Sissoko raised his right arm like a boxing padman offering a target to hit. Mané obliged.

Salah waited four times longer than the game had already run for the air to settle. His first touch was to spank the penalty kick hard and straight down the middle. After that Salah was poor here. There was a buzz when he took the ball. But he looked undercooked and cobwebbed. It is a part of Salah’s charm that he has these moments when he looks suddenly like someone playing with the dog in the garden, or having a morning kick-about on the beach.

Which is quite a quality in a player who really should be winning the Ballon d’Or from here. It an early call, although not that early given the rhythm of the season, but Salah is surely the front-runner now. The top scorer for the champions of Europe. Twenty-nine goals this season. The supreme cutting edge in this team. And also a thrilling, uplifting presence, all ferreting imagination, unusual angles, carefree moments in the middle of all that hustle.

Salah’s first game for Liverpool was at Watford in August 2017. He scored then as well. Seven members of the Liverpool team that day started here. Divok Origi, hammer of Barcelona and scorer of the second here, played that day. Joël Matip who pushed the ball to Origi to score also played that day.

The team that drew with Watford are now champions of Europe. Klopp’s mania for coaching and improvement has been mixed with power signings to fill the holes (Alisson was magnificently solid here). It is a beautiful accomplishment; and a lesson in building that is, even now, likely to run and run.

5 June, London To the Barbican cinema for a live transmission from Stratford of an RSC production of The Taming of the Shrew. This version had already been cast as “the MeToo Shrew”  because it explores power through role reversal. So Kate is a man acting the part of a woman and Petruchio is a woman, renamed Petruchia, doing a male role. I liked the Petruchia character, played by Claire Price. She gripped the part and made it her own, raising the comedy rating (which was flagging under the weight of the Big Idea) with a lovely caricature of male swagger and banter. It was directed by Justin Audibert.

6 June, London In the studio today TA was working on one of his big word images for the ‘God Is…’ submission. It said ‘God Is Everything’. When I told him I was an atheist he was disbelieving. He sat and thought for a moment, continuing with his task, then leaned over and asked how long I had been an atheist. In my head I replaced the word atheist for vegan, even though I’m not one. He saw atheism as a lifestyle choice, as if all human beings are born to believe in God, and to not believe in God is to deviate. I have a feeling the £10,000 award for the ‘God Is ..’ project is already won.

12 June, London At the Guardian Archive: ‘Abbots Bromley Horn Dance’, Don McPhee, Box 22.

14 June, London At the Glera quiz in the community centre, Jane followed me to the toilet to tell me I was mistaken about the answer to one of the questions. She spoke through the locked door, telling me that the TV theme music in the  question we had just heard was not from ‘Cheers’ but from ‘Hill Street Blues’. She claims she merely wanted to verify her hunch about the correct answer because I used to have a thing for the HSB actor Veronica Hamel, who played a dishy super-confident lawyer, but the truth was that she needed to tell me I was wrong.

15 June, London Ed Miliband has written an inspiring article in Prospect magazine in which he states early in the piece that more man-made damage to the environment through fossil-fuel emissions has come in the past 30 years “when we have known what we were doing” than in the previous centuries during which “we didn’t have a clue”.

15 June, London Micro-story: 16 March 1977. 

After the game we went to the Willowbank rather than the Cabbage, for some reason. There were two Étienne supporters in there looking dead miz. Some fella went over to them and said, “Tell you what? I’ll keep dixie if you smile.” I’m not sure they knew what he was talking about.

16 June, London Screening at the Barbican of Gillian Anderson in All About Eve. They did some interesting stuff with video – cameras embedded in mirrors, roving camerapeople on stage. Not sure the dialogue from the original script stood the test of time.

19 June, London Finished Box 22 of the Don McPhee photograph collection at the Guardian Archives today with 29 sets of negatives from the 1994 Labour Party conference in Blackpool. That completes the project. Also met some people from U3A who were advising on how to translate and decipher a bunch of a reporter’s old shorthand notebooks, written in Pitman shorthand. They will try to scan the pages and get their members to volunteer to work on the translations remotely. If it works, this sounds like a partnership made in heaven for both parties.

20 June, London Michelle’s study of me at work, posted on Instagram.

And later

And later still.

Went to see this film starring Emma Thompson with Jackie. A very good fit for Thompson’s comedy skills, we both thought. Her co-star, Mindy Kaling, is credited with writing and co-producing.

22 June, London J had a go on the virtual reality swing they have installed on Fann Street.

23 June, London For me personally, the most frightening thing about the prospect of Boris Johnson becoming UK Prime Minister is its potential to embed a revenge motive in the minds of the young. They will be so disturbed by the leader of their country being the decision of a small group of white, middle class old men that they will develop a desire to punish ALL of that group’s contemporaries, regardless of economic, social or political position. My generation could become a hated generation.

26 June, London I started a new photographic project at the Guardian Archives today, which quickly turned into an exciting adventure into the world of forensic detection. Well, that’s how it felt to me.

My task is to log some stray Don McPhee conference negatives, odd ones from a massive McPhee collection that lacked some of the information necessary for easy cataloguing. Some are UK political party occasions, others from the gatherings of institutions such as the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) and the TUC (Trades Union Congress). A lot of the shots were taken in northern UK towns and cities such as Blackpool, Southport and Harrogate.

Some of the images were not dated, in which case I tried to find out when they were taken. Pictures of a smug and young-looking Tony Blair alongside wife Cherie with her then trademark shortened version of the “Farrah Flick” hairstyle are suggestive of 1997. But a hairstyle is not evidence. Harder evidence is needed.

In another set, again a Labour Party conference, I struggled. There were few clues other than that they were in Blackpool and in black and white. I was told that McPhee, a Guardian staff photographer, switched to shooting on colour film in 1995, so that narrowed things slightly. There were also some images of a person I believed to be veteran Labour politician John Prescott. But none of this really helped to properly date the set. 

Four or five frames showed the Labour Party press office area at the Blackpool conference. This was the conference at which fresh-faced leader Tony Blair announced his transformation of the party and the ‘New Labour’ press staff are pictured working feverishly at computer screens and on very chunky laptops. In some of them the running order for conference speech appearances is just visible under a magnifying loup and in the far left-hand column of a spreadsheet were the dates 04/09/1994 and 05/09/1994. This was real evidence, and I was proper chuffed at spotting it.

27 June, London Email sent this morning in response to ward meeting last at Barbican.

Dear Alderman Graves

Can you please assure me that all Cripplegate council members are happy to represent the whole of the Cripplegate ward. At last night’s meeting in the Frobisher Room, some of them gave me the impression that they see themselves primarily as Barbican councillors, and while the Barbican is a big player in the Cripplegate ward. It is not the only one. Golden Lane residents already feel alienated and remote from what they perceive to be a ward run by the “Barbican Mafia”. Heaven help anybody who lives in Cripplegate but not in the Barbican or on Golden Lane. My own suggested answer is in this week’s City Matters newspaper and it is for more Golden Lane residents join common council, but I fear even that will not change the minds of the Cripplegate councillors who see themselves as Barbican councillors. Do you have any suggestions for a way forward?

Best regards

Billy Mann

Basterfield House

Golden Lane Estate

27 June, Hackney

The Étienne picture is coming along nicely.

28 June, London To Barbican Cinema 2 last night to see a National Theatre live screening of a stage production of Andrea Levy’s Small Island. It was superb: extremely powerful but never intense, warm-hearted but with a cold eye on a legacy of racism that can only be tamed (eventually) with constant vigilance. On a personal note, I had never really asked myself whether Liverpool humour has part of its origin in Caribbean culture – the deadpan sarcasm, runaway gobbiness and the cockiness with a cheeky wink. It’s a stereotype of both cultures, to be sure. The West Indies characters in this play also have a massive sense of place and a sentimentality about national identity which seems to be forever in some sort of conflict.

28 June, London City Matters column, June

Back in April our residents’ association, GLERA, hosted a ‘Community Conversation’ on crime and anti-social behaviour. A number of those present took issue with a City of London Police officer about the smelly old phone box at the junction of Golden Lane and Fann Street, which, they report, has been repurposed as a drop-off/pick-up point for drug dealers.

The meeting proved the value of the Community Conversation and the initiative took another step forward recently with a gathering, in partnership with the estate office, on the use of the public and private spaces on the estate.

Golden Lane is theoretically a private estate, but is used heavily by the public, and residents want to know where the boundaries lie, especially, as one of our councillors, Mark Bostock, noted that public use is expected to rise when Crossrail is finished, and with the arrival of an ever-growing number of Culture Mile attractions. Residents also want to know who pays for the impact of this new footfall. Should that be themselves through their rents and services charges? Or our local authority, the City Corporation? Other issues emerged around security, crime and anti-social behaviour.

The Community Conversation was again a success, conducted in good spirit. Another hot topic was the use of the estate by film and TV crews to make hits such as Line of Duty and Luther. This is a facility marketed by the City Corporation. Residents do not share in the receipts but suffer the inconvenience, so for this reason, estate manager Michelle Warman is actively discouraging applicants.

Only three of our eight councillors joined the meeting, which inevitably spawned a discussion about how to get more Golden Lane residents to stand for election to common council. There isn’t a queue because the role is not seen as an attractive one. That belief was fuelled not long ago when the one councillor who lives on the estate, Sue Pearson, was threatened with police action for raising concerns about a nearby building development. Speaking on such local matters apparently requires prior permission from City officers. That in itself is enough to switch residents off to any thought of becoming a councillor. There are other obstacles: there is no pay, the various council committees meet during a normal working day, and finally there is the strange matter of the business vote.

This is an old tradition which entitles businesses to cast votes in council elections alongside residents. The custom is meant to strike a balance between the small number of the City’s residents (about 8,000) compared with workers (close to 500,000 daily), but many residents are suspicious of what they see as divisive system privileging businesses over residents, especially in those of the City’s 25 wards that are dominated by residents, as is ours, Cripplegate.

Saturday 6 July is national Demand Democracy Day, with lots of mass-action events planned to promote the cause of fairer voting systems (visit makevotesmatter.org.uk), so there’s probably no better time for residents to consider stepping up to the electoral plate. One of our current councillors, William Pimlott, says council committee work for those in full-time jobs might prove to be difficult, but not so for part-timers, flexible workers and students. He offers to advise anyone thinking of giving it a go (contact: william.pimlott@cityoflondon.gov.uk). “We need more representation from Golden Lane,” he says.

While getting residents to engage in local politics might be hard work, when it comes to having fun there’s no stopping them. Open Garden Squares Weekend was again a great success. The community cafe got so busy it ran out of milk, but thankfully not cake. And more than 350 visitors trooped through our award-winning allotment, the Golden Baggers, to inspect our fertility. The prize for the most fascinating plant went to a low-growing “daylight neutral” flowering strawberry in Bag 33.

There was also some healthy rivalry and a lot of cheeky banter at a new GLERA quiz night in the community centre. A scary invigilator called Nicholas patrolled the room looking for anyone using their phone to cheat, but what was scarier was the vast number of contestants who didn’t know that John Lennon’s middle name was Winston. Our team, The Jo Brand Milkshakes, came third.

The mini masterpieces by year six Prior Weston pupils I mentioned in last month’s column are to get their own exhibition here on the estate. The Golden Baggers have kindly agreed to host a showing in the Sir Ralph Perring Centre during their next Social Sunday on 7 July (11am-4pm). Expect to be dazzled.

An edited version of this column, with an incorrect picture, appeared in the City Matters newspaper, issue 101.

29 June, London ‘Over the past couple of weeks, a few Corbyn outriders seem to have inched a little closer to the idea that Jeremy might be a sub-optimal leader, and that Labour’s Brexit position is, to paraphrase, a bit of a shitter.’

Marina Hyde, the Guardian

29 June, London

I wanted to get Chris’s face in full physical flight, and that only happens when he’s talking. So I threw him a question, turned on my phone camera and later picked one frame from the recorded video. I traced this, traced it again and again and reduced the image to a few simple lines, all on an iPad. Then I  printed it on to what looks like woodchip wallpaper but is in fact expensive art paper called Hemp. Go on, touch his face. You know you want to.

30 June, Hackney Went to see this play last night at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston. It was a fabulous bit of storytelling that put me in mind of The Catcher In The Rye, about love, loss and how the rise and fall of the US space programme can be seen as a reflection/metaphor of the fortunes of the American Dream. Unlike Catcher, the ending focuses not on the individual but on society.

4 July, London Micro album review of ‘Western Stars’, by Bruce Springsteen

Proper hooked. 

Not at first. 

Word shapes bland.

Patterns repetitive.

Listen again,

And again,

Over and over,

Like a beginner.

“I woke up this morning,

Glad my boots were on.”

Sing, don’t growl.

Crooning.

Melody.

Big guitar, organ, sax, piano

Now brass, strings, percussion.

And piano, 

Whichever one that is.

Clarence and Danny gone.

Davy Sancious back.

A sort of homecoming?

Sublime rhyme.

Might take 10 spins

To find ‘Sleepy Joe’s Café.

Orchestra in the dust,

They are calling it.

“I drift from bar to bar.

Here in Lonely Town.

Wishing you were here with me,

Come Sundown.”

5 July, London At The Other Art Fair in Granary Square, Kings Cross, I especially liked this painting that uses irregular squirts of coloured oils, which dry hard into tiny jagged pillars and thus cast shadows across the rest of the canvas. For some reason this painting spoke to me about migration.

I asked an official-looking woman at the stand if it was OK to take photographs. She told me she was French, could not speak English, but managed to tell me she was the artist’s wife. I said something like, “les photographiques, oui?” to which she laughed and replied “mais oui”. I thought later that I should have tried a “permité?” or something, but it was too late by then.

This is an image I made from a photograph of another picture I liked.

8 July, London Jane and I put on a mini exhibition yesterday in the Sir Ralph Perring Centre. It was to show the Y6 Prior Weston pupils’ pictures inspired by the work of Paul Klee. Turnout was a bit disappointing, but it looked great and the exhibition is an idea that’s worth sticking with.

This picture is by Steve and shows Shirley shooting me with featured artist Tyler, his mum and his brother. Plus nice co-incidental sightings of the wall-mounted aircon system and the centre’s vintage Ercol furniture.

I was especially annoyed at the non-attendance of councillors other than Sue, so I sent an email to Alderman David Graves.

Dear David

Further to our recent conversation on the subjects of evidence and perception, can I offer some facts, which alone cannot tell the truth but are nevertheless worth considering.

On Sunday 7 July my wife and I hosted an exhibition of paintings inspired by the surrealist Paul Klee by local Year Six school pupils at the Sir Ralph Perring Centre on the Golden Lane Estate. On 26 of June I emailed all nine Cripplegate elected members with an invitation. I canvassed no one with the date. The exhibition was at the invitation of the Golden Baggers, who host a Social Sunday every month at which all local residents are welcome, and also dependent on the school’s art teacher being able to attend and display the paintings (see attached photograph).

Evidence: three members responded to the email. William Pimlott and Mary Durcan both sent their apologies; Susan Pearson, a Golden Lane resident, offered to bake a cake for visitors to enjoy. No other members either attended or replied to the invitation.

This was especially irritating for me personally as Vivienne Littlechild OBE, veteran of Culture, Heritage, Libraries, etc, had stood up at the recent Culture Mile meeting in the Frobisher Room, turned to face the seated residents and scolded those from Golden Lane for not responding positively to her offer of free cultural activities. 

What are these facts evidence of? Not a lot, but they do easily point to certain assumptions. More evidence is probably needed to be sure of anything, so can I ask if you know whether elected Cripplegate members regularly check the ward mail inboxes that are published in the Cripplegate newsletter alongside their photographs?

Best regards

11 July, London At Headway today we visited the Rabbits Road Press for a workshop in risograph printing, alongside some corporate volunteers from a City money firm, something to do with something called “clearing”, which sounded like some kind of back-end book-keeping for cowboy capitalists. But they were all very nice. Their firm paid for everything (sweltering minibus driven by Cris included) and put on a buffet lunch. We had fun doing the risographs, too, which is a bit like conventional litho separation printing but you create the seps as artwork by hand and use a machine to make masters, in our case using just two colours, blue and pink. We will use the results for a public printing workshop at Headway HQ in a couple of weeks. The workshop was held in a fascinating old converted library called the Old Manor Park Library, aka, the Carnegie Library, an ornate sandstone construction out somewhere near Forest Gate.

13 July, London There is an article in the Guardian that tells us that trees are the cheapest and most efficient form of carbon capture, and that much of the planet’s current climate crisis could be mitigated by the planting of 1bn trees worldwide.

13 July, London At the Whitecross Street Party. The theme this year is the rise on the non-conformist. Pictures by Paul and Patricia.

Tom’s brass band did a session and we sat listening on hay bales. While we sat Iskeké having a drink a junkie/wino’s Rottie attacked an ornamental ram and bit off its right horn.

14 July, London I just found a strong piece in an old copy of the Morning Star arguing for Proportional Representation. It seems there is a growing will within the Labour Party to abandon FPTP (First Past The Post). I think this is good news.

Later: to see the “horror” movie Midsommar at the Barbican. And my posting on Facebook.

Here are the notes I made, in the dark, book on knee, scribbling randomly during the film.

And later still…

England won the 50 Over cricket World Cup in a gripping game against New Zealand. The match was originally drawn at 241 runs each off 50 overs (over = 6 balls). 

This led to an eliminator called a Super Over, a tie-break in which each team gets six balls to score maximum runs. In the final ball, New Zealand needed 2 runs to win. England finally won it, but in a most dramatic way.

In the closing minutes of the main game a freak deflection led to 2 runs for England becoming 6 – an accident.

Then the Super Over tie breaker finished tied at 15 runs each (NZ were run out on the final ball, needing 2 runs to win, but had already scored 1 run). Throughout the whole game England had scored 26 boundaries (4s and 6s) whereas New Zealand had only scored 17 and it was this rule that decided the championship.

Seeing those pictos on Twitter put me in mind of the gripping way all those events finished. The second one is permanently burned into my memory because the final moments, though very fast, seemed to happen in slow motion as scrum-half Matt Dawson gathered the ball from a chaotic ruck, spread his arms, his head flicking this way and that to find kicker Jonny Wilkinson, deciding Wilkinson was primed and delivering a perfect pass from which Wilkinson drop-kicked England into sporting history.

15 July, London Photos from a small guided tour of the gardens at The Charterhouse alms houses in nearby Charterhouse Square, arranged by Catherine at St Luke’s and given by Charterhouse Head Gardener Kate. We got to see how bees drink water and cool down in a “bee bath”.

15 July, London I just got some positive feedback from Fiona. I sent her a boiled down 400 words of a pitch for a Bridges grant she is working on about how the Bridges in a Group idea can be used in a traditional healthcare setting. It was very plain-speaking, but that is what the pitch was meant to be. I’m still not sure any normal reader might not stop after the title, but that wasn’t in my brief. 

Here is what I sent…

PROTEA

Patients, Families and Health Professionals Working Together to Support Long-Term Stroke Self-Management

A Programme to Establish Effectiveness and Implementation of a Group Based Self-Management Intervention in Practice

Close to 1.2 million people in the UK live with the experience of stroke. Acute care may have improved in recent years, but ongoing support is still inconsistent, and many survivors will go on to suffer depression or other emotional, psychological and social needs. Most established rehabilitation ends after only a few weeks and survivors often claim they feel abandoned afterwards. 

PROTEA seeks to evaluate how a new group programme might change this to create a support system to help stroke survivors and their families manage the rehabilitation transition from hospital to home. Bridges, the self-management group, has over a number of years worked alongside survivors and their families to build such a programme. It enables survivors to feel confident and comfortable tackling everyday activities, but also to pursue the individual quality-of-life experiences they treasure most. They learn to use specific therapy techniques and to access resources. The group also encourages sharing experiences, strategies and tips with fellow survivors. 

PROTEA comprises four packages of work. The first trains stroke survivors and clinicians to organise the groups, and to capture the information needed for successful measurement. 

The second evaluates the costs and effectiveness of the group in six existing stroke pathways, in London and South Wales. Patients are recruited as they leave hospital care and surveyed about their quality of life and their goals. Then they are chosen randomly to either continue with the established care pathway and/or to take part in group self-management. After 6 and 12 months they repeat the survey and the results will show whether group attendance has been beneficial. This stage also estimates the costs to services and value for money.

The third package runs in tandem with 1 and 2 and looks at ways the group therapy might work in each of the stated clinical pathways, how members rate it, and whether delivery is consistent. 

Finally, package four is where the PROTEA findings get shared, with a support toolkit that includes easy infographics, blogs and a short film. At is core is a network for ‘community champions’ to operate in, plus presentations in London and Wales to drive the momentum towards establishing the PROTEA intervention as an add-on to existing stroke services across the UK.

18 July, London ‘In deed and act Mr Trump violates the values the US aspires to uphold – equality under the law, religious liberty, equal protection, and protection from persecution – because he does not believe in them.’

Guardian editorial

19 July, Whitstable, Kent A day out with the St Luke’s mob.

And a pin badge I bought for Jane.

20 July, London Dawn just sucked on a piece of lemongrass in her cocktail, thinking it was a sherbert straw. At first she thought it might have been an artistic sliver if celery, but then Sue told her it was lemongrass. This is in a bar on Clerkenwell Road called Monsieur le Duck, or something more pretentiously French relating to ducks. It claims to ooze a vibe called “douceur de vivre”, which we are told is what people in Gascony do to chill. We were there after a long day volunteering to show neighbours the glories of Great Arthur House roof garden as part of the London Assembly’s weekend celebration of parks and open spaces.

22 July, London J and D reckon ‘greta garbo’ faked a stroke last night in a desperate attempt to seek attention. Naively, I tried to check if the ‘ailment’ was real, in case it was. I wasn’t the only sucker. Paramedics were called and it was a panic attack, apparently. ‘greta’ was put to bed and the rest of us carried on gabbing.

25 July, London Taz told us today that Quentin had died. He had just held an exhibition in north Islington. There was a silence in the studio. Some members obviously couldn’t remember who he was and Taz showed them a photo. Not knowing how to respond to the news of a death is maybe a universal discomfort we all experience. I just said it was very sad and that Quentin had been happy here at Headway and in this studio.

Later:

To the Barbican for The Lehman Trilogy.

It was very long (2 intervals) and actually not a play at all but a reading of a narrative by three actors in a glass box. I was quite bored, but Jane and Jackie seemed to like it. It starred Simon Russel Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley.

27 July, London To lunch at Aragon in Parsons Green to celebrate M’s 16th birthday. We learned from one of her birthday cards that her birth in 2003 coincided with the introduction of Congestion Charging in London. I asked M if at 16 she had any ambitions. She answered saying that she has plans for herself (education, travel, etc) but ambition is pointless because climate change has screwed the planet and no future can be assured.

29 July, London

I’d wanted to do something around the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. I wondered how Tony might draw it and the idea fell straight into place, based on his dry humour. This is a screenshot of the posting I put on Instagram.

31 July, London

At Q’s funeral at St David’s church in Islington, one woman I noticed in the congregation looked very stern, but became tearful later. She did not sing any of the hymns but did join in near the end for the Lord’s Prayer.

Thursday 1 August, London To the Barbican last night for a live transmission from Stratford of Measure For Measure, directed by Greg Doran.

A very enjoyable production with the story streamlined and the comedy punched up to Carry On proportions. J and I both agreed that we will go to a real stage performance early in January.

Later:

At Headway, Margi tells me she is off home to Fiji soon for three weeks of eating mangoes and fish on the beach. It is the first time for her seven-year-old son, who likes to swim.

Monday 5 August, London There was a young woman at the Pharmacy counter in Boots New Change this morning who was waiting for her prescription of antibiotics. When the pharmacist handed her the medication, the woman asked if the pharmacist could suggest any off-the-shelf product that might work faster on her condition than the antibiotics she had been prescribed by the doctor. The customer was concerned because antibiotics work on a compound/cumulative principal and will not typically take effect until 3 days after the first dose. She wanted a faster-acting remedy because, she told the pharmacist, she had “an interview” at 3pm that day.

Later:

At the Mary Quant exhibition at the V&A for J’s birthday, it is plain to see that Quant’s success in the fashion industry was very dependent on a thriving British textiles industry and the vast array of cloths and patterns it was able to produce.

The Tattersall Check Dress, made from fabric originally used for horse blankets.

In the beginning, the young working woman was the inspiration for the Quant outfits, but later they seemed more suited to the exhibitionist or the fashion victim.

Whichever you were, it helped to be skinny. There aren’t many pictures of curvy, “plus-size” women in this gear.

Later still:

To Barbican Cinema 3 for the Leonard Cohen movie, ‘Marianne and Leonard’.

My ignorance about Cohen extends to not knowing:

  1. How big-venue successful he was. I thought he was a cult fringe songwriter, and…
  2. What a truly self-obsessed tosser he was. Incurably so. He spent about seven years in a Buddhist monastery on the top of a hill, and even that couldn’t stop him being a total arsehole.

Also, he was off his head on drugs most of the time, which sort of negates any claims about his “genius”. 

There were moments of humour, mainly from old workmates. One guitarist recalls the time Cohen suggested the band play a “mental asylum”. The guitarist reflected, “That went down like a fart in a diver’s helmet”, to which I laughed out loud. 

But that came out of an awful lot of nonsense. Towards the end, when Len was in his Buddhist mode, some stupid interviewer asks him to define love and he came out with the most tedious two minutes of non-stop gibberish I have ever heard, some bollocks about the “content” of one individual occupying the content of another, and vice versa. The failure of one person’s content to meet the volume of the other person’s content would inevitably result in disharmony. But if the  volumes of the two contents matched, bliss would follow. So glad I found that out.

Tuesday 6 August, 3.35am, London Just read a review of the TV series ‘Years and Years’ in an old (July 22) issue of the Morning Star. It was a nice summary of both the story and the way I saw it, so I am stealing it for this diary… just because I am in a blue funk of pessimism about my country’s future.

Tuesday 6 August, London

We had a scary glimpse of the road ahead last night when at the cinema bar in the Barbican I complained that the price on the wall-mounted illuminated sign for a glass of prosecco was £6 yet when I came to pay I was told it was £6.50. The bar tender seemed unconcerned when I said that £6 was the advertised price. He seemed to think I was making an unnecessary fuss and was quite rude about it. I saw it as a reflection of a future in which  each member of society makes up the rules according to what they feel like. It is quite a horrible prospect if you dwell on the idea for too long. 

Later:

I was surprised to learn that Jane had not heard if the Green New Deal. I was even more surprised, or maybe scandalised is a better word, when the 243 to Waterloo came to a halt one stop short if its final stop because the driver needed to “even out the service”. Go figure!

Later still:

A homeless person has pitched an orange tent on a patch of grass at the front of Basingstoke railway station while a man sat beside me on the bench (dressed in walking gear and drinking a Pret coffee) is speaking in tongues, loudly. Or it could have been some other kind of strange utterance. Or just a load of rubbish.

Wednesday 7 August, London A British Gas inspector called this morning to read our meter, which is tricky because our meter is located in an inaccessible corner of a kitchen cupboard. He managed by taking a photo, with outstretched arm, from his mobile phone, and when I told him that another inspector had called recently to check one of the pipes, he told me that when meter inspectors call, their task is to read the meter only, unless British Gas have marked the account with a special note requesting the meter inspector to check if the meter has been tampered with (he showed me this on his handheld device), ie that this customer is suspected of fiddling the meter so as to pay less. He told me that only British Gas does this. Other suppliers, he said, are “more laid back”.

Friday 9 August, London We have just started watching the TV miniseries ‘Chernobyl’, so I was pleased to run into this piece in The Ecologist.

Saturday 10 August, London ‘My autumn forecast is rapid deadlock, an uproar of scatological cartooning, another Tory rebellion and finally the nastiest, dirtiest general election for a hundred years.’

Neal Ascherson, London Review of Books

Monday 12 August, London To the cinema to see the Gurinda Chada film ‘Blinded by the Light’ and my comment on Facebook.

Tuesday 13 August, London I admire the persistence and tenacity if the Hong Kong protesters. If Democracy survives the near future, starts again to become a participation activity rather than a spectator sport, and Britain avoids becoming a mere client state of America (CSA), we might one day thank them dearly for their efforts.

Later:

On a coach trip to Broadstairs on the Kent coast. It is folk week and J described it as “Midsomer sur Mer”.

There are folk-fest Morris dancing types here in Broadstairs who have blacked-up faces. Spotting an actual black person is a lot more difficult.

Later:

Tracy Coates (1960-1995) loved the sea and Morelli’s ice cream, it says here on a wooden bench.

Later:

There are folk dancers in costumes made from green rags EVERYWHERE.

Later:

I think they might have renamed the Isle of Dogs as the ‘Greenwich Peninsula’. Wasn’t it renamed Mudchute at some time in the recent past?

Wednesday 14 August, London There is a piece in the Guardian about Britain’s crumbling infrastructure and how it came about by a mixture of neglect and deliberate abandonment. Public social hubs such as libraries, pubs, churches and youth clubs have been hollowed into virtual nonexistence as people have retreated into their homes to embrace solitary activities often based on technology. The story lists some of the consequences of this, which include old people dying at home alone, their bodies not discovered for days or weeks. It brought to mind a story Jane’s mum once told us about a woman who dropped dead on the bus. “At least she didn’t die alone,” Margaret observed.

Later:

My renal consultant and I shared a fret today about Brexit. Her chief concern was that the nhs in “Boris Johnson’s Britain” will become prey to American business predators; mine was whether I would still be able to get the prescription drugs that save me from an early grave.

Sunday 18 August, London The Observer has some strong words about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s suggestion of a time-limited Unity Government to allow a General Election.

Later:

Another article points to rising severe poverty among the elderly.

Then:

‘As the public sphere becomes ever more emaciated by cuts, corporations step in.’

Article in Guardian Weekly magazine marking the 20th anniversary of Naomi Klein’s book ‘No Logo’.

Monday 19 August, London The best one-liner jokes from the Edinburgh Festival are out. They are:

1. I keep randomly shouting out “Broccoli” and “Cauliflower”. I think I might have Florets. – Olaf Falafel

2. Someone stole my antidepressants. Whoever they are, I hope they’re happy. – Richard Stott

3. What’s driving Brexit? From here it looks like it’s probably the Duke of Edinburgh. – Milton Jones

4. A cowboy asked me if I could help him round up 18 cows. I said, “Yes, of course. That’s 20 cows.” – Jake Lambert

5. A thesaurus is great. There’s no other word for it. – Ross Smith

6. Sleep is my favourite thing in the world. It’s the reason I get up in the morning. – Ross Smith

7. I accidentally booked myself on to an escapology course; I’m really struggling to get out of it. – Adele Cliff

8. After learning six hours of basic semaphore, I was flagging. – Richard Pulsford

9. To be or not to be a horse rider, that is Equestrian. – Mark Simmons

10. I’ve got an Eton-themed advent calendar, where all the doors are opened for me by my dad’s contacts. – Ivo Graham

Later:

To the cheap-day cinema to see Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’. It was slow in places and I found myself yawning. Maybe I’ve got used to being woken up every so often by moments of superdry humour I call The Seemingly Inconsequential Accident in which you trip up but then start laughing at yourself hysterically. “Shit, I just shot Marvin in the face” springs to mind from ‘Pulp Fiction’. The two characters, played by DiCaprio and Pitt, both had convincing storylines: Di Caprio’s is about a one-time bigshot TV cowboy coming to terms with his status as a has-been; Pitt’s is about an actor who wasn’t that good so became a stunt double to DiCaprio, so never got the chance to be the real star. He ends up being the hero of this movie, though. These stories are obviously a reflection on success and failure, but because they are rooted in Hollywood they somehow come across as being “only for the camera”. When they brush with ‘reality’ they are quite poignant. I wonder if Tarantino is secretly talking about himself here – never quite sure whether that was meant to be funny or serious.

Friday 23 August, London Headline in the Hackney Citizen: “Another single mum given days to choose between Stoke-on-Trent or homelessness”.

Later.

A thought. Is the rise of the bad people (Trump, Salvini, Johnson, Bolsonaro) the last nail in the coffin of the old order? Is it the ultimate act of self hatred by an electorate that is desperate for change but doesn’t know how to welcome it. Biris Johnson became Prime Minister of Britain on less than 150,000 of those desperate, self-hating votes. And the rest of the Conservative Party did nothing to stop it.

Sunday 25 August, London Some photos my sister Izzy took yesterday at my 60th birthday ‘exhibition’.

At the pub in the evening M secretly outed Y as the Golden Lane resident who had slept with David Bowie.

Monday 26 August, London There is an ad on the TV for women who enjoy wearing ‘noir’ underwear who suffer from bladder incontinence. The catchline is, “I’m not going to let a little wee being me.”

Thursday 29 August, London There was a funny euphemism on the radio comedy Double Science last night. One of the male teachers, Colin Jackson (“No Relation), was trying to tell one of the other teachers, a woman, that he needed to go for a poo. He said, “The mole is at the counter”.

Later:

The Guardian editorial on the Prime Minister gagging Parliament until after the Brexit deadline of 31 October is sobering and will be worth checking back to in years to come. British voters, which include British elected politicians are now faced with a choice between parliamentary democracy or a soft ‘elective’ dictatorship. We shall see.

Saturday 31 August, London As an add-on to Jane’s birthday, we are at the Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition at the V&A. Like Mary Quant, Dior seemed to have unlimited access to fine fabric, but unlike Quant he used miles and miles of it for each costume. Pleats are common in his designs and pleats almost double the amount of material required to cover the same area. There are no sparse designs here. Opulence and volume rule. His own designs are standout classics and it is a study to walk the exhibition and mentally separate the works of the maestro himself from those of his successors as Creative Director at the House of Dior. Other than Dior, Jane favourite designer was Marc Bohan and mine was the current incumbent, Maria Grazia Chiuro, the first female head of the House. We both gave John Galliano the thumbs down, rating it too MBT (Mediterranean Bad Taste). I made a sweeping statement when Jane asked me if I was disappointed that men seemed not to have equivalents to fashion gods such as Dior. I replied that someone like Dylan Jones might argue against that notion, and that women’s clothes are more artistically expressive because “women’s clothes are expressive of women, whereas men’s clothes are expressive of power”.

Sunday 1 September, London Only when Health, Education, Social Services and the Police are properly talking to each other will all citizens get the life chances everyone deserves.

Monday 2 September, London At the St Luke’s O55 Committee meeting today Pat told us that on Saturday she is off on a 7-stop cruise around the Med, departing from Southampton. 

She is a bit stressed because her octogenarian husband, Percy, is a “pain in the arse” and likely to frighten all the other P&O cruisers with his Tourettic swearing. She says that each day she deposits him in a pub on the Cally Road at 1.15pm and collects him at 3.30pm. In that period he manages to strike cash deals with hawkers for multiple packs of steaks, blocks of Cathedral cheddar cheese and other sundry items, which last week included a monstrous round wall clock for £10. Pat collects him round the side of the pub in her car and Percy gets some strong fellas to load that day’s bargain buys into the boot. 

Pat is especially worried about Percy’s proud but stubborn refusal to use the wheelchair she has hired for the two-week cruise at a cost of £76. I could be wrong, but I thought at one point she looked quite tearful telling us all this.

Later:

I had a benign mole removed from my back. The doctor at the Lawson Practice in Hackney went on and on about politics. First it was the assumption that anyone referred to the minor-surgery unit from the Neaman GP surgery in the City was “posh”, then he moved on to Diane Abbott and private schools by way of Tony Blair, then finally to Boris Johnson, who ranked very low in his estimation, much to Jane’s approval.

Tuesday 3 September, London The journalist Robert Peston has just written this on Twitter:

“Here is the paradox that is doing my head in. Later tonight, when up to 20 odd Tories are stripped of the Tory whip, Boris Johnson’s minority in parliament will go from minus 2 to minus a lot. He will have no control of parliament. And yet his attempt tomorrow to hold a general election on 14 October may flop. None of this makes any sense. Chaos. Madness.”

Thursday 5 September, London I am no fan of the EU, but I am fanatical about my country being part of a peaceful, cooperative, democratic Europe.

Later:

Anna told me at the bus stop that Frank, 9, is in Great Ormond Street Hospital following the removal of a tumour from his cerebellum. Shr days he is alert and asking for Pepsi.

Then, just past Stafford on a train to Liverpool:

What if Boris Johnson is not a Conservative after all but a revolutionary, bent on destroying politics in the way we understand it? Over the past 24 hours we have seen tribal opposites such as Philip Hammond and Hillary Benn clawing at common ground. Tories, Labour and Lib Dems uniting behind a mutually shared cause. This is a more European way of doing politics, a talent I had always believed British politicians lacked. Was that Johnson’s plan all along? I doubt it. Maybe it’s just the birth of a new kind of tribalism. Luciana Berger has just joined the Lib Dems.

Friday 6 September, Liverpool Media commentators have started to speculate openly about the mental health of both US president Donald Trump and UK prime minister Boris Johnson.

Later:

‘This week, finally, a Commons majority has behaved with some sense of public responsibility in bringing temporary order to the no-deal chaos. This has involved offering Johnson what amounts to a compromise. If he really wants Brexit on 31 October, he can have it, and a general election to boot; but he must negotiate a swift Brexit deal in return, or face a delay. This is high-risk. Much will depend on Johnson playing ball.’

Simon Jenkins, the Guardian

Monday 9 September, Liverpool Photos from our weekend.

Many shot in Tate Liverpool, including the Jean Dubuffet, right, second up. Others include the urinals in the Philharmonic pub, Anthony Quinn in Zorba’s restaurant and scenes from the Baltic Triangle.

Tuesday 10 September, London Well, that was two hours of my life I won’t get back. Hearty congratulations to anyone who managed to stay awake till the end of ‘The Souvenir’. 

By the time Tilda Swinton announced that her daughter’s destructive boyf had been found dead “in the toilets of the Wallace Collection”, I was ready to dance with joy. The girlfriend was described in the film by Richard Ayoade as a “trainee Rotarian”, the boyf was an evil posh heroin addict, so they were both easy to dislike.

Wednesday 11 September, London There is a good editorial in the Morning Star today titled ‘Our Rulers Are Divided’.

Thursday 12 September, Hackney

A young illustrator from one of the nearby arches popped into the studio today while I was trying a kind of monoprinting method using foil slathered in crayon to transfer the sketch to page. I learned from Michelle that her name was Rose and that her dad once designed a Beatles album sleeve. I innocently asked which album and she said Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. My jaw hit the floor. She was Peter Blake’s daughter and she told us she had just finished illustrating a book about Andy Warhol. She fetched some of her other books for us to keep, including ones about David Hockney and her father. I asked her if he still wore sneakers and she told me no, he prefers to dress in all black these days and lives in Chiswick. I remarked that he was a cantankerous old sod and she agreed. I showed her this entry from my 2015 diary when, on a visit to Mallorca I spotted a picture that reminded me of Peter Blake’s work…


…and she told me that a spoof version of the Peter Blake self portrait had recently appeared called ‘Self Portrait (With Badgers)’ –  images of tiny badgers replacing the badges.

Later:
Michelle showed me the photos and a video she made at my 60th birthday party.
Then:
Paul has an exhibition coming up, ‘Carry On Delboy’ which features his paintings of lovable British TV characters, so I wrote some words about it.

‘For a certain generation, TV on demand is a fad. In the not-too-distant past, there was no streaming, no catch-up, no recording. There were three TV channels and you watched your favourite programmes when they were scheduled to air. Bad luck if you missed Monday’s EastEnders. Ask a friend what happened. 

Paul comes from that generation and the cast of characters his younger self got to meet on TV was small, so only the very best stuck with him.

In Only Fools and Horses Delboy was a spivvy market trader from Peckham. He would tell his gawky younger brother “This time next year, Rodney, we’ll be millionaires”. And he believed it, of course, because he had to. There wasn’t much else to dream about – until he met Raquel, who became Mrs Delboy and gave him a son, Damien, a name Rodney thought was demonic, for some weird reason. 

Overseeing all of Delboy and Rodney’s antics in their high-rise council flat in Nelson Mandela House was, first, Grandad then, when Grandad was “sent to a more perfect place in the sky, Rodney”, Uncle Albert. They both in their fixed eccentricity made Delboy and Rodney look like incomers, blow-ins from a modern world that was as valuable as the fake cashmere coat Del drapes over his shoulders.

In Dad’s Army Captain Mainwaring was the leader of a platoon of Home Guards in second-world-war seaside Britain. A Pompous Git of the highest rank, he commanded a group that included a wimpy sergeant (Wilson), a dimwitted private (Pike), a black marketeer (Pt Walker) and a daytime butcher, Corporal Jones, whose answer to everything was “Don’t Panic!” (Loud Voice).

Dad’s Army was set in the imaginary town of Walmington-on-Sea. Closer to Paul Wright’s home was Albert Square, Walford, where the never-smiling cast of EastEnders leads us all on a merry dance of misery, melodrama and vicious rivalry. Its saving grace is its creation of top-draw matriarchs. I’ve even heard the term “battleaxe” used to describe them. These included a 4ft stick of dynamite called Peggy Mitchell and busty bouffant called Pat Butcher. They both at different times stood pouting and proud behind the bar of the Queen Vic pub and took lip from no one. 

A slightly less intimidating EastEnders strong-woman was Pauline Fowler, except when it came to her husband Arthur’s one-night stand. She smacked him over the head with a frying pan. Family troubles were never far from Pauline’s life, so it must have been a sunny respite when neighbour Ethel’s pug Little Willy took a shine to her. Her maternal instincts kicked in so instantly that she forgot her teenage daughter Michelle got pregnant by “Dirty” Den Watts.

These are just some of the characters that anchor Paul’s exhibition. There are many more: Elton John, James Bond, Princess Diana. They all have magnetic personalities and that makes you want to like them. Now add the name Paul John Wright to the list.

There is a certainty about archetypes that makes you feel safe, especially at a time when nothing is certain and your life is at its most fragile.

When I lay in hospital for four months after my own brain injury I found comfort trawling my memory for people I knew well. And I like to think Paul had a similar experience. So think of all these people as Paul’s Friends.’

Monday 16 September, London There is an editorial in the Guardian about a law in California limiting the worker-exploitation ambitions of gig-economy firms such as Uber and Air B&B. This is a line that stuck out for me.

“When economists think about technology, they don’t just ask what it makes possible but what will be profitable to do with it.”

Wednesday 18 September, London One of the great delights of turning 60 is that you instantly get a piece of mail that contains your Bowel Cancer Screening Kit. It contains a small applicator stick you are meant to plunge into one of your fecal stools, rotate until the stick is sufficiently coated in your kack, then safely seal in a plastic test tube. Pop it in the post and the jobbie is done.

See 27 September for the result.

Thursday 19 September, Tottenham Hale Firoza wasn’t well today, so I got conscripted to present the Radio Headway East London show. I dragged Chris along, so it wasn’t so stressful.

Friday 21 September, London We made a three-bean salad at the interactive Cretan Supper Club (£20) at St Luke’s community centre. The starter was a tooth-shattering rock-hard corn bread with pulped tomato and Feta on top. Plus Greek tea and prosecco. Host Maria is from Heraklion and adds a splash of balsamic to her tzatziki. She told us that Hania bus station – which I described as the best place in the world –  had been smartened up but had not lost its soul.

Saturday 21 September, London The Great Escape, with live orchestra. It’s a treat at the Festival Hall for our wedding anniversary.

The film conked out about two-thirds of the way in. Just as “tunnel king” Danny (Charles Bronson) was having a panic attack when faced with the possibility of being set free.

Monday 23 September, London To the William Blake exhibition at Tate Britain for our anniversary. Jane did not like the fact that everything was so tiny; we both found it a bit creepy-religious and superstitious. I thought the images were obsessive. And he did have ridiculously titchy handwriting.

Wednesday 25 September, London It has reached the point where my first greeting of anyone I meet includes the question, “Has Boris pulled any stunts today?” Is this how most people want to see their country’s Prime Minister? A master stunt-puller, but at least he is OUR stunt-puller?

Thursday 26 September, London To another NFT Live event at the Barbican. James Corden might be a tosser to some but he is a good comedy actor. Still not sure about how the cameras are used in these projects. Preferred the earlier shows where the cameras were static and no filmy panning and zooming was used.

Friday 27 September, London

Later:

To the Barbican to see an NFT Live screening of a new performance of the original Fleabag play, which spawned the very successful TV series. 

Jane didn’t like it that much, wondering how she would have viewed it had she not seen the TV adaptation. I liked it, but then I like watching actors act. I hadn’t realised that the author Phoebe Waller-Bridge was also the actor who plays the Fleabag character. Fleabag is also an interesting character, a kind of mutant Xennial who can see love in others but not in herself. Waller-Bridge is a good storyteller and mixes the comedy, tragedy, pathos and one-liners with skill. Perhaps she is the best advert there is for actors writing their own parts. She can also pull some really funny faces.

Saturday, 28 September, London There is a lot of media talk this morning about the establishment of an interim caretaker government to try to extend the Brexit deadline and hold a general election. But who will lead it? Convention says that it should be the Leader of the Opposition, but Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn is not a unity figure, he is a divisive one. The question is whether he will accept anyone else. It will be a test of his politics to see what he does next. 

Would he, for example, agree to a Conservative doing the job? Two key characters who have also been vocal recently are former Prime Minister John Major and the disaffected Tory minister Amber Rudd, until recently a Boris Johnson supporter. Are either of these two seasoned politicians preferable to Corbyn than Boris Johnson and a crash out of the EU? And do they both already know the answer to that question?

Later:

After a stroll around the Old Street end of Shoreditch and a visit to the Autograph APB gallery in Rivington Place, we took a seat and a glass of wine in Aviary. This is a hotel rooftop bar and restaurant in Finsbury Square. There was a private party in progress featuring guests who all looked like they were in an audition for the reality TV show ‘The Only Way Is Essex‘. Jane came up with two memorable remarks. She said, “It would be good if there was a fight”, and in another reference, “that dress is going to look awful when she throws up down it.”

Monday 30 September, London We came third in the Artillery Arms pub quiz last night. There were three teams and the quiz theme was Money.

Friday 4 October, London Once again Gary Younge captures my thoughts perfectly saying if you want to remain in the EU, Corbyn’s Labour is the only option. I would add hesitantly that if you want a non-catastrophic Brexit, the same vote applies.

Sunday 6 October, London In the undercover concrete space between the pool and the badminton court, upper level, two young lovers stopped, put a bluetooth speaker on the ledge, turned on some music from a phone and started to practise ballroom dancing steps.

Monday 7 October, London In the news… Corbyn as temporary PM?

A letter in this morning’s Guardian adds to the debate about whether MPs should back a Corbyn-led emergency government (or GNUT, meaning Government of National Unity) for a short period only to implement a Brexit extension to sort out a General Election and/or a second EU referendum.

“Gary Younge’s article (For those who want to stop no deal, Corbyn is the only hope, 4 October) made me rack my brains again to try to understand the consensus of aversion against Jeremy Corbyn. He is obviously not a very good leader and not very charismatic, but I can see nothing which justifies the extent of the prejudice against him. The principal issue which makes him “unfit” to be prime minister seems to be that he is accused of promoting a “hard left” or “extreme left” agenda. When I examine the policies promoted by the Labour party under his leadership (a party of which I am not a member or even a voter), I am baffled by such a description.

For me, “hard left” or “extreme left” implies a rigid state authority imposing a universalist state economy and social levelling, with insufficient priority for values of democracy or tolerance or personal freedom. The Labour party under Corbyn is nothing of this kind, promoting, yes, greater state management and regulation of the economy and greater equality, but simply as a push towards a more mixed economy and a necessary rebalancing after 40 years of continuous rightwing neoliberal change. Little that they propose would have been out of place in a Liberal or Social Democratic party manifesto of former times. Nor do I detect any sympathy with undemocratic, intolerant or illiberal means to achieve these limited ends.

The leader of the Labour party has always suffered from the vilification and smears of the predominant rightwing press, but what has given this propaganda much greater traction with the public in Corbyn’s case is the support for this campaign by significant elements within the Labour party, including very many MPs, and their lack of any meaningful support for their elected leader. I am dismayed that, faced with the genuine unfitness of Boris Johnson and his odious team, the next election will be lost to progressives as a result.”

Stephen Smith

Glasgow

Tuesday 8 October, London S sent news of WhatsApp that she had reported J as a missing person to the police. She had also contacted the GP surgery and UCL hospital.

Later:

More news from S that police had spoken to J, that she was alive, had not been well and did not want the police to inform anyone.

Background:

None of the group has seen or heard from J in more than a month. She stopped posting her daily buddhist 🙏 messages on WhatsApp and did not come to the Sunday-night pub quiz. She did not respond to any calls, emails or text messages and didn’t turn up to a screen showing of Fleabag, which we knew she had pre-booked.

Wednesday 9 October, Stansted airport The Vegan Gourmet Burger in Wetherspoons is £11.99.

Later:

Some noisy pricks behind us on the plane just boarded and sat where they wanted to. There then followed a stupid exchange in which staff were forced to move passengers around because these knobheads decided that the seat number on their boarding pass did not apply to them. 

Thursday 10 October, Calonges, Catalonia, Spain Yesterday was a real bummer and sent me to bed feeling stupid and very down. As usual air transport, in this case from London Stansted to Girona, took its toll on my spirit. Then later when preparing for bed I accidentally sat on my reading glasses(with expensive prismatic lenses for my double vision) and they snapped at the bridge.

Saturday 12 October, Calonges, Catalonia, Spain In the news… Puppet PM rolls up his strings

I am reading in the Guardian that UK Prime Minister Boris  Johnson has just entered 48 hours of “intense negotiations” on the stubborn issue of the Irish border in the hope that this will seal a successful Brexit deal by 31 October.

I was reading yesterday an essay about former UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who has recently published a memoir. I learned from the essay that Dominic Cummings, the man commonly described as Boris Johnson’s puppet master, has been pulling strings in the Conservative Party for some considerable time.

His handicraft even extends to the party’s very own Dr Evil, Michael Gove, so if by some grotesque error in public decision-making, the Conservative Party is re-installed as the party of Government in an upcoming General Election, steady nerves will be useful.

Cummings is quite obviously a seasoned operator among selected Tories, yet it’s been claimed he hates the Conservatives and that his sly manoeuverings are actually a twisted act of vengeance. 

This makes the Bond-movie story device in this saga even more alluring. Maybe next we will discover that this final push by Johnson to get a deal with both the EU and the UK Parliament, is in reality Cummings’ last-ditch attempt to turn his Tory puppet into a proper Prime Minister. That would make a good movie.

Tuesday 15 October, London Some pictures from our visit to Spain.

Sunday 20 October, London “The government’s desperation to stampede parliament into signing off on the deal was further illustrated by its point-blank refusal to publish any analysis of its economic impact.”

Andrew Rawnsley, the Observer

Later:

Yesterday was the Barbican Archive Residency Weekend and I was given a table and a TV screen to display my Golden Lane Collection. I also featured on the Archive Jukebox talking about the Golden Lane Estate. The event was a good first step to opening an interest in the estate to the public. We had some enjoyable conversations and heard some fascinating recollections.

The icing on the cake came afterwards during a talk with a group of construction workers who went on strike during the building of the Barbican. A range of views came out, from the militancy of the unions and the corrosive bonus culture used by the bosses in a cynical way to the seeming absurdity of the job demarcation rules that meant simple tasks could not be performed by anyone from the ‘wrong’ union. One member of the audience (himself a lefty builder) stated in the QA afterwards that demarcation was a way to safeguard solidarity among the workers.

The strange feeling was that although this all seemed part of a past that has long gone and of the prevalence of a mass-workforce industrial model, the issues are still alive and a generation of young workers are about to be pushed into re-enacting that battle for better conditions. I wonder how they will handle it since Britain now has a fragmented workforce. Can the unions pull them together in the fight?

Monday 21 October, London Discovered last night that Deborah had died. I hadn’t been in touch with her since Preston’s departure in January last year, after which I wrote my own tribute to him. I had read that Deborah had been suffering a blood condition, but Libby reports in today’s Guardian that the cancer returned in August and that did her in. Lots of great memories. Thanks, Debs.

Later:

To Barbican Cinema to see Joker, a overpoweringly gothic movie that lays out a theoretical backstory to the life of the famous enemy of Batman. 

Yes, very dark and edgy, uncomfortable in places, funny in others. There is a climactic incident in which Joker shoots a celebrity TV presenter live on screen. The timing is a perfect piece of movie manipulation. Joker’s tragedy had built to such an intense moment that the only release left available was laughter, and I duly burst one out as the slimy TV presenter’s head took Joker’s bullet. Great performance by Joaquin Phoenix as Joker, which for me echoed Robert de Niro in Taxi Driver. And De Niro played the cheesy TV presenter as a sort of extension to King of Comedy. Homage, or something.

Wednesday 23 October, London “Parliament has a very great deal to be proud of in its stubborn, patient insistence on its rights in the Brexit debates. Those debates, including this week’s, have been of high quality.” Martin Kettle, the Guardian

Later:

Picture taken from the 56 bus stop on Goswell Road at the junction with Old Street, London.

Thursday 24 October, Hackney I have joined the studio’s preparations for an exhibition and workshops at the Autograph gallery in Shoreditch for March 2020. We are discovering stitchwork, fabrics and textiles. These are two monoprints on to fabric which I will complete with some stitching. They are copies of two photographs from Autograph’s archive collection, ‘Missing Chapter: Black Chronicles’.

Plus some monoprint tests I did using cut-price materials from Poundland. The idea is to do a social workshop called the Poundland Masterpieces, in which a bunch of strangers sit around a big table with a beer and some Pringles and make great pictures. They use cheap tracing paper, coloured crayons and ballpoint pens.

I have quite a few if these prints in my studio scrapbook. The ones I like most are of footballers in action, including prints of these two sketches I did a while ago.

I’m really enjoying this process because I can scratch around and fiddle with images to my heart’s content. Not sure what will happen when I pick up a needle and thread, but, hey, what can possibly go wrong?

Friday 25 October, Bristol As we neared Temple Meads station, our driver told us that the GWR train we were riding in was about to be renamed the Johnny Johnson and that Johnny himself, a now “93-year-old” war veteran and legendary Dam Buster, would meet us off the train (Wiki says Johnny is in fact 97). Needless to say, Johnny was swamped by passengers and unable to tell me what he thought of the movie version of the Dam Busters story. Bristol is all Banksy and Brunel. And Wallace & Gromit.

Later.

Then:

To the Tobacco Factory Theatres to see Rachael and Lisa at the Spielman Theatre. Much Ado is on at the Factory Theatre at the same time.

We met up with Lisa and Rachael for a drink after the show, during which Lisa told us a funny story from her childhood about how she would sit in a pram outside Safeway in Cherry Tree Walk pleading, “penny for the guy”. She said her mother would give her a smack and send her home to bed for the crime of begging. Then Rachael started to improvise a ‘Psycho’-style sketch in which Lisa was Norman Bates and Rachael his mother.

Sunday 28 October, Bristol

In Millennium Square there is a ‘Solar Tree’ at which you can charge your phone.

Ruth is impressed with the gift of Margaret’s dangly earrings.

At Bristol Old Vic restaurant, 1776. Wiki says Bristol Old Vic is the oldest English-language speaking theatre in the world. The waiter told us that many of the restaurant’s staff are “frustrated creatives”. I liked the rhyme.

Over the road.

At the Arnolfini gallery.

Monday 29 October, Bristol Preparing to leave, I made a montage.

Thursday 31 October, Chichester We are here to see Jane’s cousin Michael in a play called Sing Yer Hearts Out For The Lads, in which he plays Alan, a pub antagonist stirring up racial hatred and crude nationalism during the screening of an England vs Germany football match.

Saturday 2 November, London The CoLPAI building site preparation opposite seems to be taking a very long time.

Friday 8 November, London I noticed for the first during a speakerphone chat this morning that Fiona has a really ‘girly’ young voice. I don’t actually know how old she is, but I guess her to be in her 50s. Apologies in advance for the use of the word girly.

Sunday 10 November, London

Wednesday 13 November, London

Bad picture of Labour Education chief, Angela Rayner, from a picture in the Guardian.

Thursday 14 November, Hackney The S2L Open Studio invites are out.

And here is a piece I have been working on, which today Michelle told me to stop because I was ‘overworking’ it. I obeyed, but may come back to it when she isn’t looking to do some fine black stitching into the ink lines that came with monoprinting onto fabric.

Later I started a photo project with Stuart, picturing Kat’s vast array of shoes.

Saturday 16 November, London My City Matters column for November is out…

Every month I take a photograph of the building site outside my flat that was once the Richard Cloudesley School. The plot is being redeveloped in a joint venture between the City Corporation and Islington Council. The plan is to build a two-form primary academy school and a housing block of 66 apartments, split equally between Islington and City of London tenants.

The scheme is contentious on many levels. There’s a question mark over whether the area needs a new school. Opponents argue that there are plenty of primary school places already available in the existing nearby schools, Moreland and Prior Weston. Then there is the matter of which of the two collaborating councils will manage the new housing block. The current plan is for Golden Lane’s estate management team to do it. Nobody knows whether current Golden Lane tenants will get the opportunity to transfer to a new flat, or how sharing a building with Islington tenants will work out. 

All of these questions, and many more, need answers, but next to hearing angry complaints from neighbours about work on the building site – noise, dust and mini-earthquakes erupting inside their homes – the most fascinating aspect of the project for me is having a top-floor grandstand view of the diggers, cranes, earth movers and bickering construction workers.

My strange interest in the nuts and bolts of a big building project in progress is shared by one of my close neighbours, two-year-old Thomas, who gazes transfixed as the big yellow machines dig holes, fill them in with the stuff they’ve just dug up, press it all down with a massive rolling thing, then move on to another plot. Thomas’s early life is lived in front of this daily spectacle and he is loving every minute of it.

Another of my neighbours is in the habit of referring to put-upon executives as “flak catchers”. These are the people put in the firing line when difficult questions come shooting. It doesn’t sound like a fun job, so hats off to John McGeachy from Age UK, who performed bravely coordinating a recent transport consultation, fielding discontent with good grace.

Residents’ issues ranged from buses stopping with the middle-door exit parked right in front of a waste bin or bike rack, and drivers not waiting for passengers to be seated before jerking away from the stop, catapulting passengers down the length of the bus. There have recently been changes to bus routes not properly publicised or consulted on. Then there are those pesky hire bikes and scooters whizzing around haphazardly. No lift at Barbican station is the biggest irritation of all. 

McGeachy gathered all the information patiently, gave some limited feedback and even last week went on a fact-finding patrol with residents and officers from TfL (Transport for London) to get a proper taste of our problems. The team agreed to return again soon with further updates, so to see the findings so far, or to add to the consultation, email jmcgeachy@ageuklondon.org.uk.

There’s still a chance to enjoy the fun of the Barbican Archive Jukebox, an audio-visual experience featuring six key stories about the Barbican and Golden Lane (told by me). The Jukebox was such a success during the recent Barbican Archive Residency Weekend that it has now been moved to the Library, where it will stay until 29 November.

Other successes during the Archive Weekend included a panel discussion with the building workers who went on strike for a year in the 1960s during the construction of the Barbican, and a presentation by punk historian Stefan Dickers, who is the unlikely figure who manages the Bishopsgate Institute’s surprisingly unstuffy collection of old things.

Dickers included in his presentation a call-out for contributions to the Institute’s Great Diary Project, a mission set up in 2007 to collect and store diaries, journals and personal documents so that future historians and researchers get a more realistic picture of everyday life. The Institute believes that your daily scribblings about what you ate, what you saw on TV and why your children were fighting ranks alongside Big History such as the outcome of the upcoming 12 December General Election. Go to thegreatdiaryproject.co.uk for details on how to submit your long-forgotten volumes to the collection.

Mola is the hot new brunch ‘n’ lunch place to open in Whitecross Street. It replaces a greasy-spoon cafe, which some residents are not happy about. They see it as another nail in the coffin of tradition and further evidence of the neighbourhood’s creeping gentrification.

Whatever your view, Mola is staffed by helpful, polite people serving freshly made food and drinks at a reasonable price and with a warm welcome. 

Hot dishes carry an international flavour, many from the Mediterranean, the Middle East and North Africa. Vegan dishes are on the menu, as are a good selection of artisan teas and coffees, plus divine cakes to match. And for the die-hard greasy spooners, the full English Breakfast is still available, with the added twist that the bacon is English.

👉 An edited version of this column appeared in the City Matters newspaper, edition 111, p22.

Sunday 17 November, London To the British Museum for an early Community View of the big new Troy exhibition. Here’s what I wrote on Trip Advisor.

“The stories have been imagined and re-imagined, told and retold, so many times… And the big themes endure: courage, valour, loyalty, heroism, bravery. It’s all here in these mythical figures. The characters are stock archetypes. Odysseus want to go home. He is a bit of a whinger about it. And home is where his love, Penelope, is. Epic stories and bitter, violent rivalries run riot.” 

Monday 18 November, London To the Barbican for a look at the Into the Night exhibition. You could be suffocated by cool at this show, so lush and dense is the content. My favourite room eas from 1920s-30s Germany.

I set the alarm off in Le Chat Noir in Paris when I got too close to this woman’s shoes.

Friday 22 November, London Met Sue and Lil at Museum of London to see the ‘London Calling’ Clash exhibition. It was compact but full of some great material, especially from fans, plus original handwritten reviews and bits of artwork.

Tuesday 26 November, London “Do it now before we all die”. This is the memorable punchline of an on-the-spot lyric invented by Robbie Williams for the old theme tune used by the BBC’s ‘Grandstand’ programme. He sang it hastily as a stunt on the Saturday-morning (November 23) Radio 5 Live Scott Mills/Chris Stark show and it has been replayed on 5 Live ever since.

Wednesday 27 November, London Jane said no to an invitation to an awards lunch for local volunteers. She is too busy volunteering.

Later:

To the Barbican last night to see Karine Polwart’s band:

Lots of epic 80s songs covered here, opening with Waterboys’ ‘Whole of the Moon’, and a big studio feel to the production. Six band members, all multi-instrumentalists. When they did ‘I Could Be Happy’, by Altered Images, I expected Clare Grogan to pop onstage, as Jane has seen her recently in a local shop. The standout songs for me were Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’, Talking Heads’ ‘Road to Nowhere’ and, best of all, Big Country’s ‘Chance’.  Some very touching, poignant moments, especially the memorial recollections about home and school. Downside was that the audience was horribly white, bad-middle-class, and sad-old. This quality of performance deserves a more diverse crowd. 

Thursday 28 November, London At Headway today Laura asked me to pose for a picture pimping the upcoming Open Studio event.

Then: 

Off to the Barbican to help with a brain-injury awareness-raising presentation with Ben, Cris and Bryn to talk to staff from the Creative Learning department, including Beth and Sophie. Ben started by describing the types of brain injury, then moved on to the effects.

Here he introduced Affiong, Tiiu and myself to talk about our experiences. This played out as a panel interview. Then we broke out into three groups and staff got to chat with us individually. There was a lot of cake left over.

Later:

Back to the Barbican to see Andrew Scott in Noel Coward’s ‘Present Laughter’. 

We both found it quite forced and very shouty. The introduction of Scott’s character Garry as bisexual, plus two other roles gender swapped are said to be the play’s innovation.

https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2019/event/nt-live-present-laughter-12a

Sunday 1 December, Winchester Sue said that she had the same dress as Shirley on Strictly, and it was from Zara.

Monday 2 December, London This month’s photo of the CoLPAI building site outside our front door.

Then:

Jane tells me that Liverpool have been drawn against Everton in the FA Cup and that Hugh Grant is canvassing with Chuka Umanna in the upcoming General Election for our constituency. Here’s what John Crace, Guardian political sketch writer, had to say.

Wednesday 4 December, London I am reading an article in the Guardian Weekly magazine about the massive rise in the home delivery of all retail purchases. In it was the following: “For thousands of years, human progress was indexed to the ease and speed of our mobility: our capacity to walk on two legs, and then to ride on animals, sail on boats, chug across the land and fly through the air, all to procure for ourselves the food and materials we wanted. In barely two decades, that model has been turned inside out. Progress today consists of having our food and materials wing their way to each of us individually; it is indexed to our immobility.”

Thursday 5 December, London To the Barbican with Headway, at the invitation of the Creative Learning team, to see an RSC performance of ‘As You Like It’. The characters of Rosalind and the fool, Touchstone, were the best. 

All the way through I imagined Lisa and Rachael playing Rosalind and her mate Celia, with a bit of funny disguise business with Lisa’s wheelchair, plus Lisa occasionally jumping up to dance.

Later:

Back to Headway for Open Studio. I bought Errol’s ceramic of ‘The Thinker’ as one of Jane’s Christmas presents. 

Monday 9 December, London To Barbican Cinema 3 to see ‘Knives Out’, a whodunnit straight out of Agatha Christie in a roundabout, self-mocking way.

Daniel Craig is very funny as the Poirot character.

Wednesday 11 December, London Two days of hope remain. Nice 2-0 win for Liverpool last night against Salzburg. Finished top of the group.

Later:

Went to a Christmas tea party in the Crypt at St Bartholomew’s church. I’d never had a proper look around it before. The Damian Hirst statue is impressive.

Thursday 12 December, Hackney Did a pilot workshop this afternoon at Headway for the Poundland Portraits idea. It went really well with some fabulous results. 

Michelle and Connie got straight into the process. The other Headway staff were a bit slower, so later Michelle suggested for the future a 5-minute speedy “warm-up” task that familiarises the process quickly. 

After that, participants can begin exploring the possibilities. This is good advice, so I will  build that in for the next workshops.

Friday 13 December, London I asked Tony B yesterday at Headway if he was fearing a ‘Kinnock Moment’. He answered that it was more of a ‘Michael Foot Moment’. 

At 4 o’clock this morning, it looks like he was right. Here’s what LabourList had to say.

Later:

A spooky coincidence. Just as I was working through the idea of a Picasso wax-monoprint workshop with a copy of Chris’s drawing of Picasso (he gave his permission unflinchingly)…

… Michelle sent me some photos of the Mona Lisa workshop I did at Headway yesterday.

Then:

Kate posted some good news…

https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/premier-league/jurgen-klopp-contract-liverpool-fc-news-latest-new-how-long-melissa-reddy-a9245471.html?fbclid=IwAR15VfswLU4ecebgdjRB1AChzXIc2cgVFUgDdq1cYsDmWPofb4Bjbf7W9d4

Saturday, 14 December, London J was very disturbed yesterday about the result of the general election, so we shut down the newsfeeds and found other things to do. 

I finished watching Series 2 of ‘The End of the F***ing World’, which was superb. I was skeptical that Series 1 could be advanced upon, but I was wrong. 

Both series are individual masterpieces and a remarkable portrait of alienated Millennials in Britain.

Today I am sneaking a peep at the media coverage of the election and got this from Prospect.. 

…and this from the Morning Star

Later:

To Milton Court, home to the Guildhall School of Music & Drama for free lunch and a performance of ‘You, Me, the World & Culture Mile’

…a community theatre project by the ‘take stock exchange’ storytelling project. 

Storytellers Olly and Nick have been hanging around the neighbourhood for the past few months, chatting to local people. 

They turned these conversations into a performance in which they alternately outlined scenes they witnessed, with descriptions and dialogue as told to them by the locals. 

A violinist provided music to go with each ‘act’ of the ‘play’. It was an enjoyable way to see your own community as others see it, with characters who are your friends and neighbours. It made for an excellent show and I will be following their work from now on.

Sunday, 15 December, Didcot

D’s deafness is nearing chronic. I was so worried I tried lip-reading a man on another table who was enjoying a Christmas lunch with his family. 

He noticed and returned the gaze with menace. Note: Check lessons online.

Tuesday 17 December, Gatwick Airport Did a couple of sketches from Strictly Come Dancing final. Taylor Swift and Oti Mabuse.

Earlier:

A waxy monoprint of a Vincent van Gogh self portrait.

Wednesday 18 December, Los Cristianos, Tenerife I have appointed myself ‘Writer in Residence’ of the Paloma Beach Apartments for our 3-week stay. 

We spent the evening in the Pool Bar watching Oxford United vs Manchester City in the Carabao Cup. Last night Liverpool lost to Aston Villa 5-0. 

Thursday 19 December, Los Cristianos, Tenerife Although I have given myself the job of Writer in Residence at the Paloma Beach Apartments, I have also included in that title permission to roam at leisure. 

Up by the Chinese supermarket that sells every kind of tat imaginable, there is a costume celebration in progress. It is all about a sea goddess called Mazu. 

Wiki says: “She is the deified form of the purported historical Lin Mo or Lin Moniang, a Fujianese shamaness whose life span is traditionally dated from 960 to 987. 

Here are some more pictures from today: 

This is one of the walls at Paloma Beach Apartments. It is made from volcanic stones, all mortared together. 

The tiny holes were formed when the rock was still lava (nb. molten rock is called magma when it is underground. Once it has erupted to the surface it becomes lava). 

Volcanic gases trapped in the magma escape when it reaches the surface, leaving behind these sponge-looking holes. The lava then cools quickly, hardens and forms this abrasive cindery igneous rock, which probably has a fascinating name. I think it might be Scoria. 

Pumice is similar but has much smaller holes and a finer texture. If the holes later fill in with assorted mineralogical crap they become “amygdales” and the resultant rock “amygdaloidal”.

This is an interesting tree root I spotted over the road from the Paloma Beach Apartments. Note the attractively positioned black irrigation hoses at the back.

And here is the nearby row of  newly built commercial properties that failed to attract tenants and were duly occupied by hippy squatters. 

I noticed this year (I’ve been watching for 3 years) that some of the occupants had erected fences at the entrance to their adopted homes.

Lastly, we passed this highly convincing matador-cum-waiter tempting us with tortilla and papas arugadas.

Friday 20 December, Santa Cruz, Tenerife The definition of roaming I put into my job description yesterday has sent us north for a two-day visit to the island’s capital city. 

We find it rammed with people enjoying the last working day before Christmas. Office workers are out in silly hats getting proper drunk and flirty in the busy bars. 

A Christmas market has been plonked in a big space near the marina. Families wander, children play and good cheer is all around. The headline would probably be “Santa in Santa”, or something just as cheesy. 

It made me quite sad that only a week ago our country voted to detach itself from all this. I will try not to detach myself. 

Here are some photos:

The picture top left is what our friend Andy dubbed the “Mother Ship”, a huge department store, El Corte Inglés, that greets anyone arriving in Santa Cruz by bus. 

The picture bottom left is my ‘Chorizo Inferno’ cooking at our tapas-bar table. Earlier we went to see a pop-up Leonardo exhibition, which put some context to the artist, rightly adding inventor, philosopher, engineer and scientist to his CV.

Saturday 21 December, San Cristobál de la Laguna, Tenerife We have stretched the ‘roaming’ brief further and got a tram from Santa Cruz uphill to Tenerife’s ancient capital and UNESCO heritage city, San Cristobál de la Laguna (aka, La Laguna). 

It is noticeably colder up here but the city feels warm with the Christmas spirit. And like Santa Cruz, cars are scarce (though more in Laguna than in Cruz). Trams and buses are the thing. 

The Laguna streets are packed with what we suspect are mainly local people. It is a big university city and a major cultural hub. The vibe reminds me of Bologna in Italy. Nevertheless, the silly season is here…

…and the Christmas spirit is in full swing. 

A corner of the market has been given over entirely to stalls promoting charitable causes: Parkinson’s, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, abandoned dogs, etc.

The festivities included an orchestra, who were playing film music when we arrived, finishing with La La Land and a big round of applause.

And more photos from a memorable day in a place we can’t wait to revisit.

Our visit included a courtyard gallery inside an ancient church (St Augustine, I think. Same as the town in northern Florida?) at which an art exhibition was opening. 

We were offered wine, declined, but accepted the use of 3d glasses the view the art (something to do with the ‘geometry of colour’, blah). 

The original of this church was badly damaged by fire in 1964 and parts if its charred remains could be glimpsed through a peeping slot in the garden. 

We also visited a big room containing ancient scientific apparatus. Jane remarked sarcastically that I had died and gone to heaven surrounded by dusty old Bunsen Burners and test tubes. 

We also popped into the History and Ethnography museum and just strolled the Laguna streets with popped eyes and dropped jaws.

Later: Liverpool won the Fifa Club World Cup, beating Flamengo 1-0 in extra time. Jane wanted to know who the hell Flamengo were and what kind of tin-pot tournament the Club World Cup was. I accused her of being a tin-pot imperialist, which didn’t go down well.

Sunday 22 December, Santa Cruz, Tenerife Today’s newspapers in the hotel lobby.

The word market has been given a bad name in recent years by cowboy capitalists, rogue bankers and cunning currency speculators.

But the street market is fabulous feature of cities past and present and a reassuringly global tradition, at least in my limited travel experience.

This Sunday-morning variant in Santa Cruz carries all the hallmarks of the type, which Jane and I decided to categorise as Junk + Flea. 

The junk is more or less universal; the flea varies from country to country, but similarities nevertheless persist. 

In Catholic countries, the flea always has a stock of religious tat, and among the universal junk is normally a healthy spread of old discarded mobile phones, which I always thought would make a fascinating art installation. There are also lots of cut-price bras, knickers and mobile phone cases.

The junk produce also puts me in mind of a museum waiting to happen: The Museum of Shite, in which the junk from street markets worldwide is collected, displayed and renewed over the years, with detailed descriptions and explanations of the stuff world populations have decided to throw away.

I sneakily bought a stupid Christmas present for Jane. It could be the start of a collection of artefacts and images depicting women doing things with animals. I’m not sure she’ll see the funny side.

And other pictures from today:

Then a return to the “Mother Ship”, El Corte Inglés, at the bus station for the inevitable reminder of what shopping involves.

Monday 23 December, Los Cristianos, Tenerife

My wife Jane went off on a walk up a big hill (that “on a walk up a big hill” sounds like a comedy euphemism) so roaming took me into town along the seafront. 

On the way is a small Swedish church, Iglesia Sueca, with its door always open. It turns out to be not some heavy Lutheran conversion chamber but a welcoming and relaxing place to sit quietly with a drink and a pastry. 

Its origins apparently date back to the 1950s as a warm-weather rehabilitation sanctuary for disabled people. Now it is owned and run by the Church of Sweden.

I stayed there reading and listening to Bob Dylan’s ‘Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid’ until an sms arrived saying Jane had come down from on high and that Lisa wanted to meet us for lunch. We went to Bahia Verde for salads and rosé.

Tuesday 24 December, Los Cristianos, Tenerife On the beach that gives Paloma Beach Apartments its name, the bar that was there last year is no longer there and local chat says there has been some kind of regulatory clampdown and the sunset beach bar was among the casualties. 

The bar may have gone but assorted travellers and campers have taken root. The temporary/permanent status of these residents is hazy, but the beach itself remains stony, craggy delightfully relaxing and idyllically landscapey.

Later: We didn’t see many whales on our sunset whale-watching trip, but it was a lovely afternoon on a catamaran swigging cava and eating pinxtos. The best quote came from Al, who said, “I think I might have seen a whale.”

One of the party, Courtney from Glasgow, had a mishap when she fished into her bag for something and her credit card flew out on the wind and overboard. We learned later from her mother that it was her boyfriend’s card. Courtney did not seem very worried and even managed to sneak up to the bridge of the boat to sit with the Captain, Indigo, or Inigo.

Even later, after dinner, a happy day took an ugly turn when we found a woman sitting on the stairs of the Paloma Beach Apartments who had been beaten by ‘her man’. 

She had a damaged arm but asked us not to contact police or ambulance. Jane managed to speak with her and eventually to walk her back to her nearby hotel room but this dark cloud hung over us way past midnight. The battered and very distressed woman’s name was Caroline.

Wednesday, 25 December, Los Cristianos, Tenerife There was a pacific hush today all over the neighbourhood and at Paloma Beach Apartments, where I have installed myself as writer-in-residence.

That was never going to stop the wheels of commerce from turning, and unlike most stores Super Dino was open for business.  

Close inspection found one unlucky assistant cleaning up after a smashed bottle of red wine. 

The flip-flops abandoned in haste by last night’s evil woman beater had not moved – one on the apartment-block staircase, the other on the street outside next to a small car. 

I flirted with the idea of pairing them in the spot we had discovered the abused woman, with a sign reading, “Here lies the DNA of the man who battered Caroline”. 

Some of the squatters in the sea-front retail development had embraced the festive spirit, but otherwise the morning felt quite sleepy.

After Christmas lunch (prawn cocktail, scallops, turkey, salad and papas arrugadas with mojos) we watched the ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ special, then ‘Call The Midwife’ and later a big factual feature on BBC2 about Dolly Parton. 

The emphasis of the Dolly show was not just her ruthless self-promotion but that her songs are all an exercise in storytelling. 

They are built and plotted like any other work of fiction, albeit based in reality. Her success rests in her determination to tell her own story in her own way.

Thursday 26 December, Los Cristianos, TenerifeThe geology and scenery of Tenerife is endlessly fascinating. Get past the obvious fact that most of the island is a volcano, Mount Teide, and there are geological curiosities everywhere.

In the north, the mineralogical complexity of the volcanic soils are a fertility boost for wine-making, especially in the Orotova Valley. 

The Cañadas are a Moonscape. I’m told they filmed scenes from Star Wars up there. It is a remarkable place to just sit and wonder about nature, the environment and the universe.

These are just a few snaps from around the Paloma Beach Apartments. On Christmas Eve, during our whale-watching trip, we saw some more spectacular features when the boat stopped in a bay near La Caleta.

Some Dutch fella called Gino, who is very into this stuff, has a website called the Travelling Geologist. So if you are itching to find out more, let Gino be your guide. His essay about Tenerife geology is a compelling read.

Friday 27 December, Los Gigantes, Tenerife The bus station in Los Cristianos is not very inspiring. Nowhere near as evocative as the one in Hania on the Mediterranean island of Crete, though I’m told that even that revered hub of human to-ing and fro-ing has recently been blanded out with a modern makeover.

Nevertheless, this was the starting point for another mission to ‘roam’ from the environs of Paloma Beach Apartments, in this case up the western coast to Los Gigantes for a further dose of geology and scenery.

Gigantes is famous for its dramatic, precipitous cliffs that plunge into the ocean. It is a small, pitching seaside/hillside town that has a faintly British vibe (to me).

That’s not because of the vast number of British tourists on show. The Gigantes vibe is more to do with ice-ceams, a kiss-me-quick naughtiness and winding streets to stroll, people watching and looking into shop windows.

As we left the bus station earlier at Cristianos aboard the 473, we sensed that we too were living both on the edge and in a Carry On movie. Our driver seemed determined to put us through the speediest and jerkiest of journeys. Brake-slamming and lurching manouvres were her speciality. Lucky nobody was sick on board.

The drama would continue. We arrived just about in one piece and just in time for lunch at Buganvilla Plaza Restaurante. That’s when the real comedy started.

Our food waiter opened the charm offensive by telling us to get our order in quick because he was busy. We complied, but then he told us that some of the tapas we wanted were not available.

The mood took a better turn when another waiter appeared with our drinks (eventually). His English was impeccable, polished even. That was because he was English, though impeccable English is more often spoken by Dutch people these days.

He was charming, polite and advised us to buy a Spanish SIM card to reduce roaming charges on our phones.

The growing sitcom feeling hit its stride when our food started to arrive (eventually). There wasn’t enough space on the table, one dish was missing, then the whole order started to appear in duplicate. Two of everything.

The rude waiter had clearly screwed up, maybe because he was so busy, like he told us right from the start. Or maybe because he was just a useless, self-important poser. 

A heated exchange kicked off between a huddled group of waiters, so maybe the confusion got resolved in some way. 

We just sat quietly at our table, not wishing to offend, talking about Fawlty Towers and what Basil might have said.

The bus journey back to Los Cristianos was slightly less vomity, so we arrived feeling kind of blessed, sat down exhausted in the Marina Bay sunset bar, watched the sun set and laughed about it all.

Saturday 28 December, Los Cristianos, Tenerife Back to the Swedish Church this morning for a cortado, during which I was able to work out from the church’s ‘Order of Service’ the days of the week in Swedish.

Sunday: Söndag

Monday: Måndag

Tuesday: Tisdag

Wednesday: Onsdag

Thursday: Torsdag

Friday: Fredag

Saturday: Lördag

But I guess I could have looked that up…

On the way into town along the seafront, my wife Jane spotted the abused woman, Caroline, we came across on Christmas Eve, walking hand in hand with her abuser. She had some medical strapping on her right shoulder, so at least she got that fixed. 

Pity she didn’t ditch her abuser, but I guess this kind of violence is far more common than we like to admit, and the choices available to victims very limited. And right on cue, I just read this article in the Guardian.

Here’s a selfie I did last night.

Just seen at the bottom of the picture are the toes of my left foot, holding down the page from my notebook as a gust of wind threatened to thwart the photography. I have posted this on Instagram as ‘A Self Portrait In More Ways Than One’, but I think the standard Insta crop got rid of my toes.

Here are some more pictures from yesterday. The dark one, top right, is someone we spotted on the way home, foraging or crabbing by night in the rock pools. The head torch gave it all a creepy, alien-invasion vibe.

Sunday 29 December, Los Cristianos, Tenerife Another slow day that began with a walk out to the rocky bay to check a few more interesting bits of geology.

Then to the market which, unlike Santa Cruz, is total tat, with knickers on.

There is clearly an emerging trend here in Cristianos for belt buckles and freakishly realistic baby dolls.

There was one stall plugging the fabled ‘Blanket Tours’ of Tenerife. We found out about these some years ago from Eric & Glen. 

What happens is that a salesperson entices unsuspecting tourists with the offer of a free trip to picturesque out-of-the-way destinations throughout the island. 

What then happens is that the tourists are taken to blanket and bedding factories where they are offered the factory’s products at discount rates. Lunch and drinks are often thrown in to oil the wheels of the rip-off.

We are told that some tourists find this a low-cost way to explore the island, since buying blankets is not an obligatory part of the deal. Hitch-hikers especially find it an attractive proposition.

The stall-holder/sales rep at the market in Cristianos was called Gail, and she wasn’t happy that all I wanted from her was a leaflet.

Later:

Monday 30 December 2019, Los Cristianos, Tenerife One of the big questions for UK holidaymakers and travellers must be whether data charges will go through the roof once we have left the EU.

At the moment, there is an agreement among EU countries that members can “roam for free”. What that means exactly I’m not sure, but I guess it means that phone networks in EU member countries allow each other to carry their contract’s data allowance wherever they go.

And since we are in Spain, I can listen to UK radio and stream music with abandon. Except I woke up this morning and couldn’t remember my data allowance. 

This came to me following a message today that I have hit 5GB. The EE website cannot help because the “myee” function (which would tell me the answer to my burning question) is not working. 

I am forced to wait until we return home and I can check the paperwork to find out my allowance, hoping in the meantime that I am not accumulating a vast data debt.

A posting on FB tells us that T, who not long ago upped roots and moved from the UK to Calonges in Girona, has fallen and broken a shoulder in two places. This isn’t a very happy ending for her to a year of upheaval and challenge. It makes her situation quite precarious.

Sitting on a sofa in a shaded spot beside the Paloma Beach Apartments pool is the perfect place to read Alan Bennett’s recently published 2019 diary in the London Review of Books while listening to an Amazon compilation of popular film scores. 

In September 2019 Alan Bennett’s diary reports that Jimmy Clitheroe‘s spiral library steps were sold for £20. And that the singer Morrissey (“The Pope of Mope”) once turned up on the playwright’s doorstep asking, “Did you know Jimmy Clitheroe?”

I just spotted an old man riding a tricycle, so they must be available for hire somewhere around here. I also noticed that the tall block of apartments across the road is called Costamar, which is very close to Customer.

The pedal tricycle seems like such a missed opportunity here in the quiet southern end of Cristianos. There are a lot of elderly people on mobility scooters, which they hire from around €70 per week. Tricycling instead would increase fitness levels for many of them.

I know this because since the stroke in 2012 that robbed me of my balance, tricycling is the only form if cycling I can do. 

In the UK, space and traffic congestion limit opportunities. But out here in the bum-end of Los Cristianos, the seafront and sidewalk pathways are wide and flat – ie, perfect for tryicycling. 

Think of the independence and self-reliance it could offer many of its normally needy visitors.

Lunch here:

They were playing very irritating Christmas songs in a Eurodisco reinvention. I never knew it could actually get cheesier than Boney M. Now I know better.

Later: spotted this on Twitter.

Later still: Now that the woman beater and his abused partner have left town we are safe to walk out without fear of recriminations. 

The pianist in the Arona Gran hotel is still reassuringly 1970s but now has delusions of grandeur. 

As he effortlessly tinkled out  ‘Born Free’, he gave one seated guest an introduction to the life story of Schubert. Cheers.

Tuesday 31 December, Los Cristianos, Tenerife The temperatures here have been amazing. The bright, cloudless mornings build to clear sunshine, sometimes reaching 29C. It cools in the evenings, and long sleeves are required, but daytimes are blistering. Winds can be strong.

Later: on Celebrity Mastermind, when one contestant was asked which British artist created a piece of work called ‘My Bed’, they answered, “Camilla Parker Bowles”.

Later still:

Enjoyable as the last evening of the year was, it would have been helped if all of the world’s young people had been forced to grow up dancing to Earth Wind & Fire.