September 4: Hotel Bacon

In many of the paintings of Francis Bacon, especially the later ones, there are what appear to be glass cases or pods that enclose key figures in the drama of the painting. You may see an agonist slumped over a toilet seat or a sink unit, sometimes almost melded into the white armitage shanks porcelain so that they are one with the fixtures, and around them a clinical transparent box. It is something that has come into the world of contemporary theatre. The glass box is now a cliche of metropolitan production. I have seen countless Jacobean tragedies with on-stage murders taking place in a glass case where literally nobody hears you scream. Yesterday I spent the night in an unnervingly ill-conceived Bacon hotel in the town of Bedford. The modernisation of the rooms took the form of the installation into rooms of a glass pod for a toilet, through whose mildly frosted glass you could be observed and heard (there was a round hole the size of a big fist in the door) urinating and defecating. Add to this the fact that I was in the final stages of my recovery from a particularly violent case of food poisoning and you can imagine the fun. The tryptic of Hotel customer with bathroom fixtures will soon be up for auction at Sotheby’s. Reserve price £61 million.

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August 24: king of hedgehoggery

Bertrand Russel is known for separating people into hedgehogs and foxes. He is taking the idea from Archilochus, as he notes himself. The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing. So, Shakespeare would be a fox and Patrick Modiano a hedgehog. Some people thrive as hedgehogs; some as foxes. I’m a bit of a hedgehog in many ways. I try and specialise in a limited number of fields, working within a narrow band width. There are a lot of things I don’t do and won’t try. Somebody said why don’t I learn to ride a bike, something I have never done, and I say no I do other things. My band width is wide enough. I think maybe in conversation I am a fox. I can switch through from trivial to serious and feel comfortable in both, even happy to mix them so it’s not clear what my intention is. I don’t mind it being ambiguous. My brother is the king of hedgehoggery. His band width has become a narrow strip. He is more like a snake or a shark. His focus on what his preoccupations are has become such that, like the snake or the shark, he will eschew almost everything for high performance or at least high focus in just one or two things. In conversation he is an efficient killing machine. It’s a bleak road but someone has to tread it.

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August 15: aesthetic choices in the workaday world

We were discussing which of the selection of shapes of Marks and Spencer’s crisps from their mixed packet we liked best. Both of us preferred the corrugated iron shapes. There is also a tubular shape, a little organic-looking shape and a kind of medieval wheel shape. In some similar bags of crisps (perhaps the one from Lidl) there is also a portcullis-shaped crisp, so we tend to refer to these shaped crisps as portcullis-shaped crisps. There is a category of person who, if I asked them which shape they preferred, would answer irritably, saying that they didn’t care. This category of person would view my differentiation-talk as nonsense out of a sense of themselves as being people who cut through triviality and/or had no time for meaningless nuance.

In the nice cafe we have found next to Seven Dials in Covent Garden we had a discussion about the coffee cups. I am looking to find a nice one or two for home with an attractive shape. This would equally get the goat of the above-mentioned category of people. They would no doubt prefer drinking from a mug. I conclude there are two types of people. Those for whom tiny aesthetic choices are unimportant and those whose day is cheered up by them. If you value aesthetic detail in your consumption of culture (football; good looks in people; the arts) why would you not value this in the workaday world that surrounds us at every moment of the day? Perhaps because you feel that here it impinges on your ideological values, though I don’t see why you can’t appreciate the variety of crunch in a corrugated iron shaped crisp and still retain your ruthless streak in the futures market. A training in nuance in whatever genre might hone your financial acumen.

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August 1: a pickled hand

With the Olympics on the go we are hearing a lot of the national anthem. It is interminably droned out over the airwaves when Team GB or as I like to call it GB Team wins a Gold medal. On the telly they are still in the cast of mind that they must beam out live the medal ceremony along with the silly anthem, as if we are all still living in 1870’s Prussia. There will come a day (I’m hoping quite soon) when all this stops and the Daily Telegraph is replete with scandalised letters. It reminds me of the strange convention of the marriage proposal, something out of middle-age folklore where the man must formally ask the woman for her hand in marriage, rather than the two of them having a number of chats about the idea. If I were a woman and someone one day asked me for my hand in marriage I would have readily prepared a severed hand in formaldehyde preserved in a pickling jar which I would present to my aspirant spouse. In the same way all medal ceremonies should have medals presented by a man in frock coat and a huge handlebar moustache or at least some resplendent whiskers photographed with one of those old-fashioned cameras where you look down onto a plate in your apparatus and after much chemical manipulation produce a blurry melancholy black and white image of alien beings waiting to be blown to smithereens in the Great War.

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July 25: feet

When you look down to your feet they seem a long way off, especially if you haven’t got your lenses in. You can feel like one of those enormous plant-eating dinosaurs with a small brain in the head and another one in the tail. I knew my feet weren’t great, which is why I went to see the chiropodist a couple of weeks ago. She confirmed I had a fungus on eight of my toe nails. This fungus has come up on me over the last two or three years making the nail yellow and brittle. I had the choice of pills from the doctor or a varnish over the counter. So now I am coating my nails every evening after washing them in a bucket. We will note the evolution. The shifts in the details of the human body that operate over the summer are a source of micro-pleasure or distress: the accelerated growth of eyebrow hair; the skin blooming rosy initially then settling down; the urge to nap. My feet are my great unloved. I had reckoned it was time I gave them some attention. Bits were dropping off them. Just because they are a few feet away from my eyes I shouldn’t ignore them.

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July 14: humankind cannot bear so much compromise

Humankind can only bear so much compromise, so much mitigation. It has an inbuilt desire to cut through the equivocation and (not to put to fine a point on it) the crap and take a stand that is black or white. Grey confuses the matter. And this is not just in our rhetoric; it is in our actions too. There are only so many months we can go on saying you can go into a cafe as long as you wear a mask on entry and when you stand up to go to the toilet and make sure you give your mobile number or better still use the ap. After a bit of this you just want to say oh let’s just not bother! In the end you just want to say people are rubbish or something like that. You want to polarise. Or, when you see the devastation, material and moral, after England’s defeat in the Euro final, that this is the Bacchae revisited, that when ecstasy is unleashed chaos will follow. But, the new heroic position is compromise, because truth isn’t simple. Faced with complexity, anyone can push out to the pole. It takes a hero to look at as much of the evidence as is possible, give due respect to those who know more or better, take into account political machinations and come to a balanced, considered position, which will not necessarily be sitting on the fence but may well be inhabiting a locality close to a fence.

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June 30: the world we live in

I cannot now even imagine a Hollywood film I would like to see. Yesterday I had access to the Amazon Prime catalogue of films and I scrolled merrily on through the catalogue of rom-coms, action movies and goofball comedies. In the end I plumped for Hangman (2018), a thriller of the serial killer variety with Al Pacino. Al Pacino is an elder statesman ex-cop. The younger male lead is a cop with a murdered wife. The female lead is a New York Times journalist also with a past trauma I was chatting to my sister during her big trauma recapitulation scene so I missed what it was exactly. The car chase came about 50 minutes into the film. The serial killer would be an white male between 25 and 35; this was smartly checked-off at the beginning of the film by the police as though they had seen enough of these films already themselves. The woman in the mortuary was conventionally jovial as the bodies piled up one every eleven o’clock at night. The killer was nothing if not punctual. You could set your watch by him. Al Pacino loved crosswords we saw in the first scene of the film, which made his inability to spell out the hangman word a mystery in itself. Victims were referred to as vics, a first time for me. The whole thing was serial killer by numbers. I suppose people want the familiar, the conventional arc, the genre they are can slip into like an old slipper, but if the stories we tell are all so neat, when do we ever get to confront the world we actually live in?

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june 18: dollops

French is a courtly language. I was putting a dollop of yoghurt onto my stewed rhubarb yesterday when I quizzed myself as to the French word for dollop. I was irritated because I should be able to come up with something adequate for this. It is not like the word for a combine harvester which you either know or don’t; it is a word you can construct yourself. Miffed, I looked it up, and to my delight and disappointment saw that I couldn’t come up with a word because French doesn’t do it. The renderings the on-line and hard-copy dictionary offered were cuilleree or morceau (literally, spoonful or bit). Delighted because my competence was not shown up but disappointed in the language. Yes. French is a courtly and a precise language but not very expressive sometimes. You can imagine at the French court no dollops would be permitted and it was the court and then the academy that dictated the development of the language. In German, by the way, the word is Klacks. Much nicer. The word Klecks with an e means blob. The change of vowel indicates a change of dimension. Three-dimensional Klacks (dollop) becoming two-dimensional Klecks (blob or smudge). Vowels can have this transformative effect. In English a splash is bigger than a splish, right?

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May 18: equivocation in the 21st century

Around the time Macbeth was written in 1606 the topic of equivocation was rife in England. Equivocation was the business of telling half-truths or hidden lies to escape earthly and celestial punishment. As a Catholic in Protestant England you could deny you were harbouring a priest by saying something like “A priest lyeth not in my house” which in your mind meant he was not telling untruths in your house, or you could say of someone “he came not this way” whilst secretly pointing in another direction. Shakespeare evokes the business of equivocation, you might remember, in the Porter’s speech in Macbeth.

We see equivocation at large today in the bogus statement “I have no recollection of that”, which is not a denial, not perjury. But you also see it massively in various trotted-out boasts of the modern world. Affordable homes, for example. The other day I saw a recognition of this in the poster emblazoned on a building with the term Genuinely affordable homes, a wink to the equivocations of legalese. We know affordable homes aren’t really affordable. I also saw, in an extension of this, on the the side of a recycling lorry We really do recycle, the emphasis countering the claims of bogus recycling that have been in the press in recent months (only yesterday I heard the story of British plastic recycled materials being found dumped in Turkey). In a word, language is now needing to re-claim its own truth from equivocation. Unfortunately, the equivocators of today are no longer hung, drawn and quartered.

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Genuinely affordable homes

May 10: he who robs me of my words robs me of my past

The Labour party had a poor performance in regional elections this week, many of their traditional strongholds in the north, the so-called red wall, turning Conservative blue. Many commentators agree that their problem is not so much policy as connection with voters, a personality deficit. The party has become the party of metropolitan elite Guardian readers and the factory worker in Durham and the supermarket checkout worker in Manchester don’t feel the link anymore. What they also don’t hear is the vocabulary. The lexis has shifted. When a politician talks about calling out or shouting out even I feel the disconnect; toxic is another one of those modern words that alienate and even that word oversight now apparently means supervision and not what it used to mean which was something that you neglected to notice. When you rob a person of their words you rob them of their past. The new lexis does not connect with the traditional working class who might not read The Guardian. What the party needs is some clever people who are not locked into the maze of buzz words of the modern left. Intended to free you, in the end these words will just create a new prison.

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