October 13: the ideal citizen

Alexa cleans your house for you. Everything is now run through it. Your music; your TV, your light switches; all your information requirements. When I was young the height of technology seemed to be doors that opened by themselves when you approached them. Nowadays if you have to open your own door you feel cheated. The modern home has no need of things. All your discs and books are swept away leaving empty white space, or, rather, grey, which is the on-trend base colour of show homes in magazines and estate agents. And what is in these show homes? A couple of books maybe – signifier of the ability to engage with the old culture – but books that engage with the on-trend tastes of the moment, Vegan cooking, an art book dedicated to Banksy, a novel that inspired a TV series (The Handmaid’s Tale? Why not?); a marble island in the kitchen zone with an empty surface for children to do their homework or where parents can cut some fresh fruit – my experience of the marble island is that families load their shit on them; a poster of Audrey Hepburn, new icon for metropolitan sophistication – it only took her fifty years to make it to the number one spot, having to hack her way past Marilyn Munroe, James Dean and Che Guevara. The terrible thing about the ideal home is that it is made for the ideal on-trend person, that is to say the man or woman driven wholly by the engine of his news feeds, the man with no particular tastes, no opinions and no personality, the ideal citizen.

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October 9: the playful one

In the last couple of months I have noticed a little irregularity on my right cheek. When I look in the mirror it is nothing at all but I notice it when I run my finger or palm over my face, after a shave for example, as you are meant to do if television razorblade ads are anything to go by. I keep thinking that with good diet, less sugar, less cheese, it might go away, but it hasn’t. The inevitable aging process, resigned commentators have told me, but I refuse to go into the dark so easily. I remember a few years back a friend of mine complaining about an unsightly spot on her face that would not go away, but then she smoked and put face make-up on, so I did not fear that such an affliction would come my way. In the last few days, however, I have come to the realisation that this is not a pimple  that I have but a nascent mole or beauty spot. In recent years I had acquired an extra mole on my forehead, to add to the one I already had up there. In the 17th and 18th Century French court moles were given different names depending on where they situated on the face. The forehead beauty spot (perhaps a false one  or mouche stuck up for decorative purposes) would have been called la majestueuse or the majestic one. This new mole, if mole it is, just below my right cheekbone would have been called l’enjouee or the playful one. I can live with that. Majestic and playful is the route I am set upon. Not a bad way forward, wouldn’t you agree?

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September 29: the churches are closing; let’s go to Friends fest

The ‘Friends’ fest in Kennington park  continues apace. It has now been two weeks (the last two weeks of summer) that  fenced-off acres of the park containing New York cabs, the Central Perk cafe and the endless purgatorial spools of old footage have littered the only green space around. When you turn the telly on now, you get a mugfull of Rachel’s so-called charming haircut or Phoebe’s so-called hilarious cookiness or Ross’s so-called endearing nerdiness and a delightful earful of the canned laughter, now the laughter of mostly dead people. It is the new/old ‘Big Bang Theory’. Friends has become home to whole swathes of the population. The old look fondly back to it and the young have set up house there, as if they had nowhere else to go. Mars and Murrie (M and Ms to you) have their own ‘world’ in central London where, presumably, you just wander around several floors of variedly packaged and presented bean-like chocolate comestibles.  It’s called Mars and Murrie because Mars bought out Murrie’s 20% stake in the business in 1948. Fun fact, right? No doubt one of the the highlights of the ‘world’. Oh, I have eaten a packet of said produce in my time but do I need to live in its world? Are we lacking homes? Places that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside? The pubs are closing; the churches are empty. Let’s make home in the outposts of American tat.

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September 25: which me does robert remember?

As a schoolboy and a student I was pretty good at football and many people who knew me at that time may well think of that competence as my defining characteristic. A few years later I was less good at football. My friend Robert is having a birthday dinner tomorrow. On Robert’s invitation, I remember turning out for some journalist team in my late twenties or early thirties with Robert, no doubt, expecting me to reveal the full panoply of skills I had exhibited as a very young man. During that match I remember trying to take a corner and, exhausted as I was, being unable to hoist the cross into the box and receiving a broadside from the big centre-halves who had come up to put the ball into the back of the net. In a word, I was not as good as I had been. Which me does Robert remember today? On another occasion a few years ago I remember finding a photograph of some of my former schoolfriends on Friends Reunited thirty or more years on. I knew the names but this portrait of fat men in a Manchester pub bore absolutely no resemblance to the boys I had once known. Which version of Paul Hadfield or Michael Kenyon am I to store in the filing cabinet of my memory? Every time you re-meet someone after a period of absence you are watching for which version of  Paul Hadfield will turn up. The old you is partially eclipsed by the new you, but the partial blindness that a lifetime of looking at the sun has caused in us means that we continue seeing the old you, even though that person is now almost completely obscured.

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September 19: big luggage people

Thinking back after a long period of travel this summer it is mostly the issue of luggage that lingers. I try to travel light and am constantly amazed by the size of the luggage that sit next to mine in train compartments. My poor little knapsack is dwarfed by huge monoliths on wheels. And yet I am travelling for over three weeks in forest, mountain, lake, city and beach locations. What do they put in their bags that they should swell so? Let’s talk underwear. I wear a pair and take three. Socks. I wear a pair and take two. One pair of trousers and a pair of shorts. A couple of t-shirts and a long sleeved shirt. A small towel. Swimming trunks. Toiletries. A kindle. Very little else. What are big luggage people doing? An underwear a day and no washing on the hoof? Thick-tomed novels? Great vanity cases of face creams and manicure sets. Computers, of course. Life without screen is unenvisageable. Can you imagine this? No screen for over three weeks. No Boris Johnson. No mention of the word proroguing. When I got back it had taken over the word and everyone was pretending they had always prorogued. You come back to a new world. In short, it was a holiday.

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August 14: an imaginary driver

If, like me, you are not a driver, you will find the world of the car somewhat baffling. Most conversations between strangers use the car and its discontents as a binding fluid. You know that you belong to the freemasonry of the car. Words like forecourt wafted in from the other room this weekend when we were in a B and B in Devon. Disbelief was shown that our three-day walking holiday in Cornworthy near Totness did not involve an automobile but featured actual walking. We walked five miles with baggage to the B and B; we walked for three miles to the ferry to Dartmouth and after walking round Dartmouth and past its castle to the beach walked the three miles back to bed after dinner in a pub. It was a walking holiday. The walking holidays of the other guests were mostly car holidays. I have never wished to drive a car, though I have always enjoyed driving an imaginary vehicule (I think it is a citroen). I perform an unconvincing pantomime version of the act of driving where I am manipulating an extra large steering wheel and then do something wiggly under the table with my hand to change gears.  I have now adorned this mime with some furtive looks in an imaginary mirror, looking out for overtaking traffic or stray bikes (whilst looking for bikes, look irritated). It has become a complex procedure, this Marcel Marceau version of the act that everyone does. The next addition to my drive mime will be the reverse back down a one-way street where you put your arm along the the upper rim of the passenger seat and look back down the road you just drove up. It looks like a relaxing posture and I look forward to performing it on my next imaginary drive.

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July 30: what time does the clock say?

In summer I let time drift. A few weeks ago the battery in my alarm clock ran out. On a number of occasions I have passed batteries in shops and neglected to purchase the replacement. On my bedside table there are two alarm clocks now; neither of them have functioning batteries in. When I wake up I have no idea what time it is. I switch my mobile phone off at night and it is laid on the kitchen table. In the kitchen is the only source of time. This is a digital clock on the cooker. To get the time I have to get up, traipse through the corridor and the living room and through the kitchen. I have to approach the cooker clock because my eyes are not in. I bend down to see the figures. It is, say, 6.13. Quick calculation. That means that the actual time is 6.01. I am of the breed that do not like clocks to tell the real time. I know the cooker clock is twelve earth minutes fast.  Now I can traipse back to bed. Traipsing figures greatly in the morning in my house. I even translate this state of affairs into my speech. I say ‘What time does the clock say?’ rather than ‘What time is it?’ You see, exactitude at all times in this household. We do not brook infelicities of expression. On August 10th I have to get up early for a train. A clock with an alarm will be required by then. Use the phone alarm, I hear you say. No, sir! The requirements of the homestead dictate that the mobile phone is turned off after ten o’clock. These are the rules that enfold me.

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