November 23: vivien leigh in the chip shop

The difference between a television star and a film star is in the access; the frequency of our glimpse is key. The film star lives or dies by his/her lower periodicity count; they must be rarefied creatures. He or she must be a fugitive presence on a flickering screen. This is why having Twitter accounts really shouldn’t be part of their activities. Or maybe the world of the television star and the cinema star have now melted into each other. Netflix would back this up.  What then is lost is the notion of the rare sighting of the rarefied beast. The mysterious traces of a Salinger or a Samuel Beckett. Omniverous media now make the pleasures of discretion an impossibility. Everyone is expected to jump into the dirt pit and fight for their gloire. Any writer is expected to have a Twitter account to pronounce his or her presence all the time. We have eschewed the delights of the intermittent trace. We really shouldn’t want to see Vivien Leigh in the chip shop.

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November 22: last night’s dinner

Last night I had a modular meal, as is my wont these days. I started with some popcorn and fizzy water; next it was an omelette (two eggs) with orange juice and sugar on it as though it was a pancake; then some blocks of cucumber; then a few lebkuchen form the packet and finally an apple. I managed to keep my hand out of the Quality Street tin. I have put the Quality Street tin on the other side of the kitchen under the bread basket where it doesn’t catch my eye. What do you think? In the modular meal you are calibrating as you go along. I hadn’t had enough fruit and veg by the time I finished the lebkuchen which explained the apple. I have become adverse to the full plate of meat and two veg plus gravy or sauce. I am against the glutinous agglomerate as meal these days. I look at it and my appetite goes. A twisted face of food confronting you from a big plate. No. Like with human relations, I prefer to deal with it all incrementally, as I go along.

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November 15: the birthday party

I have never had a birthday party. My birthday being 24 December helped to save me from this, but it was never something I yearned for. I can see why Harold Pinter chose the motif of the Birthday Party for one of his most menacing plays. Indeed, it is an institution which is fast becoming as sinister as the phenomenon of the clown which is now a by-word for all that is most threatening in the universe of leisure. Here then are just a few of the elements of the traditional birthday party that combine to now give it this lugubrious status: the candle-laden cake lighting the twin deities of mother and father from beneath Hammer horror-style; the infiltration of outsiders onto your territory (what mayhem may ensue from their encroachment? What secrets of your domestic life uncovered and used against you in the world of men?); the total attention on you (only a pathological case could enjoy such focus, given its intensity how can this be anything but ironic?). Yes, the Birthday Party is the new clown.

 

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November 6: risk

We know that risk occurs in investment, in gambling, in skiing, in Formula One. It also occurs in everyday life. Sometimes I start an answer to a question and I find I have taken too great a risk thinking I will find a way to articulate something rather vague that I had in mind when I started my amswer. This happened to me a few days ago when I was answering a question about history in front of a group of people. In my mind I had the word acoustic and I thought I could find my way through to a full answer with just this word. What I wanted to say was that something that seemed one way many years ago often seems different today because the acoustic had changed. What seemed moral in 1938 now seems thoughtless. There are all kinds of topics where this applies: racism; sexism; classism; ageism. But also the basic words and assumptions that people had and now have. The acoustic has changed; we hear things differently. Unfortunately, the only example that came into my head as I was scrabbling around for my words was Top of the Pops and the way the DJs in the 1970s were often surrounded by a collection of underage girls. What seemed part of normal healthy celebrity behaviour at the time now seems unpleasant and creepy. A moment of inadvertance had me seeming to sympathise with the likes of Jimmy Saville. I had taken too big a risk in thinking I could plot an answer on the hoof and had to retreat into a safe place. Jacob Rees-Mogg, not I admit my favourite person, has just fallen foul of this principle by letting his mouth run away with him and mentioning in the same breath a lack of common sense and the victims of Grenfell. This risk of an unprepared response may well cause his downfall.

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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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