To some, it’s just a number.  150 jobs.  But in Stratford-Upon-Avon a theatre laying off armourers, scene painters, milliners, wig-, boot-, jewellery- & costume makers could mean some highly skilled, ancient crafts disappear.   The knowledge, ingenuity and talent of artists in the RSC’s specialist in-house workshops is uniquely awesome. 


Craft skills contribute billions to Britain’s economy.  The history of Cornwall is famously rich in Arts & Crafts.  In Britain, following changes in educational policies, student participation in craft courses fell by 46 % between 2007 & 2012.  Cornwall’s Falmouth School of Art (now Falmouth University) used to offer a Contemporary Crafts degree (vital to Cornwall’s economy) until vice-chancellor Anne Carlisle killed it off. 


In 2017 it was reported that, under Carlisle’s “leadership” nearly 200 staff at Falmouth University had been made redundant and 31 paid off at a cost of £800,000 excluding legal fees.  Carlisle has herself gets an obscene £285,000 pa. Meaning she makes 2.5 times as much a month as the average UK artist makes in a year (UK artists earn, on average, £10,000pa).


This is why I love France – even in a pandemic, literally tens of thousands took to the streets in cities all over France to stand up for the Republic’s founding principles after the murder of Samuel Paty: “The values of freedom, secularism, democracy must not simply be words; we need to bring them to life, here, on these streets.” 


Liberté. Top of the list of French Republican values. Freedom of expression.  A teacher of History, Geography, Moral and Civic Education encouraging students to question, to listen, to debate.  Some cartoons. A perceived grievance. A long knife. Someone shouting “Allahu Akbar”.  A teacher is decapitated near his school. Decapitated. I can not get that image out of my head. October 2020.


A landslide victory in New Zealand has not only re-elected a woman, but a woman with a brain, a heart, and ears.  Jacinda Ardern is that rare thing: a leader who listens. She says “elections aren’t great at bringing people together. But they also don’t need to tear one another apart”.   Human beings do not have to trample on kindness , democracy, decency to rise to power.


People are very, very tired, exhausted by putting life on hold during a pandemic.  Returning to “normal” though has led to dramatic daily rises in infection rates. People with symptoms are throwing dinner parties, celebrating birthdays, attending weddings.  Curfews have been imposed in parts of France from 9pm to 6am. How will cinemas, theatres, restaurants, evening classes survive?


This morning a guinea pig FaceTimed me from Oakland, California. Surreal, but we’re living in strange times.  The rodent, face close to camera, feet paddling mid air, is black-and-white, like the family he lives with.  Perkins, a surprisingly endearing whistling cavy, would make a great cartoon character. 


Gina is one reason my younger son is not called Moses. We’re in a light blue Toyota Corolla on the corner of Parker & McGee in Berkeley, California.  I’m 5 months pregnant. She asks if we’ve chosen names. I say I like Moses.  The African American woman I’ve asked to be my son’s godmother  laughs so loud I still swear, 20 years on, the doors fell off that car.  “You can NOT call him Moses!!”  For that, my son adores her. 


Across the road from the Toyota story was Cynthia. The youngest in a family of thirteen, she had a heart the size of North America and filled the house she grew up in with kids whose names were Kenry, Querida, Jabari, Amir, Seth and Isaac.  That was back when my 2 year old knew Santa was African American.


Nothing I said could motivate my sons to love Latin at school, not even the fact Latin once saved Ben Jonson’s life.  In 1598 Jonson killed fellow actor Gabriel Spencer in a duel, though Jonson claimed Spencer had the longer sword “by ten inches.”  Jonson pleaded “benefit of clergy.”   His ability to read & write Latin saved him from the gallows but  “T” for Tyburn (the gallows site) was branded on his thumb. 


Ben Jonson, posthumous child descended from Scottish brigands and warlords, grew up in poverty by Thames-side wharves.  Well-versed in Latin and Greek at Westminster School, Jonson got a place at Cambridge but, lacking funds, returned to London where he was apprenticed to his bricklayer stepfather, allegedly quoting Homer as he went about his reluctant work. It was Jonson Shakespeare went drinking with shortly before he died.


Early morning, listening to Radio Scotland in Gaelic.  I gather someone’s reading news headlines. The rest is a mystery, lovely gentle sounds bathing my ears, vocal equivalent of moss-covered boulders, deep mist, lapping waves.  A second speaker sounds more Scandinavian.  A third conjures memories of timeless Aberdeenshire, soft rural adult voices speaking over the head of a child.


A very pleasant surprise arrived on Monday when I got the results of language tests I’d taken, part of the process of applying for French nationality.  I’d found them surprisingly stressful and tough, so was happy to learn I significantly exceeded expectations.   The oral exam involved convincing someone to spend the night with me in an igloo. 


Le musée d’Histoire de Nantes has postponed an exhibition about the Mongol emperor Genghis Khan due to China’s hardening position against Mongolian minorities. The Chinese government does not want the museum to use the words “Genghis Khan”, “empire” or “mongol”.   The museum’s director accuses Chinese authorities of trying to rewrite history.  The decision has been taken “in the name of the human, scientific and ethical values that we defend.” 


An open plan first floor apartment. Windows face east, south, west.  Robot-like wood-burning stove in middle. Books, colour, pictures, artefacts.  Surrounded by stories.  Illustrations record a Cornish boatman building a pilot cutter, Freja.  Lino cuts, etchings, lithographs, drawings, all by friends, all in countries far away. Refuge of calm, haven of art. Home.


Off to les Allées Céramiques in Toulouse, my favourite annual event. Invariably inspiring, invariably disappointing, potters from all over France gather to exhibit  objects and sculptures that range from the exquisite to the staggeringly ugly. All labours of love.  Over the years I’ve built up a collection of elegant cups for my morning tea ceremony, and cups for the 10 o’clock coffee break.


Playwright of brief but dazzling fame, Thomas Kyd was Shakespeare’s contemporary and Marlowe’s housemate in London. Author of the hugely popular Spanish Tragedy, Kyd was arrested and tortured on charges of treason when “certain atheistical disputations denying the deity of Jesus Christ” were found in his lodgings. He denounced Marlowe and, broken, died not long afterwards, debt-ridden, aged 35.


After Kyd blabbed, Marlowe was arrested, but met a foul end before his trial, in a brawl in Deptford ostensibly over a “recknyng” (the bill).  Marlowe died instantly when Ingram Frizer inflicted a stab would two inches deep, one inch wide, over his right eye. The coroner’s report states the dagger cost 12d!  Marlowe was shadily involved in the ruthless spy network that kept a paranoid Queen on the throne.


In Dido, Queen of Carthage, Marlowe “the blasphemer” daringly portrays the gods as shabby immortals subject to very human emotions. In a six-year period he wrote 6 or 7 masterful, violent, hugely successful plays about cruelty, human frailty, the inhumane exercise of power, prejudice and our darkest desires. He died, violently, in his twenties.