706

On Sundays, my widowed Great-Grandma Susie would have lunch with her children and walk home through the park, backwards. Fast forward decades and I’m working out to a fitness video on YouTube. The bit where we run backwards (in our kitchens) is exhilarating. Susie, clearly, was on to something.

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Eventually I could no longer resist and bought the book about colour, a socio-economic mythical-medical-historical journey through fashion, art, astronomy and politics. Its pages are beautiful, the names of shades, hues, pigments, dyes fascinating: Isabelline (white), Baker-Miller (pink), Orpiment, Gamboge and Lead Tin (yellows), Hermatite and Madder (reds).

704

From Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style: 1. “Avoid starting a sentence with however when the meaning is ‘nevertheless’.” 2.  “Rich, ornate prose is hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating.” and 3. “But animals do not comprise a zoo – they constitute a zoo” and 4. “Do not attempt to emphasize simple statements by using a mark of exclamation” (!)

703

The cellist Steven Isserlis (60) tells a story of his pianist/composer grandfather, Julius, flat-hunting in Vienna and being turned down by a 102-year-old hausfrau. “I hate musicians!” she snarled.  Why? Because her aunt had had a lodger, “a filthy old man who used to spit all over the floor.” Who was this man? “Beethoven!’” she hissed.

702

More than 1000 years ago, an ancestor of mine left Anjou in France for the north of Scotland, where Simon de Fresel/Friseal/de la Frézelière became Simon Fraser of the clan Fraser of Lovat. Our motto, Je Suis Prest (“I’m ready”) seems apt: generation after generation of his descendants farmed in Aberdonian snow.

701

Kamishibai influenced a Japanese illustrator whose work I love. A form of street corner entertainment around since the middle ages, it proved particularly popular during the Depression era and after the horrors of WW2. Twelve or so picture boards are displayed in a miniature theatre as a storyteller narrates the action. Like a forerunner of Pecha Kucha.

700

It’s Angoulême 2019, the world’s largest comic book festival. The much-coveted Grand Prix has gone, not to Emil Ferris’s Moi, ce Que J’aime, C’est Les Monstres which everyone’s raving about, but to the legendary mangaka and “queen of romantic comedies” hugely popular with teenagers, Rumiko Takahashi.

699

An Italian guide approached me in Tate Britain and talked until closing time of the wonders of the collection. She told me she loves to walk in a brisk 20 minutes through British Art from 1500 to the present day. Then gave a passionate reading of a Hockney painting. #lhappyinyourwork!

698

The French are, famously, foodies and take great delight in telling you how appalling British food is. So how come their supermarket trollies are full of crap? How can they stomach the gloopy colourless slime served up in institutional canteens? And why are their cities so full of the worst imaginable sleazy greasy kebab-burger-pizza joints??  

697

The past few Saturday afternoons in Toulouse have seen massive military tanks lining the streets and Gendarmes so frighteningly armed they look like something out of a futuristic action movie. There are Gilets Jaunes, smashed shopfronts, a fire in the street – and shoppers milling in and out. This is the new Saturday “Normal”.

696

This small rural town in SW France has 15 opticians, 28 hairdressing salons, 2 tattoo parlours, 11 bakeries (plus 6 supermarkets selling fresh-baked bread), 3 weekly markets but, despite viticulture being the main industry, only 2 (small) wine shops. It would be good to see more cafés, an art shop, thrift stores, a vegetarian restaurant…

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we do though have a now annual Chinese lantern festival which is said to be drawing an incredible 250,000 ++ visitors. And a mayor who’s installed 51 surveillance cameras – that’s more than you’ll find in the nearest big town with a population almost 4 times the size.

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Here, political affiliations run from National Front to pretty much communist.  Until recently, I would have described this part of France as caringly socialist. The Gilets Jaunes movement has taken a real hold here, perhaps because people are rediscovering a lost sense of community. All sides of the political spectrum gather on roundabouts united in a sense of social injustice.

693

Meanwhile in America, the man who boasted he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and not lose any voters” has lasted two years in the White House despite his presidency being a string of Worst Weeks. Trump has shut down government and declared an emergency until The Wall is built.

692

For three nights in a row I sat glued to a friend’s sofa, shrieking with fear and laughter, watching Killing Eve. Or at least hooked on Sandra Oh.  While the script is darkly funny and decidedly quirky,  it’s Oh who steals the show. She’s absolutely riveting.

691

A Chinese mother who was 11 when the cultural revolution began and her British-born daughter discuss a parent’s hopes, cultural differences, integration and immigration. Jennifer Zheng’s award-wining Tough is an exquisitely drawn, beautifully executed, poignant conversation on Vimeo : https://vimeo.com/223024285 

690

I stood on a bollard on a busy London to peek over a brick wall into a tiny Jewish cemetery.  Obscure & silent, with no paths between crowded gravestones, the last burial here was in 1913.  I love the fact that, in a neighbourhood where real estate is worth millions, it remains, quiet, undeveloped.

689

The neighbourhood where I  grew up was, once, “a group of mean streets similar to the East End.”  I read that by 1890 there were “many signs of low life and filthy habits, drink-sodden women, and dirty children” as well as a new, “rowdy semi-criminal, or quite criminal” element. Oligarchs live there now.

688

Nine writers with strong Lambeth connections read poems on a theme of Shared Spaces.  Of variously Ghanaian, Asian, Jamaican, English, American, German-Jewish, Bajan, Welsh, Cornish and Newcastle origin, their work is wise, funny and touching and South Lambeth Library full. This evening is a perfect illustration that immigration enriches communities, and that Arts Matter.

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Arthur Miller said that he himself would be twenty before he learned how to be fifteen, thirty before he knew what it meant to be twenty:  “and now at seventy two, I have to stop myself from thinking like a man of fifty who has plenty of time ahead.”