I assume politicians like Theresa May only sleep at night by blindly shutting out the misery, suffering and deaths they’ve caused. Sickeningly disgraceful as home secretary, Priti Patel is even worse. Nick Cohen calls her “the closest Britain has to a dictator, a figure of terror.”   Couples are separated, children taken from parents, asylum seekers drown in the Channel, or are put in cells, denied the right to work.


“My father’s mother, Deborah Slovis, was a shortish, dumpy old lady with a disposition so genial that even her own children quite liked her. By the time I became aware of the world, she had already settled into the final role of her career, an obese matriarch swathed in long, shapeless black dresses which somehow gave her the aspect of a pantomime charlady.” Benny Green, jazz musician, cricket enthusiast, broadcaster, raconteur. 


Delight friends with these Chocolate Chip Cookies:200g unsalted butter / 200g brown sugar /1 large egg / 1 tsp pure vanilla extract / 200g plain flour / ½ tsp bicarb of soda / ½  tsp baking powder / pinch of salt / 200g  (white, dark, milk) / chocolate chips, 2 heaped tbs cocoa powder. / Preheat oven 180°C. / Beat sugar & butter until light & fluffy. / Beat in egg & vanilla. / Sift in flour, bicarb, baking powder./ Add salt, /stir in chocolate, / cover & chill 2++ hours.  Scoop onto baking tray.  Bake 15 minutes. Enjoy!


Current favourite author, Edinburgh GP Gavin Francis, has published a book examining our fascination with isolation and need for connection.  Blending myth, psychology, legend, philosophy & adventure, Island Dreams examines our desire to leave behind the “irritations” of life in search of peace and clarity of mind on a patch of land surrounded by sea.


After reading the headlines I wonder about producing a political Alphabet Book. Today’s word is Hypocrisy:  Covid drug given to Trump was developed using cells derived from aborted foetus.  D is for Delusion: after release from hospital, taking a cocktail of drugs Trump said “I felt pretty lousy but I’m back because I’m a perfect physical specimen and I’m extremely young.” [NYT]


Johnson, another “leader” cavalier with the virus, ended up in NHS intensive care. He gets H for Hubris. This is from The Guardian (2019): US commentators have seen Brexit as the last act in Britain’s decline from imperial hubris to laughing stock – and rejoiced that there is at least one western nation more at sea than Trump’s America.


The AIDS pandemic blasted on to the scene when I was 17, working as a dresser at the Aldwych Theatre in London. Wide eyed I listened as actors who frequented the Turkish Baths in Covent Garden tried to work out how many sexual partners they’d had in the past week.  One decided yesterday alone, it total must have been 24.


As soon as I turned 18, I was summoned for Jury duty. For a week I wasn’t picked, then suddenly I found myself in a court room, curtains closed. The only evidence, pornographic films seized during a raided on a Soho Cinema. We had to decide if they were obscene, likely to corrupt.  All day we watched, then at 5 I got on the tube and went to work in the theatre.


A report by a Swiss bank finds billionaires increased their wealth by 27.5%  at the height of the coronavirus. In 1599, Joan Bottinge of Chiddingstone told Elizabeth Harris that things wouldn’t improve until “the rich men’s throats were cut and then the poor men would be rich”.  Harris denounced her. Bottinge was hanged.


As a child I loved the Czech architect-turned-illustrator Miroslav Sasek’s introductions to capital cities – This is London/New York/Paris/Rome etc. His humorous, playfully alive drawings delight still, so I was excited to come across another of his works. Sadly out of print, Stone is Not Cold is nevertheless available for £124.66 (hardcover) £113.57 (used) or £872.80 (new)!


Yesterday I felt like President Trump’s driver. While University language classes all went online this week, the Engineering school where I teach switched to Live, despite a very significant number of students on campus testing positive.  18,746 new cases in France yesterday alone.  Statistics for asymptomatic silent spreaders startle.


I stumble across the darndest things. CGN Northrop, former PhD student at Cambridge, produced a web comic of Ovid’s Metamorphoses complete with blog which opens up a whole new world of ancient texts, scholarship, art, modern technology and popular culture.   


Metamorphoses, hugely popular in Ovid’s own day, was a source book of inspiration throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Poets like Chaucer and Shakespeare plundered freely, over and over, so that the stories became part of the fabric of poetry and Western imagination.  I open Tim Supple’s adaptation and read….


… Tales from Ovid (7AD) exceptional tales / of extraordinary transformation / spun from ancient history, / from Greek myth and Roman folklore, / from the stories of Babylon and Eastern civilisation / and from pagan legend, / as related by the Latin poet Ovid / in the ‘Metamorphoses’ / two thousand years ago / and retold by Ted Hughes / at the end of the twentieth century.


After the vice presidential debate last night, if the American people elect Trump, they are knowingly voting for phoney, rich white entitled Americans males, for whom lying is second nature. Perhaps in a land dominated by plastic surgery, Disney,  Hollywood, Tweets, social media and Fake News it’s no longer easy to tell what’s real? 


The red ties make me laugh. A friend who grew up in Newport owned no red ties.  During his childhood, on Sundays, inmates of the local psychiatric hospital were allowed out, provided they were wearing red ties. Trump and Pence wear red ties.  I watch with bated breath, hoping Sunday visiting hours are soon over.


When I moved here 9 years ago, the annual book festival meant a delightful weekend in the grounds of the Abbey by the river, browsing every possible genre. Two days crammed with a full programme of workshops, talks, literary encounters. A change of mayor (see N° 1121); the festival is plonked in marquees on a gloomy car park, feels like a windy book warehouse. In pandemic year, a handful of authors sit in near silence in the Salle de Spectacle. Half an hour was enough.  


The topic at the English conversation class at Café Flo was the internet. First question up, “What was your first computer?”  Mine was a bulky Apple Mac which came with 4MGs of memory. Eventually I upgraded to 8MGs. This was the mid 80s. Information was stored on floppy discs.  The Mac replaced the Olivetti typewriter I used to write essays.


I’d been asked to type my essays by a tutor on my B.A. (Hons.) Eng. Lit degree. My handwriting though got me my first job, aged 17, at the RSC. Bored dressers during a wet matinée at the Aldwych went through a biscuit tin full of letters, read mine, and told the wardrobe mistress, Sue Honey, “you have to interview her!”


My handwriting also saved me from the terrible fate of an English boarding school run by nuns. Expelled from a day school I was more than happy to leave, my mother made me sit an entrance exam I purposely failed. Nuns sent an analysis of my character based on my script. They worked out – accurately – a number of things, including exposure to very different education styles at 4 different schools.