Maximum Density, four dead degrees

Sunday 18 April 2021: Relieved citizen-units around the UK have been gathering in pub beer gardens, laughing and drinking with their friends. Yesterday saw the funeral of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Normally this would have been a state occasion, with huge crowds lining the route of the procession to pay their respects; but due to the ongoing Covid restrictions, the mourners were limited to 30 at St George’s Chapel and the event was on a modest scale.

Women in the UK tend to live longer than men, and Her Majesty was five years younger than the Duke; even so, nothing can prepare somebody for the loss of a spouse after 73 years of marriage. The TV reporters struggled to find suitably dignified comments to fill the airtime without lapsing into cliché. The Daily Mail took an unseemly interest in what the mourners were wearing, and how much their outfits had cost. Thirty years ago, the death of Prince Philip would have simply closed down all the TV channels (and pubs, cinemas and restaurants) leaving us to reflect on the life of a man who reached three-score years and ten in the service of the Royal Household.

In other news: corruption in the Tory party as it turns out Matt Hancock is a shareholder in a firm owned by his sister. The firm won a contract to supply document shredding services to the NHS. Hancock oversees the award of NHS contracts, which can run to millions of pounds. He managed to completely forget that it was his responsibility to report this family link in the Register of Interests.

According to a DHSC spokesman, “Ministers have no involvement in the awarding of these contracts, and no conflict of interest arises.” And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything…

Latest Covid figures:
US: 32.3 million cases, 580.7 thousand deaths
UK: 4.39 million cases, 127.2 thousand deaths

Tuesday 20 April 2021: It is a bright cold day in April and the clocks are striking
(5n-squared +3)/(3n-cubed +7)
where n is the number of covid cases per thousand head of population.

Yesterday’s figures for the UK included just four people dying ‘within 28 days of a positive Covid diagnosis’ which is the lowest number for several months.

In the news: the big six footie teams have started discussions to join a breakaway European Super-League, sparking dismay among fans and politicians. These clubs tend to have foreign-born players and managers, and their assets are owned by institutions based outside of the UK. Back in the old days, proud fathers would name their children after players – or sometimes the entire team – of their favourite club.

Welcome to Britain! Roll up, roll up; great closing down sale, everything must go!

Dreams of Cheese

Saturday 10 April 2021: Last night for tea we had some leftover chili and rice, together with grilled camembert on garlic bread; it was very tasty. I ended up having some unusually vivid dreams, in which I was living in a sort of student apartment block where a string quartet rehearsed on the balcony opposite. I was also busy trying to sort out some important documents, folding them up into a small envelope and sending them to myself by post. The walls were decorated with lavish spray-painted murals in a range of electric blues and greens, featuring trompe l’oeil Roman numerals which jutted from the wall, casting bold painted shadows.

Back in 2013, when I never made my trip to Chicago, I didn’t manage to see the Museum of Science and Industry, the Jewelers’ Building, or the Wrigley Building, or the London Guarantee Building with its fantastic Beaux Arts architecture.

I never walked down West Lake Street at 6.45 a.m. staring at the bookshops and the cafes and the dynamic young student putting in a 90-minute shift as a cleaner before heading off to study medicine with engineering. Just a glance at her clothes and hair alerted me to the fact I was no longer in England. Or, rather, since I didn’t actually go there, ‘…the fact that I wasn’t no longer in England.’

If I had actually gone there, I might have noticed that the roads all seemed incredibly wide, as though a normal high street had been prised apart and a section of the M62 laid down the middle. But I hadn’t, so they weren’t.
I didn’t manage to photograph any of the flagpoles that announced each building as it came into view. But of course, the flags are all at half-mast today…

This morning, the Horror Channel is showing ‘Alien Fury; Countdown to Invasion’, a routine sci-fi drama with action sequences but a miniscule budget and nothing in the way of special effects.
All the other main channels have cleared their schedules and are showing wall-to-wall tributes to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh whose death was announced yesterday lunchtime. Endless hours have been given over to repeating stories about his distinguished military career, technical prowess, and commitment to helping youngsters via the Awards Scheme. Apparently, HRH was not a keen fan of lavish ceremonial tributes, and might not have felt comfortable with all this attention, when his role in life had always been to provide discreet, unfailing support to HM the Q.

One of the first broadcast tributes came from Prime Minister Boris, who referred to the Duke as being her Majesty’s ‘strength and stay’ for over 70 years. Viewers probably had some raised eyebrows at this, coming from a serial philanderer. He also included a gag about ‘expert carriage driver’ – Prince Philip had a road crash a couple of years back but didn’t face any criminal charges.

In other news:
A volcano has erupted on the island of St Vincent, forcing 20 thousand people to be evacuated from their homes.

More accusations of Tory Conyism, with revelations that Rishi Sunak – multimillionaire UK Chancellor – had offered to lobby various senior figures at the Bank of England to try and secure support for Greensill Capital. This firm employed some bloke called David Cameron as an advisor, and the demise of Greensilll left DC holding millions of worthless shares. Poor DC!

The Brexit trade agreement has disrupted customs arrangements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland – as predicted by people who opposed the leave campaign. And this has now provoked violent unrest in Belfast, with crowds of teenagers hurling petrol bombs at the police and setting fire to vehicles.

Latest Covid figures:
US: 31.87 million cases, 575.6 thousand deaths
UK: 4.37 million cases, 127 thousand deaths

Sunday 11 April 2021: a few weeks back, our great leader set out the roadmap to recovery, during which various retail and leisure sectors would be able to open their doors to the public. Tomorrow we have the pubs reopening, in a strictly limited fashion – drinkers will be able to sit outdoors only and receive table service.

This morning, the ground carried patches of frost; so it is likely that the weather next week will make al fresco drinking a bitterly unpleasant experience.
And then everybody will gather en masse in burger joints and kebab shops after they have had a few pints, and we will see the number of Covid infections gradually start to rise…again.

I Didn’t Go

Journal Entry, 2 April 2021: It’s Good Friday, so perhaps I shouldn’t be watching the Horror Channel this morning. When I turned the box on, it launched into a natural history prog from years ago, where David Attenborough was showing us the mating rituals of giant centipedes. Not the best thing to watch while eating breakfast.

In the news: the government released a report into racial inequality which found that the UK was an exemplar of good race relations and there was no institutional racism in the country. We can’t help thinking that this conclusion was sent out two years ago by Munira Mirza, who then instructed the commission members to find evidence which supported it.

The report also includes a chilling reference to slavery, saying that this needs to be presented in a balanced way as part of the Caribbean Experience, and how grateful we are to immigrants for enriching the English language.

In another piece of revisionist reporting, MP Vicky Ford dismissed Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign: ‘We very much welcome his support for the initiative, but this project of mine was already underway.’ Which is presumably why she voted against extending free school meals, and why Boris had two phone conversations with Rashford.

The Covid epidemic in the UK is beginning to subside, with over 30 million people having received at least one vaccine dose. Latest figures:
US: 31.2 million cases, 566.6 thousand deaths
UK: 4.35 million cases, 126.7 thousand deaths

I never got to spend my birthday in Chicago; for a few years I had entertained vague ideas about travelling to this city when I reached fifty. I would eat seafood in glamorous rooftop restaurants, witness drive-by shootings, visit art galleries and hear lectures, and attend a public rehearsal by the symphony orchestra.

The shopping mall would be the size of a small town and carry quirky shoes and jackets with painfully high price tags. There would be street entertainers; mime artists, buskers, living statues and religious maniacs unleashing a torrent of conspiracy-fuelled nonsense.

And then, a few years later, I would be able to pass my evenings at home by pulling out a box-file filled with city maps, receipts, concert programmes, and train tickets. There would be a series of postcards which I sent to myself: ‘The hotel receptionist loved my English accent and recommended a hipster bar – waiters on roller-skates, seventies vinyl funk – and I had a Polaroid taken with the signed Kirk Douglas movie poster’ etc.

It would all feel like a dream, or a half-remembered radio play on Sunday evening…
But then, when I was forty-nine, I changed jobs and found myself with a reduced income and no holiday allowance, so my planned trip was postponed. One of the postcards I never sent would carry a short poem:

‘Do atoms really look like grains of sand?
Or are they all just dainty knots
Tied in a line of whispered prayer?

I was thinking about this when I watched Graham Norton last night, whose guests included Frank Skinner. FS is resuming his UK tour – cut short a year ago – and has also published a book of prayers. This was mentioned in passing, but then the conversation turned back to the other guests.

This was a shame; we have just spent a distressing year with millions of people around the world falling ill or losing their jobs due to Covid.
Prayer may be an appropriate response when we encounter this kind of epic problem; it will not cure the ailment, but it will encourage us to formulate the exact nature of the problem and the steps needed to bring about (some kind of) a solution.

When I didn’t go to Chicago in 2013, I didn’t visit the Holy Name Cathedral or the Holy Trinity Polish Cathedral or the Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral to admire the architecture, or the paintings and sculptures, or to inhale the atmosphere of peace and reverence that fills the echoing space around.

I didn’t spend half-an-hour on Thursday night scanning the various restaurant menus, drooling with pleasure at the thought of sole with chorizo or chili-flecked oysters. Eventually a handsome young waiter didn’t come out of the restaurant and invite me in to sit at the bar, where I could enjoy a cocktail and a series of tiny taster shots, to decide what I felt comfortable eating. When I didn’t tell him that I was visiting from the UK, he never showed me the satisfied customer reviews from Nottingham, Oxford and Durham that they hadn’t received in the past three weeks.

I didn’t make my way to the Chicago Cultural Center, whose impossible grandeur didn’t leave me speechless, nor did I visit the Art Institute of Chicago, with its legendary collection of 19- and 20-century paintings. I wasn’t there, so I didn’t end up going to a small viewing of a student art show in  a basement cinema where a dozen talented youngsters never talked about their work in a relaxed, European atmosphere.

Crack that Folding Smile

Journal Entry, Sat 12 April 1997: Wrote to PT, sent back the car logbook, tax disc, insurance policy and applied to Easy Rider bike training school.
Last night went to Freddie’s, saw Martin and Melvin, then went to the Old Silk Mill. The manager pointed me out to one of the other customers, making a hand gesture clearly implying that I was a nancy-boy. Young Alan is no longer working there.

Came back home in a bad mood.

This morning went with Kim, Darsh and Abigail to Kirby-in-Ashfield for a T’ai Chi seminar. We did the ‘brush knee step’ thing in detail, also Frankenstein walking but with someone pushing us – learn to transmit applied force into the ground – then did Fragrant Buddha Chi Kung, accompanied by Chinese Temple music.
Lots of wafting hands around – ‘moving the universe’ and ‘playing stringed instrument’.

Went down to the bus station and saw old Dave from Karate class.  I mentioned that I was going for a pint at the Silk Mill and he suddenly said ‘You’ll never guess…there’s a gay bar just down from Friargate. I had no idea ‘til this guy started chatting to me!’

I noted his startled expression, and casually said ‘Oh yeah, I drink there all the time.’

Sat 19 April 1997: Last night rang Riaz, told him I’d sold the car and might be going to Brean by train. Bought some Wranglers (!) and a tape of 70s rubbish (Jimmy James and the Vagabonds). New library books: Enoeda – Shotokan syllabus. In Shoto, shutouke is obviously preparation for a grab. Extravagant gedan barai. Blocking hand lower – protect lower ribs. They call it pinan shodan, we call it pinan nidan. Sandan – beginning blocks extend further from body. Kicks are aimed really high – sokuto not mae geri.

Hollinghurst, ‘The Folding Star’. I looked inside the front cover and it said ‘Edward Manners – 33, disaffected, in search of a new life’, and immediately thought: ‘That’s me me me!’

[Notes: I skimmed through The Folding Star and enjoyed reading it, but I didn’t realise how dense and elaborate the cultural background is to this work – see “Concealed Solemnities: Miltonic Inversions in Alan Hollinghurst’s The Folding Star” by Raymond-Jean Frontain, a detailed analysis published by University of Nebraska Press]

Sun 28 March 2021: Yesterday the Horror Channel showed ‘Planet of the Sharks’, another global disaster comedy thriller in which the polar caps have melted, most of the world is now underwater, and huge killer sharks are threatening all the other life on earth.

Meanwhile, in the real world: a teacher is in hiding after showing his class the Charlie Hebdo cartoons about Mohammed. A crowd of angry parents congregated outside the school to protest about this blasphemy, and have been insisting that they should be given places on an advisory panel to discuss religious studies.

In Scotland, former leader Alex Salmond has launched a new political party called ‘Alba’ having no policy other than to push for another independence referendum.

The government has proposed a new ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’ which will outlaw non-violent protests if they are noisy or disruptive. In response to this, large protest marches were organised in Manchester and Bristol, where the main police station was attacked with stones, bottles and fireworks.

Latest Covid-19 figures:
US: 30.92 million cases, 562 thousand deaths
UK: 4.33 million cases, 126 thousand deaths

Last week we decided to look at a couple of  houses for sale – the auction website was charmingly vague about just how much work was needed to render them suitable for habitation, and failed to mention the sprawling damp or hefty cracks in the ceiling…

Food equals Geometry

Food equals chemistry; the gradual unravelling of carbohydrates to set free the energy needed for respiration, and the hydrolysis of proteins and saturated fats.

Food equals geometry; an elegant configuration of taste and texture, a flag to herald the landscape of desire.

This morning the Horror Channel is showing home fitness commercials for various bits of equipment to help you build muscle tone, including exercise bikes and resistance harness units to cushion the back.

The spread of Covid in the UK is beginning to slow; the daily rate of infection has fallen to about 5,000 with ninety new deaths being reported. On Tuesday, the nation fell silent for a minute in reflection to remember those who had died from the disease, and their grieving families. Of course, Boris decided to lighten the mood later that day, making a crass comment about greed and capitalism being responsible for the success of the vaccine.

We need to find a new way of looking at the process of polymer science. Here’s a small chunk of Keats’ Hyperion: a sheet of plastic is a vast catalogue of events, from the catalyst to the spherulite structures to the thermal stresses and the unwanted degradation caused by sunlight. Do we try to connect the injection moulding machines with the Titans’ thunderous voice? Is the spirit-leaved book a gathering of infra-red profiles, sharp spikes that promise to betray the pendant groups through which adhesion can occur?

Last week I went for a walk – the only permitted leisure activity, provided we maintain a socially distanced two-metre exclusion zone – and found myself wandering along a rather nice street filled with smart semi-detached houses, each with a nice garden and nice double glazed windows and having a fairly new upmarket motor parked outside. The entire scene conveyed suburban happiness and material achievement.

I carried on, enjoying the sunshine and listening to Sigur Ros on my Hitachi MP3 player; from a forgotten keyboard somewhere in Iceland, a series of nylon polyester twinkles filled my ears, gradually swept aside by a grainy cloud of human lips.

But when I looked round, I noticed that the road surface was in poor condition, with severe potholes in the tarmac. Perhaps this is a good metaphor for the UK economy; we have lots of new cars and booming property prices, but the underlying structure is unsound and corrupt.

Hyperion, book 2 (extr), Distorted from John Keats

Of density, viscosity, and surface tension bold,
Ionic permittivity, but most of all the muon flux.
Against these quantum fields he strove in vain; for

Entropy had poured a proton mask upon his head,
An inelastic poison: so that Planck,
Affrighted, kept his still, and let him pass
First onwards in, among the circuit boards.

As with us mortal men, the robot frame
Is persecuted more, and fever’d more,
When it is nighing to the mournful house
Where other hearts are sick of the same bruise;
So Newton, as he walk’d into the midst,
Felt faint, and would have sunk among the rest,
But that he met Dirac’s harsh eye,
Whose mightiness, and awe of him, at once
Came like an inspiration; and he shouted,

“Hadrons, behold your quarks!” at which some groan’d;
Some started on their feet; some also shouted;
Some wept, some wail’d, all bow’d with reverence;
And Isis, uplifting her black plastic veil,
Show’d her pale cheeks, and all her forehead wan,
Her eye-brows thin and jet, and hollow eyes.
There is a function in the metastable pines
When Tesla lifts his voice; there is a noise
Among immortals when a God gives sign,
With hushing finger, how he means to load
His tongue with the full weight of utterless thought,
With thunder, music, and vibronic pomp:

Such noise is like the roar of bleak-grown pines;
Which, when it ceases in this synthetic world,
No other sound succeeds; but ceasing here,
Among these fallen, Newton’s voice therefrom
Grew up like organ, that begins to Moog
Its strain, when other harmonies, stopt short,
Leave the dinn’d air vibrating silverly.

Thus grew it up—“Not in my own sad breast,
Which is its own great judge and searcher out,
Can I find reason why ye should be thus:
Not in the legends of the first of days,
Studied from that old spirit-leaved book
Which crisp Uranium with finger bright
Sav’d from the shores of darkness, when the waves
Low-ebb’d still hid inside a glowing room;—

And the which book ye know I ever kept
For my firm-based footstool:—Ah, infirm!
Not there, nor in sign, symbol, or portent
Of element, truth and beauty, charming air,
And stranger fire lost in war, at peace,

One against one, or two, or three, or all
Each overclock’d against the other three,
As fire with air loud warring when rain-floods
Drown both, and press them both against earth’s face,
Where, finding xenon’s bright and noble rot
Unhinges the poor world;—not in that strife,
Wherefrom I take strange lore, and read it deep,
Can I find reason why ye should be thus:

No, no-where can unriddle, though I search,
And pore on Nature’s universal scroll
Even to swooning, why ye, Divinities,
The first-born of all shaped antimatter Gods,
Should cower beneath what, in comparison,
Is untremendous might. Yet ye are here,
Downcast and spurned, and battered, ye are here!
O Hadrons, shall I say ’Vortex!’—Ye groan:
Shall I say ’Void!’—Ye groan. What can I then?
O pulsar wide! O unseen vortex dear!

More Vapid Reflexionz

Sunday 21 March 2021:
Today is census day, when the entire population of England and Wales is due to be counted. Scotland has postponed their head-count, on the basis that the Covid pandemic has caused an abnormal shift in population, with some people in hospital or living in temporary bubbles with relatives.

The census includes questions about education levels, employment, sexual orientation, and gender identity. I didn’t have time to put a full description of my working day; I sit at a small table wearing headphones and chatting to the public. To keep my voice lubricated, I sip at a glass of summer fruits cordial whose flamboyant pink colour reminds me of the lurid mouthwash favoured by my dentist in 1972. Every so often, the laptop will lose connection to the staff network, leaving me in limbo and waiting to reconnect.

While waiting, I browse through my collection of elderly paperbacks: Lions and Shadows, The Haunter of the Dark, Phaedrus. In Plato’s book I find a brief discussion about how the written word is inferior to the spoken; amusing, when I was trying to webchat to customers using a set of clumsy stock phrases. He also includes a couple of feverish passages describing physical attraction: “So now it is all in a state of ferment and throbbing…as the nourishing moisture falls upon it the stump of each feather swells and strives to grow…so that the soul is driven mad by the pain of the pricks in every part…” and so on, in a kind of Miller-esque erotic frenzy.

This morning the Horror Channel is showing ‘Forty Days and Forty Nights’, an eco-disaster thriller about torrential flooding and the attempts by scientists to create a DNA archive of life on earth. Ridiculous, overblown nonsense.

In the news today: thousands of residents in New South Wales have been ordered to evacuate their homes as torrential rain causes widespread flooding. Last year, the same districts were affected by extreme drought and bushfires, leading to the deaths of a billion wild animals and 34 people.

In Iceland, a volcanic eruption occurred near Fagradalsfjall, a mountain on the Reykjanes Peninsula, around 30 km (19 miles) southwest of the capital Reykjavik. Seismic activity in this region has increased strongly over the past month.

And an earthquake of magnitude 7.2 has struck Japan, almost exactly 10 years after the massive tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima power plant.

In the news last week: A male police officer avoided a prison sentence after admitting to the drunken assault of a woman late at night. Instead of jail or community service, Oliver Banfield was served with a curfew notice and ordered to pay costs. This comes just a week after the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard.

In a separate incident, two days ago it was announced that a serving police officer had been charged with rape and sexual assault.
Police Sergeant Ben Lister, of West Yorkshire Police has been suspended from the force, and is set to appear at Bradford Magistrates’ Court on March 24.
This is a tiny number of cases but still creates the impression that victims of sexual assault can’t really trust the police.

Latest Covid statistics:
US: 30.48 million cases, 554 thousand deaths
UK: 4.29 million cases, 126 thousand deaths


I make my way along the lane, where
Winter skies reflect in pools of bleak
Tranquillity; my headphones. filled with Train and Doves
 Conjure fading memories of far-off days.

Each tree could be a chapter in a story
Or a line from an equation, where the fractals
Take forever to unfold. Caught between gravity

And the infinite abundance of the sun
The branches bare show off their strength
And promise of a new organic world.

Sometimes the fractal interrupts
A cage of standing lines that we once put in place
To give protection and support. The planners
Drew their perfect lines, and calculated boundaries;
But no-one thought to ask
About the random path that wins the race.

And then, one year later…

Friday 12 March 2021: the Horror Channel is broadcasting ‘Green Inferno’, a charming movie about student eco-warriors who crash-land in the Amazon and find themselves being gruesomely despatched by cannibal tribesmen (and women).

Britain is gradually turning into a horror channel of its own; last week we had the Meghan and Harry show, where the unhappy couple spilled the beans to Oprah on CBS and prompted a frenzy of discussion.

Piers Morgan launched into one of his sessions on-air, claiming that he wouldn’t believe anything that Meghan said, even if it was a weather report. When challenged about this by a studio colleague he stormed off set and it was later announced that he had parted company with the GMB show.

During the interview, Harry (‘Haz’) claimed that the UK tabloid press was routinely racist in their reporting of stories. This provoked the ire of Ian Murray, chairman of the Society of Editors, who issued a statement saying the UK tabloid press was not bigoted…

This claim was patently incorrect, and drew messages of protest from hundreds of professionals in the journalism sector. It is puzzling that someone who has spent decades working in this industry should issue a badly-worded press release that blows up in his face and forces him to resign.

About ten days ago it was reported that Sarah Everard, a marketing manager, had vanished while walking home near Clapham Common. This caused widespread alarm and the usual flurry of warnings about women having to moderate their behaviour in order to be safe.

On Wednesday, police announced that a serving police officer had been arrested on suspicion of her kidnap and murder, and the following day the Met Police said they were investigating the discovery of human remains in woodlands in Kent. Naturally, the Daily Mail has entered this debate with reckless enthusiasm, broadcasting lots of irrelevant details about the accused and his family. Almost as if they wanted to sabotage the case by allowing the defence team to claim that he had been denied a fair trial.

Latest Covid-19 statistics:
US: 29.9 million cases, 545 thousand deaths
UK: 4.25 million cases, 125 thousand deaths

Sunday, 14 March 2021: this morning the Horror Channel is showing ‘Riddles of the Sphinx’ (yawn) but on CBS reality we have some deranged nonsense about the Key of David where a wholesome white middle-American bloke in a suit and tie is telling us how important the Old Testament is for ongoing international politics.

Last night, against the advice of senior Met Police officers, hundreds of people gathered on Clapham Common to hold a vigil in memory of Sarah Everard. There were no plans to damage property, or disrupt travel arrangements, or engage in violent disorder; but still, the police carried out several forceful arrests. Footage from the event shows men wearing face-masks or balaclavas engaged in angry confrontation with the police; Everard was allegedly kidnapped and murdered by a serving Met Policeman, so this heavy-handed response has prompted calls for Cressida Dick to resign.

In April last year, police allowed a huge gathering of mourners at attend a funeral in Manchester; they only decided to intervene when somebody opened fire with a handgun before attacked with a knife. Perhaps the police in London and Manchester have different priorities…

And a couple of weeks ago huge crowds of Glasgow Rangers fans gathered in George Square to celebrate their club’s success, throwing fireworks and drinking, but the police made no attempt to enforce social distancing rules here.

Departed Artists

They Never Said Goodbye

Debussy spent his final years in agony; the chaos
Taking place down deep inside
Crushed any points of light that still remained, the
Moments when the faun gave rise to joy
Or when the sea began to swell. Down here,
Each cell does not know when to stop
His surging marathon of reckless growth.

The virus searches for its opposite
And manages to find a protein-sugar composite
Key that daintily unlocks
The metastable quantum-coloured box
Lined with a script for the genetic code
Pinned by an unknown fork to the map of a forgotten road

Alone, we seek fulfilment in the pattern of your cells
Betrayed by unrepentant infidels.
Choking in agony, adrift in Rome,
Keats dies at 25 years old and we
Admire what he left behind; the Odes,
Hyperion, Endymion, a landscape full of gleaming words
Borrowed from Milton who, we hear, went blind
But I won’t have a legacy of any kind

I’ve only paid 119 grand in rent, to help a dozen strangers
Treat their kids to cars and holidays
So many weeks of study and so many years at work
Result in half a page of scribbled lines
For someone else to find and scrutinise, before
Deciding that there’s nothing here to see…

27 Feb 2021: On radio 4 this morning, Niki Bedi and Richard Coles opened the Saturday Live show by playing ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ which might have been a nod to the recent news coverage of ‘Sheikh’ Crown Prince Mohammed.

Meanwhile, today the BBC has broadcast the funeral service of Sir Tom Moore which included a military tribute. Instead of the usual hymns, we heard songs by Vera Lynn, Michael Bublé, and Frank Sinatra.

When I was at Oxford Poly, one of our technicians mentioned that he had been listening (years previously) to the wireless, and at the end of the song the presenter said ‘…and that was Frank Sinatra, performing on a gramophone record…’ just in case any of the listeners were under the impression that Frankie had popped into the studio to deliver a single, flawless rendition of ‘I’ve Got You’.

In other news: Shamina Begum, the girl who ran away to Syria at the age of 15 to support ISIS, has failed in her attempt to have her British citizenship restored. We have to wonder about the mechanism that enables a teenager to board an aircraft with no supervision and travel to a notoriously unsafe part of the world.

Latest Covid figures:
US: 29.1 million cases, 523 thousand deaths
 UK: 4.16 million cases, 122 thousand deaths

Journal Entry, 6 March 2021:
This morning the Horror Channel is screening ‘Escape from Mars’ which is quite apt since today’s news describes how the ‘Perseverance’ rover (which landed two weeks ago) has been making its first test drive, before conducting a detailed search for signs of life.

The closing credits for this movie helpfully remind us that all events and characters are fiction, and any resemblance to real individuals is purely coincidental.

In the real world, we had a massive explosion in Exeter when a recently discovered WWII bomb was detonated. Over two thousand households were evacuated, along with student halls of residence, before the controlled blast took place causing widespread damage to property.

Chancellor Sunak delivered a budget and announced a set of new ‘Freeports’ which are supposedly good for creating jobs…if your work involves money laundering, I suppose. And it was confirmed that nursing staff will actually be awarded a pay rise this year. Of just one per cent.

Last November, Sunak had promised a pay rise to nurses, but kept a discreet silence about how much (or, rather, how little) it would turn out to be. Meagre thanks for a group of people who have had to deal with harrowing situations and risked their own lives to keep the nation safe.

Our beloved leader has also decided to set up a charitable fund to pay for the redecoration of his apartment above Downing Street. The missus (fiancée Carrie Symonds) has decided that she is not keen on the pedestrian middle-class furnishings and has arranged for a stylish (i.e., formidably expensive) makeover.

Latest Covid figures:
US: 29.6 million cases, 535 thousand deaths
UK: 4.2 million cases, 124 thousand deaths

On Monday, it is planned that all children in England will return to the classroom full time after a break of several months. When this happened last year, it sparked off a new outbreak of Covid and the schools were swiftly closed.

“A couple of years back I bought him a desk diary; it was reduced to just £1.95 since we were now at the end of January. There you go, I said; while I’m out at work every day, instead of sitting in the house you can go out to the library, or the pub, or the airport. Go to the pictures and then treat yourself to a pizza in a trendy bar. Meet up with the jobhunters at the library or attend the free business talks at lunchtime. Take photos of the numerous office blocks currently taking shape around the city centre. Write a single page of dialogue each day that can be knitted together to form a radio drama. Go places, meet people, do things; but when we reach Christmas, I don’t want to open this book and see dozens of blank pages.

By the end of the year, we had a few brief flurries of excitement; an episode of severe back pain, travel insurance and flight bookings for a trip to Europe. But apart from that, all the pages were empty, a catalogue of 250 missed opportunities.”

Tomorrow is the end of the world. While Prince Phillip is in hospital having his heart problem seen to, Harry and Meghan have decided to give a tell-all interview to Oprah Winfrey in which they will explain their reasons for wanting to escape from the Royal Family. This is set for broadcast on CBS, and all senior politicians have said they can’t be bothered watching, since they will be ironing tea-towels or cutting their own hair.

Inelastic Tunnelling Absurdity

Journal Entry, 21 Feb 2021:
We are still in lockdown – nobody is allowed to go out anywhere to do anything at all on pain of detention or execution. Well, not quite; but tomorrow our Great Leader, Boris J, is due to make an announcement regarding the roadmap out of lockdown.

He wants to see all schools completely re-opened on 8 March (last time we opened the schools it caused a massive spike in Covid infections) so that ordinary citizens can return to work.

The difference now is that we have been vaccinating large parts of the vulnerable population, and so far about 15 million individuals have been given a single dose, with about 500 thousand being given two doses. It is still unclear how specific these vaccine treatments are with respect to the numerous strains of Covid-19 currently on tour.

About a year ago I bought a luxury notebook to use as a bullet journal (blue felt covers, smooth ivory-coloured pages) and began to set out my plans for the months ahead.

But the lockdown intervened, and the days ceased to roll.

Last week I went for a walk and listened to my Hitachi MP3 player – ‘Test for Echo’ and ‘Axis Bold as Love’. These carried me back to Nottingham, where I would shop for CDs back in 1999.

My partner is always teasing me that I am unable to remember the square root of 2 million, so I decided to spend the time meditating on this number. The first four digits are 1414; then we have 21 (three times seven) and 35 (five times seven) and then 623 (British Standard Air Force blue, 623 squadron) and then an infinite number of sevens…

While I was thinking about these numbers, I realised that I was just passing the Jobcentre where I went to sign on a few years back. Every fortnight I had to report to my coordinator with a list of applications, which I would head using the 12-digit gateway number. Back then, this sequence of numbers was etched on my brain, but now I would have not the faintest idea…

The Horror Channel is showing ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’ which is charming in a sci-fi kind of way, but not really horror. Fortunately, everyday life in the UK provides plenty of genuine horror and distress.

A couple of weeks back, two people decided to ignore lockdown restrictions and go out for a walk in the hills. One of them became ill, and they called out the mountain rescue service. During the rescue operation, one of the Patterdale Mountain Team members fell 150 metres and sustained life-changing injuries; so much for a quiet walk in the country.

A Manchester woman has been sentenced to 2 years in jail for attacking a neighbour with a knife and splashing petrol over a group of friends at a nearby barbecue, before threatening to set them alight.

In Cornwall, a man’s body was found floating in the Drift Service Reservoir, but he had also suffered stab wounds. A 50-year old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder. In the UK it is estimated that 500,000 men have viewed online images of child pornography. In Wales, Anthony Williams strangled his wife Ruth after five days of lockdown, and was convicted of manslaughter and given a 5-year sentence.

Our Grate Leader Boris is fond of overblown civil engineering projects; a few years back he decided that London really needed a garden bridge, so he splashed forty million pounds on various planning meetings and design consultants before the idea was abandoned. And now he has decided that the UK is just dying for a tunnel from Scotland to Northern Ireland to improve freight movement. Unfortunately this region is made of granite and has vast amounts of dumped munitions off the coast which might explode when disturbed.

Latest Covid figures:
US: 28.7 million cases, 509.9 thousand deaths
UK: 4.1 million cases, 120.3 thousand deaths

Last night we watched the final episode of ‘It’s A Sin’ on Channel 4. As one of the characters said, ‘This story only ever ends one way’, and the tale had a completely tragic finale, with hostile parents and flying accusations. But it was neatly topped off with a recollection of the five friends enjoying Richie’s impromptu Shakespeare in the park.

Many years ago, when I was just a scruffy oik
I drifted to the library at the Blue Gates
And found a splendid volume by
Three bold writers, entitled ‘Troika’. Inside, on pages of
The smoothest Wedgwood blue I found
Blank verse I didn’t understand, but words that
Rattled round inside my brain for over thirty
Years until at last, today, I stumbled on this book once more…

Just wondered if anybody else remembered this delicious book, with its red line at the head of each page and the ‘Diamond for Dylan Thomas’ and ‘The Moth’ etc…