Impunity is a lovely name for a girl

I spend a lot of the day watching the Simpsons DVD, with commentaries by the major players. It’s revealing to see all these in context (when I first saw them they were mixed up with episodes from the next season) from the very crude – like the one with Marvin Monroe’s electric shock treatment – to the more sophisticated, such as the one where Bart goes to France (actually the first one I ever saw. Someone asked me if I could get my pa to tape them for me, and I casually watched the tape when it arrived and was hooked. I hope I managed to get it duplicated for them). The fact that any half decent joke (and some less than half-decent) gets tiold by each of the teams viewing – at least three people comment that it’s like forcing Walt Disney to watch Steamboat Willie – only takes a bit of the edge off it.

I don’t go out partying, or indeed stay in partying or anything. I do stay up after midnight, although I’m not sure that I need to, it’s not as if it makes any difference. It’s like the ultimate saturday night out there, which in my mind translates to thousands of very drunk people gathering together in herds and shouting in lieu of having fun. And then a fight. And then a kebab. I think New Year’s Eve is also treasured in people’s hearts as the only time when one might drive down the road with one’s hand firmly stuck on the horn with impunity.

Impunity is a lovely name for a girl, isn’t it?

I certainly felt calmer.

I started the day by listening to some of the lectures I downloaded yesterday while lying on the sofa. Not sure how much of it went in, as I was drifting in and out of consciousness, but I certainly felt calmer.

I would like to say that I reorganised the living room, tidied up, did my accounts (how can I have forgotten those?) practised, sorted, washed, ironed and hoovered, but I did none of these things.

I did, however, manage to get to the gym, and that was nice.

The strange Italian man turned up on the doorstep again, and again seeking entrance. This time he didn’t get it. It was curious – I kept asking him "Who are you looking for?" – Can’t remember, "Which flat are they in?" Don’t know, I want to come in and look. Sorry, but you’re carrying your possessions in two plastic bags, you smell faintly of I shudder to think what and you are obviously lying. I know, it’s cold out, but the last time he tried this it was high, high summer and very hot indeed. I don’t think his motivation is for shelter, though I can’t say what it is. Presumably he has a grand six-month circuit and we can expect his next visit in June.

And I finished reading Walking After Midnight.

onion skins of displacement activities

No actual achievements as such, but I download hours of Buddhist lectures from Dharmastream. The remote control for the hifi amp has disappeared – I haven’t seen it for a while, but now I have decided that it’s definitely AWOL. I really ought to rearrange the living room (I really ought to do lots of things – my life is a series of onion skins of displacement activities – there are so many things that I can’t do until I’ve done something else that I can’t do until I’ve done something else and so on).

mild non-compliance or sheer-bloodymindedness

Up at 7:00. Huzzah.

However, a huge chunk of the day is spent doing an office lyric quiz sent to me. The person who compiles these quizzes has probably taken into account that people are using the internet to answer them (at least I am), so now they can only be answered using the internet. Consequently I spend four hours copying lyrics into Google and then writing the name and song in the provided Excel document. Three quotes from early King Crimson. Four quotes from Uriah Heep. One by Nerina Pallot. Indeed. In fact the fact that I found that one at all is probably a dead giveaway, Google-wise.

And then the rest of the day is spent catching up with this diary.

Quick trip to the shops. I am now the bewildered possessor of a metal flip-top bin, because my Pa decided it was too small for his needs. I realise that I do need one, but I have a strange relationship with the things my Father decides ought to be given to me rather than thrown out, particularly when they come in their hundreds, in a bag. Often, he’ll give things to me anyway and if I don’t wnat them, then I have to throw them out, which is responsibility-shifting of the highest order. You can tell he used to work for the Civil Service – when I asked as a child what he did for a living, he would reply "As little as possible, for as long as possible, for as much as possible", which was no use when my teachers asked me the same question and probably helped compound my reputation for difficultness (although whether that was mere eccentricity, mild non-compliance or sheer-bloodymindedness, I can’t say).

the blood of Boudicca in her veins

The day is spent edging towards going home. Basically doing a lot of nothing (watching TV mainly), then Sara runs me to the station. A couple of suicidal pheasant decide that they can’t take the horror of waiting for the shotgun cartridge with their names on anymore and hurl themselves under the wheels of Sara’s car. She doesn’t let it stop her or even slow her down.

The blood of Boudicca in her veins, my sister.

We get to the station, where it is discovered that I have missed the train by three minutes, so I am driven to Hungerford to wait for the train (there is no waiting-room at the original destination. There’s barely a platform). Actually there’s no waiting room at Hungerford either, but there is a conveniently placed pub, where I have a cup of coffee.

I begin reading How the Dead Live, which accompanies me all the way to London.

At home I put the heater on (very chilly) and watch Eyes Wide Shut again.

It’s one of those films (like Phantom Menace) that didn’t really deserve the critical/W.o.M. drubbing it received. For a start it’s nowhere near as dull as Barry Lyndon. Cruise is good (though not as good as in Magnolia, perhaps because here he’s trying to create a characterisation despite his looks, whereas in that film he could play off them). Kidman is very good. Like a lot of Kubrick films, it exists as a string of set pieces,and that’s sort of how I remember it: as a series of jump-cuts. Perhaps one could make a case for this being evidence of Kubrick’s grounding as a stills photographer (someone must have done – Ciment? Herr?).

And of course there’s another of Kubrick’s celebrated rejuvenations-of-little-known-pieces-of-music – the Waltz 2 from Shostakovich’s second Jazz Suite, which follows Also Sprach Zarathustra and Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary into mainstream consciousness.

Hmm. Kubrick and cultural appropriation. Discuss.

I’m turning into a High Court Judge

Today I wake up at 9:20 – my resolve is slackening. Or at least I think I do, until I mention the fact to Sara some time later and she points out that the clock in the workroom is an hour fast. So not only did I get up at 8:20 rather than 9:20, but The Boys woke me up at half past four in the morning yesterday.

Boxing Day is sort of a rerun of Christmas Day, but with Dan’s parents in attendance, who have also been doing their bit for JK Rowling’s stab at world domination. Tonight’s Celebrity Edition is Who Wants to be a Millionaire? (with celebrities I actually recognise, albeit with no real joy – Neil and Christine Hamilton, for example).

My childhood lego has been removed from my Father’s loft for distribution to the nephews. Presumably the reason it’s taken so long is that it has only just dawned on my Pa that the chances of my producing offspring of my own are considerably less than my being chosen by a powerful yet benevolent alien race as their emmisary on Earth, conveying to me wealth beyond my wildest dreams (and I have to tell you I have pretty wild dreams) and a nattily futuristic wardrobe. The lego has been in a box in an attic for over twenty years and saw consistent use for over ten years before that, so needs a bit of a clean. So it’s going into the washing machine in a drawstring bag. In batches.

It’s very addictive, I must say. The whole putting bricks together thing. I spent many hours in a childhood caught between Meccano and Nintendo, building stuff. Today I’m mainly working on abstracts and regretting saying yes to the lego’s being passed on to the next generation.

Interesting how the really succesfull toys for boys have an -o at the end – Meccano, Lego, Nintendo. Action Man. Perhaps not Action Man.

I’m still holding out for the Alien Race’s Emissary job, though.

I spend a couple of hours building a lego house, using a brick with a sign on it that says "Dealer" on it. I had originally intended it as a joke for my sister and then the thing would be dismantled, but it ends up being shown to everybody by Oscar, which no doubt increases my credibility with Dan’s parents. I think The Boys are having difficulty with the idea of lego models that you break up and build into something else (today’s models come with specific instructions, backdrops and props – hence the ubiquitous Harry Potter range). I am also amazed that some of the bricks are as much as thirty-five years old (although post-washing machine, they don’t look it) but fit perfectly with the brand new lego The Boys got for christmas. Admittedly, I’m the only one who finds this amazing, probably because I have a significantly smaller brain than everybody else. Possibly because once you have got used to the idea of paying fifty pounds for a computer game, the back of which can be broken in an afternoon, very little is amazing any more.

Dan’s parents produce a board game version of Blockbuster which I manage to do dismally at, although Sara makes a worryingly convincing Carol.

We miss the first half of the Jonathan Creek but there’s that bit towards the end where he explains everything that’s happened anyway, which is considerate, I think. or toward the middle in this one, which seems to be drawing to a close for over forty-five minutes- Mr Creek keeps hitting the nail on the head but it refuses to die. If you see what I mean.

In attempting to escape the hypnotic gaze of Naked Gun 331/3, I am transfixed by a programme called Scream! on Channel 5, in which actually quite scary ghost/wierdy stories told straight to camera are rendered harmless by being frantically intercut and layered with excessive dollops of "atmospheric’ camera effects, music, noises and "reconstructions". If it had just been talking heads it would have been terrifying, though.

I’m turning into a High Court Judge

The overhead light goes on at 5:30: I say "What?" and Jasper replies that he wants to know what the time is (there is a wall-clock in Sara’s workroom, where I am sleeping). I tell him firmly to turn off the light, and he says "It’s alright, I know what the time is now" and turns it off again (not, you notice, "Oops, sorry"). I find it difficult to get back to sleep, what with the small boys running up and down the stairs trying not to make any noise.

Consequently I allow myself a lie in until 8:45.

Downstairs, The Boys are enthusiastically attacking the spoils. Turning from the strategy of our youth (when all presents had to be saved up until after Christmas lunch, washing up, digestion and all) the presents are opened in a continuous, controlled stream until they run out. Far more civilised.

I suggest that a way of making the presents eke out further might be to make the recipient write a thank-you letter before they can open the next. They’d last until easter that way. So present opening continues either side of lunch, for which our mother arrives.

As predicted (not by me, but by my sister, who is, admittedly, responsible for Present Acquisition), Christmas this year comes courtesy of JK Rowling. The Boys have Harry Potter Lego, Dressing gowns (it’s amazing how an apparantly dowdy dressing gown can be converted into a dead exciting Harry Potter™ Robe by the simple addition of a Hogwarts crest. I wonder what Ms Rowling could do for slippers or support hose). Improvising a Sorting Hat, The Boys discover that they are in Gryffindore House, which surprises nobody.

But then, I’m Slytherin and proud of it.

I say that perhaps The Boys should write a thank-you letter to Ms Rowling. My sister suggests that perhaps she whould be writing one to them. Which is a point, I suppose.

My own booty includes:


Anton Webern, Various

Giacomo Carissimi, Mass for Three Voicee & Motets

Thomas Tallis, Spem in alium & Lamentations of Jeremiah

Allegri Miserere


The Simpsons series one


Willy Russell, The Wrong Boy

Will Self, How the Dead Live


A shirt

Some chocolate

The Webern is from Oscar and the Carissimi from Jasper, which suggests either (a) a precocious understanding of modern and early music or, more likely, (b) that Sara did their present shopping too. On Saturday afternoon, when I was shopping for presents and Dan (my brother-in-law) also was, apparantly she was on the phone to both of us alternately all afternoon, fielding advice about gift-buying.

Tonight’s Celebrity Christmas Special is Fort Boyard, a curious combination of The Crystal Maze and The Count of Monte Cristo which somehow manages to put ormer page 3 girl Melinda Messenger in lycra and make her more wholesome than Joyce Grenfell, with Leslie Grantham acting the villain in such a way that he appears not just unthreatening but positively cuddly. I recognise none of the celebrities, but one of them (a Keith) i also failed to recognise on Celebrity Weakest Link.

The evening presents us with a documentary about Eric Sykes, which was actually a very nice surprise. British television could do with more Eric Sykes at the moment. And then the Long Awaited New Episode of Only Fools and Horses, which suggested that the barrel has been scraped right through and the BBC are now digging furiously.

This is followed by Before They Were Famous, which increasingly demonstrates that not only do I recognise most of the participants then, I don’t even know who they are now. Amanda Holden? Tamzin Outhwaite?

I’m turning into a High Court Judge ("The Beatles, M’Lud, are a popular singing group").

And then to round the evening off, the British Romantic Comedy (and all three qualifiers are necessary) Sliding Doors. The main attraction of the film is that it offers endless opportunities for the popular parlour game "You Can’t Go There From There!" where the players watch a British film or television programme and identify how geography has been mangled in the editing process. Also, the game "How Can She Afford To Live there?" (always popular).

One thing about the film is the amount of effort that Gwyneth Paltrow must have put in to playing a perfectly dull PR girl (her accent was better than Renée Zellweger’s in Bridget Jones, but her character far less interesting). If you are going to work that hard, you really need to be playing Lady Macbeth.

And if Richard Curtis is the Beatles of BritRomCom, then the person who wrote Siding Doors is its Freddy and the Dreamers.

Luckily for Ms Paltrow and BritRomCom, Shakespeare in Love, is an immeasurably superior film (scripted by Tom Stoppard, who, on the same scale, must be Elvis Presley, or possibly Frank Sinatra).

It’s the first time I’ve ever impersonated an imaginary animal.

I do actually get up at 7:00, but there’s not much to do. Commence reading Dan’s copy of An Anthropologist on Mars.

Essentially, all television is now animated and must include Santa somewhere in it. I see Christmas saved several times by an assortment of children and cartoon animals. I make a note that if the media (television) represents what we are or aspire to be, it’s hardly surprising that children today think it unnatural not to have an American accent. If they do. Which they probably don’t, now I come to think of it. It must be my crusty old exterior, waiting to be melted by the Spirit of Christmas.

(stifles mocking chortle).

Go out for a walk with Sara, firstly to the cashpoint and later to town for last-minute supplies, in this case a Very Big Tin of Chocolates, which turns out to be unavailable. Instead I get a few medium-size boxes of chocolates. On returning home, we put these into a tin that the Boys have been using for a drum, which is a boon in two ways: 1. Christmas isn’t Christmas without a big tin of chocolates; 2. The Boys are now unable to use it as a drum.

It is very important that a tin containing the six chocolates that no one likes (one of which has a bite out of it) is available as a percussion instrument on New Year’s Eve.

On the way (as Sara is explaining how all available land around here, including allotments with their rich, fertile soil, is being converted into housing), we pass a recently boarded-up block of flats, sporting the graffito "A Merry Xmas to All Our Tenants". Either the spirit of sarcastic dissent is alive and well in Devizes or the landlords around here laugh manically and twirl their moustachios.

Town is surprisingly un-busy. Or maybe not surprisingly, since there’s not so much that you can get in Devizes on Christmas Eve anyway.

There are a lot of celebrity versions of popular quiz shows on the TV. For example, Celebrity Weakest Link. I actually found Anne Robinson a lot scarier when she was presenting Points of View.

The glass of sherry and mince pie are put out for Santa, and the carrot for Rudolph. I get to eat the carrot, having to fashion realistic-looking toothmarks around the stub. It’s the first time I’ve ever impersonated an imaginary animal. I’m very proud.

It’s Christmas, and I demand my Crap TV.


The morning is spent trying to get this diary up to date and general not-very-useful things.

In the afternoon, Sara picks me up and I travel with her and the nephews, Jasper and Oscar to Devizes for Christmas.

It takes a couple of hours to get out of London. Hell, it takes a couple of hours to get along the Embankment to Hammersmith. This is spent trying to muster good humour while listening to the Kings Singers perform arrangements of popular christmas carols that Libarace would discard for not being hardcore enough.

We stop at a services on the way. Luckily there is none of that desperate fleeing that one gets on Christmas Eve – I remember taking the last trains to Wales on Christmas Eve in the 80s, with a palpable sense of everything shutting down around me. Part of the excitement was the possibility that the wind would change and I might be stuck in Swindon or Bristol Parkway for the duration of the holiday.

Get to Devizes and vegetate in front of the TV, the first such vegetation I have allowed myself for a while. It’s Christmas, and I demand my Crap TV.

it’s like Truffaut’s Day For Night, but with better tunes

Consult with Sara re presents. I meant to go to the dreaded Centre of Town at first thing, but finally set off at 11:00. After an epic search (encompassing Tower Records, the Vintage Magazine Company, Virgin and HMV), I return with some measure of success at twenty to four. Collapse exhausted.

The basement of the Vintage Magazine Company (home of some of my best present acquisitions over the last ten years) now only contains racks of some poor soul’s off-air video collection (each with neatly typed label) at £5 apiece, which is a bit sad. Even sadder is the fact that his taste doesn’t coincide with mine. I worry for the place (as I do about all sorts of half-lost causes), since I’ve been dropping in on it since the late 70s, when the basement was all comic-books. Another shop I can visualise in a number of different guises is the Virgin Megastore, which I have been visiting for over twenty years (back then it was all on the ground floor, I remember, and it still seemed huge).

I somehow manage to get things for myself along the way: Tom Jobim and Elis Regina Elis & Tom; Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony; Strauss, Four Last Songs; Janacek, Sinfonietta.At least two of those being made by very old chaps., and the three classical ones were part of an offer (3 for £12), so it’s not as if I was hugely self-indulgent.

In the evening I watch Topsy Turvy. Absolutely marvellous. As much as anything it’s a tribute to the joy of the act of creation (Gilbert takes little pleasure in success or the writing, but rather comes alive during the rehearsal period), not only of being onto a good thing, but also knowing that it’s good while you are working on it. In a lot of ways it’s like Truffaut’s Day For Night, but with better tunes. In fact, Leigh’s method (and this film stands at the moment as the only Mike Leigh film I’ve ever really enjoyed) exploits the tendency of actors to see the story primarily in terms of their own characters to add a great depth to the film.