28 April 2022

Time Out of Mind

Not Dark Yet.....

Shadows are fallin' and I've been here all day
It's too hot to sleep and time is runnin' away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I've still got the scars that the sun didn't heal
There's not even room enough to be anywhere
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there

Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing there's been some kind of pain
She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind
She put down in writin' what was in her mind
I just don't see why I should even care
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there

Partygate: A timeline of the lockdown gatherings

BBC, April 19 2022


The government has faced intense pressure over gatherings held in and around Downing Street during Covid lockdowns. Senior civil servant Sue Gray has said that many of them “should not have been allowed to take place or to develop in the way that they did.” Here is what we know about them and the restrictions in place at the time:


15 May 2020


A photo from May 2020 showed the prime minister and his staff with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard in the Downing Street garden. When asked about it, Boris Johnson said, those people were at work talking about work.

The rules:


Legal restrictions at the time said you could not leave your house without a reasonable excuse and government guidance was that you could meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor setting while exercising.


This event is not being investigated by the police.

My diary:

Went over to Studham, parked by the church, walked across fields and then on Icknield Way skirting Whipsnade.  


20 May 2020


About 100 people were invited by email to socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden this evening. Witnesses told the BBC the PM and his wife were among about 30 people who attended.

Boris Johnson apologised to MPs for attending the event, saying he spent 25 minutes thanking staff, before returning to his office.


This event is being investigated by the police.

My diary:

Two short walks (total 3 miles) today - first at St Albans where Amanda tried all the cathedral doors again, and then Nomansland, where they have reopened the National Trust car park.  My right knee very painful today.  Home-made pizza  in evening; Amanda's hair wash, then final two episodes of The Sopranos.


18 June 2020


A gathering took place in the Cabinet Office to mark the departure of a No 10 private secretary.

This event is being investigated by the police.


We know at least one fine has been issued after the government's former head of ethics admitted receiving one and apologised for attending the event.

My diary:

A wet morning! But we drove to Wheathampstead and walked along the Lea to Water End and then back via the Ayot Greenway.  Not too bad! (4.8m).  Carer Sue came with Jen who may stand in for Sue next week.  I went to post and to allotment.  Amanda had gone back to bed but I got her up and she walked with Sue and Jen.


19 June 2020


On Boris Johnson’s birthday, up to 30 people gathered in the Cabinet Room at No 10 to present the prime minister with a birthday cake and sing Happy Birthday, according to a report by ITV News.


No 10 said staff had gathered briefly to wish the prime minister a happy birthday, adding that he had been there for less than 10 minutes.


The rules:


Restrictions at the time banned most indoor gatherings involving more than two people.

This event is being investigated by the police.


We know at least three attendees have received fines from the police, with the PM, his wife Carrie Symonds and Chancellor Rishi Sunak all confirming they have paid fixed penalty notices.

My diary:

Grey morning, spitting a bit.  Drove to Ayres End and walked round Heartwood (3.7m); very green and grey and quiet, apart from the dog walkers.  Sue came pm - A in bed but I got her up and she had a nice walk.  I went to allotment.


13 November 2020


Sue Gray’s report said two gatherings took place in Downing Street on this date: one to mark the departure of a special adviser and one in the Downing Street flat.


According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, the gathering in the flat where Mr Johnson and his wife live was to celebrate the departure of Dominic Cummings, the PM's former senior adviser. A spokesman for Mrs Johnson denies the party took place.


The rules:


Eight days earlier Boris Johnson had announced a new lockdown in England. Indoor gatherings with other households were banned, unless they were for work purposes.


These events are being investigated by the police.

My diary:

Drove to Nomansland and walked up to Wheathampstead, across to Coleman Green and back via Heartwood (4.2m).  Raining to start but cleared and good colours.  Jen came and took A out and I rode my bike to Nomansland and then up to Beech Hyde Lane and back via Nomansland (8m).


27 November 2020


A leaving event was held for No 10 aide, Cleo Watson, where people were drinking, and Mr Johnson made a speech, according to sources.


This event is not being investigated by the police.

My diary:

Drove to Nomansland and walked through Heartwood to Hammonds Farm and back.  Hard frost and thick mist - very beautiful (4.1m).  Jen came for the last time and walked Amanda, while I rode my bike to Childwickbury Goats and back.


10 December 2020

The Department for Education has confirmed it had an office gathering to thank staff for their work during the pandemic. It says drinks and snacks were brought by those who attended and no outside guests or support staff were invited.


The rules:


Eight days earlier, London had been placed in restrictions which banned two or more people from different households from meeting indoors, unless reasonably necessary for work purposes.

This event is not being investigated by the police.

My diary:

Drove to Wheathampstead Cricket ground; walked up and across to Beech Hyde and Cromer Hyde and back via Heartwood.  Grey but quiet and pleasant (3.8m).  Then to pick up Kinder Brioss etc from Buongiorno Italia (St Albans).  Sue came and I rode to Childwickbury Goats.  FaceTimed Ben.


14 December 2020


The Conservative Party has admitted that an unauthorised gathering took place at its HQ in Westminster. It was held by the team of the party's London-mayoral candidate, Shaun Bailey, who has since stepped down as chair of the London Assembly police and crime committee.

In December, police said they would be contacting two people who attended the party.


This event was not included in Sue Gray's report.

My diary:

Drove to Nomansland and walked through new Heartwood and then back over Heartwood to Nomansland.  Great sky but very wet underfoot (4m).  Eva here for Amanda.


16 December 2020


The Department for Transport has apologised after confirming reports of a party in its offices, calling it inappropriate and an error of judgment by staff.


This event was not included in Sue Gray's report.

My diary:

Drove to Redbourn and walked via Nicholls Farm to the path above Trowley Bottom.  Very muddy and quite windy but not rainy. (4.5m).  Very wet and dark - Sue came for A but didn't go out.


17 December 2020


A leaving party was held at the Cabinet Office for the outgoing head of the civil service Covid taskforce - the team responsible for drawing up coronavirus restrictions.


Kate Josephs, now chief executive of Sheffield City Council, apologised for the event, saying she was truly sorry that I did this and for the anger that people will feel as a result.


A second gathering was held in the Cabinet Office to hold an online Christmas quiz for the Cabinet Secretary’s private office.


A third gathering was held in No 10 Downing Street to mark the departure of a No 10 official.


These events are being investigated by the police.

My diary:

Drove to Startops End and walked round the reservoir and along the canal.  Bright morning but still very wet underfoot (3.3m). Did not see much.  Sue took A out for a good walk pm while I rode to Childwickbury Goats. FaceTimed Ben.


18 December 2020

Downing Street originally denied a report by the Daily Mirror that a party took place in Downing Street. However, a video obtained by ITV News showed the prime minister's then-press secretary Allegra Stratton, joking about reports of an event, saying: This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.


This event is being investigated by the police.

My diary:

Very grisly morning - drove to the Bridgewater Arms and a had a pleasant but muddy walk round the Ashridge Golf Course (3.2m).  Very wet and grisly in the afternoon and not feeling great.



Well, I've been to London and I been to gay Paris
I've followed the river and I got to the sea
I've been down on the bottom of the world full of lies
I ain't lookin' for nothin' in anyone's eyes
Sometimes my burden is more than I can bear
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there

I was born here and I'll die here against my will
I know it looks like I'm movin' but I'm standin' still
Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb
I can't even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don't even hear the murmur of a prayer
It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there

Not Dark Yet

Bob Dylan

Time Out of Mind


Yeah, I bent the rules a little - I may have driven a mile or two more from my home than recommended;  I may have gone out twice a day when the rules prescribed only once.  


Perhaps I will get a fine?

But, with the exception of our paid and licensed carers who visited to help look after Amanda, we saw NO ONE during the lock down periods.

Once a week I would stand on my doorstep, at 8.00pm on Thursdays, and clap the NHS, despite an awkward feeling that this wasn't really helpful and that it was somehow condoning the extraordinary wastefulness and probable cronyism of the ruling party.....

The above is a very simple list of dates when the Party Monster was having a happy time and we (Amanda and I) were eking out our miserable existences in a world where our only hope was that we could go somewhere for a three mile walk each day.  



With thanks to the BBC


13 April 2022

Beyond Surreal

 You couldn't make it up.....

A Surrealist manifesto was written by André Breton, [French poet, essayist, critic, and editor, chief promoter and one of the founders of the Surrealist movement] and published in 1924. The document defines Surrealism as:

Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express — verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner — the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.

The text includes numerous examples of the applications of Surrealism to poetry and literature, but makes it clear that its basic tenets can be applied to any circumstance of life; not merely restricted to the artistic realm......

Which brings us to the now.....

I am in the shell of the Tate Modern, once a power station, now a vacuum cleaner for the school holidays, sucking children and tourists into a state of dusty confusion, where the received wisdom is that a person is better for attending some 'artistic' event than for playing with mud and leaves in the woods.

So, me too....  My guilt is post-prandial, so I can trade excuses.

The show is Surrealism Beyond Borders, possibly subtitled:

A telephone receiver morphs into a lobster.
A train rushes from a fireplace.

Nah.  I don't think so....  Lobster phones and fireplace trains don't really interrogate political or social systems, despite their imaginative delights.

I'll tell you what is Surrealism.  Surrealism is Nadine Dorries.  

Or, if you prefer, Ms Nadine Dorries, who tweeted, on April 12th:  

PM has been clear about what happened on 19th June 2020 & offered a full apology. It was a brief gathering in the Cabinet Room, less than 10 minutes during a busy working day. PM is at his best when delivering on the priorities of the British people which he will continue to do.

And then there is the MP for Lichfield (birthplace, I believe, of Dr Samuel Johnson - no relation - so not famous for its idiots) Michael Fabricant (stylist to the early seventies) who defends Boris Johnson over party gate, saying he did not think the Prime Minister thought that he was breaking the law.

He said: At the time, just like many teachers and nurses who, after a very, very long shift, would tend to go back to the staff room and have a quiet drink, which is more or less what he has done.

Having been a teacher for most of my misspent adult life, I have to admit, I liked a drink at lunchtime almost as much as I did a few in the evenings, and I have to say that it would rarely be a quiet drink and it would never be in the staff room.

Who are these appalling genetic mistakes?

I learned to admire surrealism through the slit cornea of  Luis Buñuel and  Salvador Dalí, but this exhibition nods to neither.  It is a serious manifestation of how many artists in the mid 20th century wanted to express some kind of revolution against conservative ideology, without there being a hard core to their shared concepts.

I will admit that I was not emotionally moved by this exhibition. I found it to a certain extent depressing, and certainly tiring. I love exploring art works where the artist has invited me to enter a different world, but I find it difficult (and I know this is my limitation) to engage with artists whose intellectual route is primarily an exploration of their own subconscious.

Having said that, this is not an exhibition to dismiss, and many will gain much more from it than I did.

In the end I emerged enlightened by the discovery that surrealism was not just Dalí's dripping time, nor the brilliant cinematic fantasies of Luis Buñuel.

To bring this down to the mundane, I now see surrealism all around.  A millionaire chancellor of the exchequer accepting that he broke the law that prevented ordinary people from holding the hands of their dying partners and parents, while simultaneously presiding over the biggest cost of living increase in living memory: a prime minister who dreams of himself being an international statesman, smirking at the camera in his grace and favour mansion while he confesses to being apologetic that he unwittingly broke laws he himself promoted..... 

These things are beyond surreal.

Having said that, I turn to the great Dr Johnson (no relation) who might well have been a tutor to both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor:

Resolve not to be poor: whatever you have, spend less. Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness; it certainly destroys liberty, and it makes some virtues impracticable, and others extremely difficult.

Or, should that be a bit too la-di-da for my average reader, here's one from Nadine Dorries, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (you couldn't make it up):

My blog is 70% fiction and 30% fact. It is written as a tool to enable my constituents to know me better and to reassure them of my commitment to Mid Bedfordshire. I rely heavily on poetic licence and frequently replace one place name/event/fact with another.

Nadine Dorries
21 October 2010

Nadine, honey is that you?
Oh, Nadine, honey, is that you?
Seems like every time I catch up with
You are up to something new

Chuck Berry

The phrase: Psychic automatism in its pure state, as quoted at the head of this piece, is the core tenet of Surrealism, and is also, I venture to suggest, the essence of the current embolisms in Downing Street.

Though, to me, another definition of Surrealism takes me back to 1460 and the poster of Piero della Francesca's Resurrection that I have on my bedroom wall (well - I might as well live in a monastery). Christ rises from a classical sarcophagus, four soldiers sleeping at his feet, while behind him nature goes from winter to spring as Easter brings us new life.

Which is why we like eggs so much......

Happy Easter!

8 April 2022

A Mini Blog on Tax etc

Nothing is certain.....

Benjamin Franklin knew a thing or two.  But he wasn't the Chancellor of the Exchequer - even though he probably had a green card.....

Let me briefly tell you about an experience I went through:

I worked in Italy for approximately 20 years.  Essentially I was a legitimate citizen, with a Permesso di Soggiorno and a legally recognised job as a teacher at St George's English School, Rome.  I paid my dues - INPS and Tax - as I should.

In 1995 I returned with my family to reside and work in the UK.

I knew (practically) nothing of subterfuge.  I didn't dodge anything.  So, eventually, when I got to retirement, I claimed my entirely legal Italian pension, with the help of INCA/CGIL in London.  I was then offered a choice between having tax deducted at source by the Italian authorities or paying tax here in the UK.  Thinking that it made sense to have the pension taxed at source, as I had earned the money in Italy and it seemed proper for the Italians to have their tax back, I opted for the Italian deduction.

It seemed logical and fair.....

Anyway, to shut a long story cort.....  After some years I hired a tax adviser to help me with tax returns as I was earning something from self employed work.  He, who will for ever remain nameless, advised me to claim tax relief in this country for the tax paid in Italy.  

So I did.

Then, some years ago, I was contacted by HMRC who told me I should be paying tax on my Italian pension in this country, as this was where I resided.

Initially I was perplexed.  How could a Tax Adviser get it wrong?  

Then I was angry, as HMRC demanded that I paid them the tax that had been deducted in Italy, a sum of some £10,000.

So I paid.  

It was true - I do now live in this country (and profit from the privilege....)

I had to pay; being as I live here....

It was, however, I claimed - to deaf ears -  illegal. Double taxation on any earnings anywhere is illegal.  But the deaf ears wouldn't give me credit nor leeway.  It was up to me to claim back the tax deducted in Italy.

I am still waiting.

INPS has not acknowledged my claim.  A more recently employed tax adviser, who is Italian, has had no success on my part.  HMRC have moved on.  I'm £10,000 out of pocket, plus expenses.....

This, of course, is all my fault.  I should have known?  I should have read the small print.  I shouldn't complain.

But today, reading about non-dom status for the very rich.  Hearing about US Green Cards for serving members of the Cabinet.  Thinking about one law for the Sun; another for the Moon, you know what I feel?

You.  Know.  What. I.  Feel?

You know.

[If you don't, then you are one of them.....]

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

Benjamin Franklin in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Le Roy, 1789

Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believ’d.

Daniel Defoe, the Political History of the Devil, 1726


6 April 2022

Homage to Hockney

Hockney's Eye

Hockney's Eye is the title of an exhibition (until 29 August 2022) at The Fitzwilliam Museum and The Heong Gallery in Cambridge.  The exhibition is the first to explore the many ways of seeing in the art of David Hockney. 

Beautiful Tulips

And I am in Cambridge to see this show.  The first time I have been out of Norfolk for months....  The first time on a train this year.  And, Oh, the crowds!  I thought there was a pandemic on, but it seems as if I am the only one cautious enough to mask my face....

Oh, now I see what a halo is!

Annunciation II, after Fra Angelico

Nothing and no-one can better Fra Angelico.  The delicacy of his mid-fifteenth century frescoed Annunciation on the wall of the convent of San Marco in Florence is lace dipped in champagne to soothe a fevered heart.  Apparently the awareness of space shown in the picture signals the emergence of art from the Gothic to the Renaissance.  The wonderful thing about Hockney's take on this is that while he captures the dynamic between Gabriel and Mary his is not a mere copy nor a paltry likeness - he changes the perspective without losing the narrative, and freshens the colour to delight the modern eye.....  Cosimo de Medici may not have been impressed, but times have changed....

This exhibition is integrated with the permanent  show at the Fitzwilliam, so that Hockney's pieces are a part of the History of Art, at one with the development of representational painting.  The convention of attempting to transfer three dimensions to a flat picture is something that all artists have struggled with, before and after an understanding of perspective was developed.  

My all time favourite painting is Meindert Hobbema's The Avenue at Middelharnis, (usually on display in the National Gallery, London).  I am not entirely sure what attracts me to this picture, though there is certainly something about the relaxed attitudes of the figures here and there in sight that bring a sense of ease.  And then there is the disappearing avenue with its wavering cart tracks....  

Anyway, it transpires that this is also one of Hockney's faves, and here he is paying his respect to the Old Master....

After Hobbema (Useful Knowledge). 2017

Again, it is not a copy, nor is it a clever reinterpretation.  It is a revisiting and a way of recognising the genius of the original.  Perhaps (?) it is like playing Bach on the piano - not how it was written to be, but a way to enjoy this in the modern age?

Another examination of perspective and vanishments is Le Parc des Sources, Vichy. 1970.  Here, an empty chair invites the onlooker to join Hockney's friends in admiring the distance.

And sure enough, we are soon wondering if we may join the party.....

I wish I was there.....

Hockey himself is very present in this exhibition.  There are videos of him explaining his work - notably one on the Camera Lucida - and there are panels which show the entire process of creation on his iPad.  This sequence shows just three moments in a continuum where the artist builds an impression of a riverside:


I tell you I love it.  In this age where darkness falls at dawn every day, it is uplifting to be reminded that there is light in life.  It is wonderful to engage with the artist in his enjoyment of a frosty lane as captured by nine cameras mounted on his car:

And it is magnificent to see his wide angle view of the Grand Canyon, where perspective becomes almost 180 degrees and colour is rainbow simplification....  

Somehow you can taste the aridity....

Grand Canyon I. 2017

Hockney himself also welcomes you to The Heong Gallery, where he is discussing oriental art by the gardens of Downing College:

While at the end of the hall I find Viewers Looking at a Readymade with Skull and Mirrors, 2018, an extraordinary invention of mirrored stillness.....

It's a picture that brings to mind Diego Velázquez's Las Meninas....

But that just goes to show how our eyes are connected to our brains and to our hearts.  As the exhibition notes suggest, We see things through the filters of memory and feeling....  And we are all different.

I do recommend this exhibition. When times are difficult, it is good to know there is another world..... And it is good not to dwell for a moment on which world is illusory.

*    *    *

All the artworks shown here, with the exception of Meindert Hobbema's The Avenue at Middelharnis, are copyright of David Hockney - I have taken the liberty of sharing them simply to encourage others to visit the exhibition and to admire, as I do, his art.  I have no financial or professional interest in this.

[Should anyone object to the use of these images I will immediately take them down, with apologies for my presumption.]

A shadow admires

Thank you David.....