This blog is in a state of suspended animation

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we don't it so much now, but once upon a time, i.e. a year or so ago, when alfie and i were sitting in cafes and he'd finished his apple juice and millionaire's shortbread we'd sometimes do what we called together pictures where we both had to draw simultaneously from either side of the notebook.

only when i was reading through the eyes of a child in the latest edition of tate etc. did i realise that together paintings have a short and honourable tradition...


this one's by pablo picasso, his children paloma and claude and his wife francoise gilot.

this one's by michel basquiat and cora bischofberger

i have been profoundly frightened of flying for a long time (about which i'm writing elsewhere at greater length). it's given me many undeserved greens points but it's stopped me seeing places and people i really must see before i die. i also hate the idea of having my life restricted by fear. If i'm not going to fly i want it to be a choice not a relief. to which end i've been grabbing the bull by the horns over the last year, with a lot of help from carol, tim, peter and others at aviatours and pilot flight training in oxford. unseen to my right is my instructor, john, and through the windscreen you can just about see the runway at kidlington airport. it was almost fun...



pilot flight training

i went to see one small step last night at the burton taylor rooms at the oxford playhouse with my kids. i saw it last year and it's still hilarious and ingenious and unexpectedy moving. it's two guys in a lumber room dramatising the history of the space race using lampshades and cardboard tubes and tins of spam. it's billed as kids' theatre but i think the adults in the audience enjoyed it even more than the kids. not least because its an inspired demonstration of what theatre does best - conjuring up other world's out of lampshades and cardboard and spam. the best  so-called kids' theatre i've seen since the young vic's tin tin in tibet.

they've also taken the show on the mst incredible world tour: sri lanka, georgia, armenia, azerbaijan, gaza strip, lebanon, morocco...




1. 24 marathons. jesus, the steely determination of the man. i'm horrified and jealous at the same time.

2. jenny saville. i've been looking at her paintings rather obsessively over the last couple of weeks. there is something near-magical about much of the work. in some paintings every single mark seems both a pure abstraction and an utterly faithful representation of a part of a body or a face, and as you look at the surface it seems to shimmer between these two things. and another kind of shimmer, too, between a a process which brings out the colours hiding in flesh, or some kind of physical injury. there is also something late rembrandt about the way she can do pretty much anything she wants with a stroke of paint. of course, from her point of view, the process probably feels nothing like that, just the usual grind of pushing a wet mattress upstairs that most art seems to involve... but the result feels touched by the hand of god.

3. the funniest thing i have ever heard on radio. and that includes the hitch-hiker's guide. my boys insist on hearing it repeatedly in the car, all three series. i complain that i've heard it way too many times already. then i give in and put it on i find myself laughing all over again.

4. i read this just after it won the t s eliot prize and simply didn't get it. which happens sometimes. or happens to me at any rate. the moon is in the wrong phrase, i've got my prose head on...  Last week i started reading it again and it's wonderful. and obviously wonderful. perhaps i'm just stupid.

while i'm on the subject of philip gross's poetry, this is engagingly odd, especially if you happen to be interested in electricity pylons:

i did a very brief reading at the oxfam shop on marylebone high st this morning as part of the 24 hour oxfam bookfest readathon. i assumed it would be impolite to read from my own work but esther freud read from her as-yet-unpublished new novel so i reholstered my silas marner and read from the red house the novel i'm writing at the moment and which, fortuitously, i had in my bag for editing on the hoof. the traffic on the high st and the comings and goings of customers proved a good test of whether it could hold people's attention, which it did. I'm about 30,000 words in and it finally has momentum, but it's been a long haul (i've just noticed a previous entry last december in which i announce cheerfully that i'm under way, so whatever i say should be taken with a pinch of salt). on the train on the way home i was perversely reassured by reading hermione lee's introduction to virginia woolf's the years in which she detailed the interminable, painful and tortuous genesis of the novel (impossible... eternal... incredibly dreary... my vomit... i'm so sick of it... never again... failure... failure).

here are two of the illustrations so far:




i've just finished teaching at arvon with william fiennes (see the first story link on the left and read the music room) at the lumb bank centre. teaching with will is always wonderful, we had fantastic students who produced some amazing pieces of writing and, on the final day, when the last tutorials were done, liz flanagan, one of the centre directors, drove us for a swim at lumb falls, which almost instantly became one of my favourite places. anywhere.

arvon @ lumb bank



swimming in the thames / the rise of the novel by ian watt / walking the dog by david hughes / longview estate darjeeling tea