Frank's Diary
What the Dickens!
 

SUNDAY 7th NOVEMBER ‘10

And with a bound, we are out and heading home in a taxi. Such joy!  Such jubilation!!

Thank you, hospital! Thank you doctors! Thank you nurses! Whether I am cured or not remains to be seen, but I am out and football free. Jubilate!!! Ring out the bells.

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SATURDAY 6th NOVEMBER ‘10

And still the football goes on. And on.

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FRIDAY 5th NOVEMBER ‘10

Life in hospital is talking football. How people ever get better on such a diet is beyond me.

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THURSDAY 4th NOVEMBER ‘10

Worst night I have ever spent? No doubt about it. With the shrieking woman dominant every second of the many many hours of darkness I opened my weary eyes to find myself staring at the cloth capped figure of one of Victor Sylvester’s family in the bed opposite.  Victor was a famous bandleader of my youth.

Fan though I was of  his grandfather I was not in a mood to join in the football talk that dominated the conversation that followed. I cannot, will not, tell you of the tedious hours that went by waiting for cups of tea and blood lettings.

Blood pressure here, blood pressure there…pant pant here, pant pant there…

The afternoon broken up by the appearance of my saint-like sister Locket, who arrived with clothes, books, toiletries and goodies. What a treasure!

The rest of the day was spent catching up on sleep. (Short breaths, naturally)

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WEDNESDAY 3rd NOVEMBER ‘10

Wow! I don’t know what happened but it was certainly fast and furious and involved my throwing up over the doctors surgery in Chipping Norton and terminated in this bed of the Horton Hospital in Banbury. 

I know now exactly how Alice must have felt as she was falling down the hole with all the spinning and stuff and it ain’t nice. And the ambulance crew, Snowy and Jock who asked me for my last three (service numbers) and referred to me by using them on the road to Banbury all suited the mood.) “ Over to you, Snowy.” “ Got it, Jock – hold on 262.” (I am 262)

What is wrong with me? Shortage of breath, is the one thing that is constant. I puff and pant like a panting hart approaching a cooling stream. It could be a stoppage or a blockage or merely an irritant.  It is a nuisance.

Anyway, with blood tests being taken at astonishing rates and pin pricks coming from all angles I am pushed into a scanner and given the works. Then I am left on a stretcher for hours. And some poor woman keeps screaming all night. My repeated demands to have her shut up were tempered by kindly nursing staff who pointed out she was in a distressed condition.

Damn the distressed condition. I’m in a distressed condition. We are all in a distressed condition. That’s why we are in a hospital. But I need a full eight hours.

I need to look bright eyed and bushy tailed first thing.

I have a public.

I have to look ready for my public.

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THURSDAY 28th OCTOBER ‘10

A new London newspaper was launched – either today or yesterday – The ‘i’ –or something, price 20p. I have heard nothing about this. I am surprised my agent has not mentioned it. With markets dwindling the way they are any new publishing venture has to be welcomed.

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WEDNESDAY 27th OCTOBER ‘10

Today the Guinness Book of Records confirmed I hold the World record for ‘the longest running daily strip cartoon by a single author.’ (Bristow started in 1961).

So it is tea and cakes all round. Let the festivities begin!

In the old days someone would have suggested that a coin be minted in my honour or someone like Elgar would have written something special and patriotic to celebrate the occasion but times have changed. I have a job walking down the road without people throwing stones.

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TUESDAY 26th OCTOBER ‘10

To Henley, to take haddock and leek fishcakes with Bernard ‘pass the mango’ Cookson on the banks of the Thames. And  throw stones in the water and curse the national paper that has been sitting on our strip for coming up to two years. Disgraceful.

And this time next week – thanks to the government who are determined that our clocks will be moved back or forward so that it will be dark in the middle of the afternoon – I will be driving back to Chipping Norton at this time.

Daft, I call it.

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SUNDAY 24th OCTOBER ‘10

Sunday is not my cup of tea these days. The newspapers are full of ‘Come Dancing’ and "The X factor". Mostly about Cheryl Cole, or whatever her name is. She is everywhere. I turn on this – I open that – Cheryle Cole. I don’t even know what she does, but everyone says she is terribly brave.  She always seems close to tears, poor thing.

In earlier days Sunday was the day of the week. Sunday was wind blowing in the hair and the whirring of wheels. The club run. I was the Unity CC. runs captain for a while.  I wore the badge with pride.  I carried the whistle that controlled the pack. Peep! Peep! Peep!  Peep!  Those were the days. The days of stopping at Mac’s café on the Bath Road and asking for ‘fifty beans on toast’. The surprising reply – “will that be fifty beans on one piece of toast?” from Bluto behind the counter. Peep! Peep! They don’t grow men like that any more.

Mac’s café was a railway carriage that had been converted into a cycling Mecca. Fifty beans on toast was nothing to a place like that. It had a huge teapot on the roof. Huge. Six feet high. Grey metal (looked like tin).

Unhappy sequel. One day I mislaid both badge and whistle and naturally was replaced as runs captain by an inferior man. The club was never the same.

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FRIDAY 22nd OCTOBER ‘10

To London in sunshine and in no particular hurry, listening to Gilbert and Sullivan. Great stuff. Tiddley om pom always gets me going.

I am visiting my sister Locket and her husband Henry, who live on Barnet Hill. He is a fanatical football fan and I have no doubt we shall be discussing the Loony that is Rooney while I am there. Not my cup of tea, I am afraid. Dixie Dean is the man for me. Now there was a footballer. He was my grandfather’s favourite – or was it my grandfather’s grandfather? I forget. Everton. Don’t set me off…I am afraid as I grow older I am turning into one of those old guys that mutter into their beards and leave sentences incomplete. Did I ever see Dixie play? I can’t remember. It was the twenties.  According to U-tube he seemed to spend a lot of time kicking the ball over his shoulder which made him a threat at either end. It is of no  importance.

No sooner have I arrived than Locket has whisked me off to Tesco’s to buy a microwave. I have never been to a Tesco before. Holy mackerel! 
And a microwave obtained.

And in the evening to the cinema. Michael Douglas. A “Wall Street” spin off. Hopeless. As we left the cinema at midnight people were queuing for the next performance.

Different world.

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WEDNESDAY 20th OCTOBER ‘10

I’m glad I’m not a TV critic.  I have just been watching – for the last time, I fear, the dreadful One show. I would have people throwing themselves off bridges and in front of trains every day to avoid the punishment I would be dishing out. A pen steep’d in vitriol, that’s the sort of criticism they’d get from me. I’d call myself something angry, like “Warlord”.

When I was growing up we watched a programme that went out at the same time as ‘Rubbish One’ It was called “Tonight”. It was produced I think by someone called Jack Gold and compared with the rubbish I have just watched it was sensational. It had no studio audience and those in charge were normal people – not the whimpering simpering preening bunch we saw poncing around ‘on the sofa’ today.

‘On the sofa’ indeed! They should get them off their backsides and shove them down the mines – show them what it’s like in the real world.

Or failing that – send in a gunboat.

Yours faithfully

WARLORD

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MONDAY 18th OCTOBER ‘10

Question: What was I, a King among men, doing, crouched up on a freezing gallery above the National Film Theatre, on the Southbank after ten o clock this evening?

The answer – I was trying to take an art photograph of my sister Pamela, who had somehow got involved with the Avivar Big Picture project with a disposable camera.

The Avivar is a scheme where money is given to needy children of different countries worldwide by the Avivar people and involves members of the British public sending in pictures of themselves, these pictures to be shown on a huge (Skyscraper size) screen for the world to gaze up and admire.

Strictly entre-nous I have often fancied myself as a kind of David Bailey figure and when Pam told me of this caper I was up for it immediately. My sister’s face large and framed against the twinkling lights of London – even the big wheel. What a picture that would make - and the  moment had arrived! It was go! go! go! time.

Unfortunately – and this is why I will never be a Bailey or a Donavan -  I lack the missing ingredient without which no one can ever aspire to greatness. I cannot remember where anything is. And in this case the object sorely needed was my digital camera. That faithful recorder of time was lost somewhere in the confusion that is my flat.No matter. (It is easy to say ‘no matter’ in the heat of the moment. But ‘no matter’ is a rather pointless thing to say when it is to do with the lack of a tool of the trade – a thought that has just come home to me). It is every matter. No picture means no Bailey.

Anyway, to London and the walk over Hungerford Bridge to the gallery. And a Kiss-me-quik camera purchased en route. No problem. (It is easy to say ‘no problem’ once again. But there is a problem with the disposable – and since it is a problem that involves speed and reflexes it has to be faced. No speed and reflexes means no picture = no Bailey.) In the course of a highly eventful life I have been photographed myself on occasions by top people and it is simply click! click! click! click! Easy peasy. Hundreds of clicks! Thousands of clicks who cares?

But with a Kiss-me-quik it is a different scene. Chalk and cheese stuff. With a Kiss me quick it is click! wind! wind! wind! wind! There is no end to the winding. And the reflexes, honed to perfection, make the situation worse. The cratchetting or cranking noise of the film as it travels over the sprockets within the apparatus is interminable. A plastic crackle crackle crackle click!… the noise is with me still. No one’s fault. These things are meant to be. Fact of life.

So, after an Italian meal (PIZZA) and a trip up to the roof I get the picture. You can imagine. Well – you can’t. I don’t think I even got the lights of London. I don’t know what I got. It was cold up there. I was all fingers and thumbs and panic. And the plastic wind on. So much I wanted to say. So much getting away.  And I have to wait for the film to be developed. Damn! Damn! damn!

Only one thing is certain.

Bye, bye, Bailey.

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THURSDAY 14th OCTOBER ‘10

As a mark of respect towards the Chilean miners I had intended to breakfast on rice, chicken and yoghurt but the familiar snap crackle and pop! emanating from the bowl of crispies heaped high upon my plate put paid to that idea – and with the thought of the croissant and marmalade awaiting me on the boulevard I have decided that my homage can wait for another day. I have a waistline to think of, remember.

I am aware that with Winter approaching and my last season’s gear proving woefully inadequate already (my banana sized fingers are crying out for larger gloves, for example) I will be forced to dig deep into my resources to retain the heat caused by downing numerous cups of beetroot soup. (The micro wave is playing up – I shall have to watch that!)

Pass the black pepper, please….

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WEDNESDAY 13th OCTOBER ‘10

Tonight I watched the vastly overpaid British footballers playing against some equally boring team and was surprised (not really surprised, for we had the same set up that we had when we were trounced in the World Cup) to realize we have learned nothing from our defeat in that competition. Millions of pounds spent on what? We are still no good.

Still chuckling I stayed up to watch the men being pulled out of the Chilean mine. Change of mood. Dramatic stuff. And well handled by the Media.

Drama closer to home when I went downstairs this morning and found one of the black wheeliebins (black is for garden rubbish) has gone AWOL. I do not have garden rubbish. There is never garden rubbish. There is no room. The garden is too full of wheeliebins. I felt as a bird must feel when one of the eggs in the nest goes missing. It does not affect one but a mental note is made.

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MONDAY 11th OCTOBER ‘10

I am sitting here watching TV. Boring, boring, boring.

I am going out on a limb here, but I cannot stand any of the current TV presenters. Nary a one. And when they are replaced – as they sometimes are – they are replaced by wait for it -  clones. More idiots. Where do they find them? The men are usually one-time comedians who live on another planet and the women – waste of time and space. On a kinder note I suppose they are not to blame themselves for being kissy kissy morons who need to eat - I blame the people who are running the media. Where do they find THESE people?  

How do they get into a position where they can pick and choose who is to front what? Who was it, for example, ever picked Jonathan Ross for anything? I mean anything? Or Simon Dee?  Or - names are winging their way into my head. Hundreds of names. Thousands of names. I had better stop before I go down this road....

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MONDAY 4th OCTOBER ‘10

To the theatre – attracted by the poster outside.

From where I sit in my flat I have  - and my right elbow hits it regularly as I sit at my computer, I have a large framed poster of comedian Jacques Tati on the wall. It is a yard high and two feet across. It is a poster advertising his film “Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday” It is a prized possession.

The poster outside the Chipping Norton theatre showed a picture painted  - presumably by the same artist – of Jacques Tati in a film called “The Illusionist”. I have seen all Tati’s films There are only two worth mentioning. “Jour de Fete” and the aforementioned “Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot.”

Of “The Illusionist” I knew nothing. I simply gaped. And went in.

It was a film based on some jottings he made before he got around to making “Monsieur Hulot.” The lead character (utterly brilliant) was a cartoon character of himself in Edinburgh. He played a magician. It was a rather sad little story, but the cartoon figure was stunning.

One would have to be a lifelong fan to appreciate how good it was. I am such a fan. I loved the thing.

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FRIDAY 1st OCTOBER ‘10

Lunch with a hale and hearty Bernard, newly returned from his villa in Crete. We discussed our various projects over lunch (haddock fishcakes with a piquant sauce) on the Thames. We see a rosy future.

Got home late afternoon and because of this missed seeing Gyles Brandreth at the local theatre. I was looking forward to seeing him. 

I enjoyed his diaries.

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THURSDAY 23rd SEPTEMBER ‘10

Older readers will recall those aerial newsreels of Adolf Hitler addressing the massed followers from his balcony – and a not too dissimilar picture presents itself as I look down on the massed dustbins that stand in the front garden of my accommodation in Chipping Norton. They certainly impart a feeling of power and I like it. (I click my heels more than I did before their installation.)

On the work front there is still no news from the newspaper that has been holding on to our strip “Two too many” for 20 months.

20 months! Our agent is still optimistic. More so than I. I think he is out of his mind.

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TUESDAY 21st SEPTEMBER ‘10

The addition of a further half-dustbin has added to the massed ranks of grey wheelybins that stand in rows on the tiny plot of land that serves as a garden in Albion Street. Six bins for three flats. And the half dustbin (no wheels or label) is presumably for show. The massed receptacles stand next to the gas meters fixed to the walls of the house.

No medals for next year’s ‘Spring in Oxfordshire’ title.

But we are jaw-droppingly clean.

And clearly labelled DOMESTIC and GARDEN.

So that’s all right, then.

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MONDAY 20th SEPTEMBER ‘10

The fair, as usual, disappeared without trace. Pffft! Just like that.The prices charged were very high. £2.50 to ride on anything.

I stayed away, being nervous of the people who are connected with these things. As a child I had a fear of being kidnapped, stained with walnut juice and forced to travel round the country as a barker on a carousel. Shades of Billy Biggelow.

But they are gone and all is well.

Today I went into the library and asked for something by Somerset Maughan.

“Is it a book?”  asked the assistant.

“No, “I replied. “ It’s the name of a famous author.”

She shook her head.

“No, we’ve got nothing by who did you say?”

This is our public library. The mind boggles.

The reason for my asking is that I read his life story yesterday – and very interesting it is too. I wanted to remind myself of his writing.

Thwarted, I crossed the road to the antique bookseller.

“ We have a first edition of “ The razor’s edge at £600,” I was told.

At a third shop I was able to order “ Cakes and Ale” at £7. 99.

Delivery tomorrow. Phew!

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FRIDAY 17th SEPTEMBER ‘10

Life in Chipping Norton is back to normal. The sun rises daily on a place of peace and quiet. The dogs bark softly and the cattle low gently. All is well.

Except that yesterday, with a crash bang wallop, the fair arrived.

Citizens found  that the town centre was covered in Whizzers and Zoomers and things that went up and down and down and round and round and Las Vegas has nothing on this, believe me. My mind is still reeling with the suddenness of it all. One minute THAT – the next minute THIS – oh dear, I am quite out of breath – I really must sit down on something that doesn’t try and whisk me off somewhere.

The truth is that age has silently crept up on me and does not suit. I could, in some lights, even be taken for a little old man. The beard is not as fearsome as it once was and the raven black hair is now hoary (is that a suitable word? It’s something to do with a frost, I believe). All I crave now is a little chair and table on the boulevard where I can take my croissant and marmalade in peace – and I get a space rocket jetting past at the speed of light – leaving behind the smell and feel of Cotswold electricity – holy mackerel! 

That last one nearly took my hat off!

Let’s get the hell back indoors…

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TUESDAY 14th SEPTEMBER ‘10

As I take my daily croissant and marmalade on the boulevard I smile benignly at the finished manuscript of my latest literary offering –“ The  Golden Guy” – yet another in my fusillade of fast moving thrillers.

Great stuff. Ideal to absorb over breakfast.

Bernard, my partner in “Two Too Many” (the cartoon strip that has been held by a national newspaper for eighteen months while they make up their mind whether to take it or not) has jetted off to his villa in Crete leaving me to look after the fort.

I am doing the best I can – and finding it difficult with having to watch the Vuelta and the ‘Tour of Britain’ cycle race every day.

More marmalade, por favor.

Thenk you!

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SUNDAY 12th SEPTEMBER ‘10

To Chipping Norton and the sun is shining. It is a lovely afternoon and I am stopped somewhere near Telford eating a meat pie and watching these two ducks on a canal. A boy duck and a girl duck. Just fooling around. Sort of flirting. Innocent fun. Very nice. Sort of thing that puts a smile on one’s face.

Then – from nowhere, the bad guy – another male duck. Hey, what’s this? He wants to fool around as well. We now have three ducks swimming around.

Do I sense needle coming from the original male duck? I think I see needle. He keeps cutting off the new guy when the punk gets too close to the girlfriend. There is something going on here. There is resentment. The good guy does not like the intruder, who seems to be swimming around aimlessly. The original guy is now getting shirty. Almost bristly. As I watch he swims towards the other guy. Aggression here, definitely. But there is no trouble. The intruder simply ups and flies away.
Just like that.

No problem. And he is gone, leaving the original pair to themselves. Everything is fine.
Or is it?
She is unsettled. She is not happy. And the boyfriend is aware of this. He sort of swims around.

And then, without so much as a ‘by your leave’ she takes off. She is gone.
He is – what’s the word? Vexed. The exact word. Vexed.
I am still watching this.  I am riveted. All human life is there.

And then, to my astonishment, he smacks his wing on the  surface of the water – as I would have done in his place.
Smack! It goes.
He then turns his back on me and paddles away. Is it my imagination or is he swimming with his teeth clenched? It certainly appears that way.

But it is a golden afternoon  and there is lots of flickering and dappling and sparkling water and I could easily be mistaken…

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SATURDAY 11th SEPTEMBER ‘10

CHESTER.

Everything went to plan. The scheming worked. The best laid plans fell into place with nary a hitch. The secret party was a success. Amazing. Seventy–odd people turned out in their finery and danced and sang till the small hours. Great fun.

Because Tim has a singing group – ‘Interlude,’ (who were there and entertained) there was an emphasis on music. I found myself on the same table as  Faye and Mark, who plays jazz  piano and likes Fats Waller. When one has no musical skills at all one is reduced to tucking into the curry – so I did just that.

Scrumptious.   
A great evening.

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FRIDAY 9th SEPTEMBER ‘10

Sssh! Mum’s the word. A day of secrecy and plotting over the birthday party being held for Tim tomorrow in Chester Golf Club. He is unaware of this and it is a dinner jacket affair. It is being organised by his sons – keep it to yourself, but I am staying in a hotel round the corner.

Tim is a piano tuner and we have known each other a long time.

Who can forget our sparkling double act at the Hackney Empire – ‘Frank Dickens and friend’?

(SAMPLE JOKE: I hope you have a good memory – you’ve got the dressing room without the mirror).

Those were the days indeed.

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THURSDAY 8th SEPTEMBER ‘10

On the way back to Chipping Norton called on Bernard in Henley to discuss the work situation. No news, of course.

Highly frustrating. We lunched on the Thames in Wargrave, waving at the boats as they sailed past, full of laughing people.

“ That should be us,” said Bernard.

I snarled.

What’s to be said?

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WEDNESDAY 7th SEPTEMBER ‘10

To London in a boring plane from which nothing cold be seen except cloud. And ended up having to queue for forty minutes to show my passport to get into my own country. Disgraceful. Absolutely disgraceful. They should bring in a gunboat.

But the damage repaired by a delightful supper with sister Pam and brother Michael, Pam is looking after him since he had a back operation last week. It is many moons since the three of us sat round a table. Lots to talk about. Mike spends most of the year in Portugal.

So -  the end of a very pleasant three weeks holiday, then, and quite a lot of work to show for it.

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TUESDAY 6th SEPTEMBER ‘10

MADRID.

Tonight we dined at the place with the big umbrellas. Good place. 
Lots of huge umbrellas. We ate outside. Fish, fish, fish. 
Scrumptious. In my mind I am beginning to look like a fish. A King Prawn, possibly. (King prawn noises off).

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FRIDAY 3rd SEPTEMBER ‘10

MADRID.

To Eduardo Scissorhands for a tonsorial treat. Moving lightly  around the shop among the latest copies of “Hallo!” magazine he plies his trade in a silence broken only by the busy snip! snip! of his golden scissors. This guy is a giant in Barberland. Celebrities sit quietly awaiting their turn. Naturally I get the full treatment. He and Carlos are old friends. I get the latest feedback from the street. It is all over my head (JOKE).

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TUESDAY 31st AUGUST ‘10

MADRID.

The weather has calmed down somewhat and is just about perfect. The restaurant across the road knows I am becoming a regular and I am being given the VIP treatment. I can work there in my new multi-multi pocketed shorts quite comfortably.

Regarding the work it is to me astonishing that although we are in the process of finally showing the new strip to other newspapers we are still awaiting a reply from the national who have held onto it for eighteen months.

The Vuelta is not as interesting as usual. The top riders are not riding and it is not the same without the stars. And T.V. coverage has been reduced. But hold on - my daughter Julia has discovered a link that ties up T.V with my computer and I can get the race all day! Clever stuff. 
Well done Julia.

To an Italian restaurant  in a huge shopping arcade miles out of town. I ordered Angel hair spaghettinni – I was given tagliatelli. 
Most disappointing.

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MONDAY 30th AUGUST ‘10

MADRID.

We left Valencia at 6.30h and Carlos was in his office in Madrid at nine.

The dawn was breathtaking. I was munching Athlete’s Bars (a mixture of crispy wheat slices and currants) as the sun came up. It was good to be alive and bounding with energy.

Breakfast taken in the restaurant across the road without any mention of ice cream. (I know when to draw the line.)

Watched today’s stage of the Vuelta in HD. Fantastic.

Tonight, to a strange and crowded restaurant that could have stepped out of a ‘Godfather’ film. It had a fully functional indoor bowling green at the rear and the many chromium tables and chairs were set out in the garden. A wedding celebration was in full swing and there were a great many unruly children roaming around. I watched amazed as an elderly waiter cuffed a kid who had wiped ice cream on his (the waiter’s) trousers. At the other end of the garden there was a stage of some sort, where presumably entertainment took place. We three ate large sardines and I finished up with a lemon cornetto. A meal to be remembered.

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SUNDAY 29th AUGUST ‘10

VALENCIA.

We have a new gazebo on the roof. You want to sit in the shade you pull the curtains. You want to roast in the sun you sit outside. I like a bit of each so I am running around all day. You want to watch the Vuelta? First floor. Football? Second floor. I like a bit of each – so I am running up and down all day. Round and round , up and down
- tiring work, this being on holiday.

And I still haven’t started on the painting. Every time I make a start something calls me back to the novel. The novel is looking good. The painting simply a few daubs.

And we are leaving to return to Madrid in the morning!

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SATURDAY 28th AUGUST ‘10

VALENCIA.

The Vuelta starts today. Years ago the firm that Carlos works for, Alcatel, used to sponsor this event in the cycling calendar and we (Carlos and I) were driven through the centre of Madrid with a police escort with sirens blazing. Not so today. Since his firm were taken over by a Chinese company they have severed their relationship with the sport and we watched the start of this year’s event in Seville with mixed feelings. To my annoyance it was a team time trial of which I do not approve and it started near midnight – a gimmick and a disaster, I feel. Times change.

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FRIDAY 27th AUGUST ‘10

VALENCIA.

Further to my comments of yesterday regarding the temperature I must report that at six o clock this evening I had forty three degrees hurled at me as I stepped from the car after another three hour epic drive from Madrid. Forty three is hot. Very hot.

At this time in the evening? –  holy barbecue! But the pool was good.

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THURSDAY 26th AUGUST ‘10

MADRID.

I am becoming more and more interested in the temperature, something I have never bothered about. Since Spain seems to be up there with the worlds best (highest) at the moment I am wondering what it feels like to have forty five degrees coming at me from all sides. I shall find out tomorrow when we leave for Valencia. It has been in the forties there for some time.

I intend to get down to some painting.

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WEDNESDAY 25th AUGUST ‘10

MADRID.

Hotter and hotter. Today we took the Smart car for it’s MOT.

Twenty minutes later we rolled off what could have passed for an assembly line and drove back home. I like the Smart. Have they caught on in England? I don’t think so - but living in Chipping Norton I would be one of the last to know.

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TUESDAY 24th AUGUST ‘10

MADRID.

What’s to be done? With the temperature expected to be in the forties by the weekend and the ice cream shop still churning out the scrumptious, what’s a feller supposed to do?

Eat your way out of trouble, is what my mother used to say, and I’m sticking to her rules.

After watching an episode of “Seinfeld” I waddle across the road and then I waddle back and watch another episode. Occasionally I lower myself into the pool.

What a holiday.

I love it.

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MONDAY 23rd AUGUST ‘10

MADRID.

Shall I call it Nirvana? I have just found out that the new restaurant across the street is, in fact, an ice cream parlour which stocks as many flavours of the delectable and deliciously exciting stuff as there are stars in the sky.

I have only tried the banana and coconut so far but I am sure the best is yet to come, as Mr. Sinatra puts it.

So today I ate, swam, worked, ate, swam, worked and am getting ready for supper.

Yum! yum!

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SUNDAY 22nd AUGUST ‘10

MADRID.

Beautiful weather – and here we are, looking down from my seat at the Ninth. Lots of recent rain means the course is much greener than in years past and looks in great shape – far different from the rather elderly athletes who are trying to make their par in patterned ankle socks. (patterned ankle socks are completely unacceptable to me, they are as bad as the black socks worn by Lance Armstrong in this year’s Tour de France).

Musing, as one does over a mouthful of plum cake (obtained from the clubhouse) comes natural to me. Today I am pondering on growing older. One of the good things – possibly the only good thing about ageing is that with the years goes the worry of winning or losing – something that seemed important to me when I was young and vital.

Nowadays, results do little for me. Some win, some lose. It is as simple as that. Does it matter? To those involved, of course. To me – nah! Those domino players in Siguenza yesterday, slamming their dominoes down on the table were still fiercely competitive. But growing old gracefully is much more my scene. As Alan Jay Lerner wrote:

“How lovely to sit here in the shade

With none of the woes of man or maid

I’m glad that I’m not young any more.”

This does not mean I have given up anything – quite the contrary, in fact, but means there is no longer the dash there was.

Doddering is more my cup of tea. Doddering becomes me. The white beard bobbing up and down against the scarlet face reminds me of one of the Seven Dwarves. I like it.

“Heigh ho! Heigh ho! It’s off to sleep we go…”

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SATURDAY 21st AUGUST ‘10

MADRID.

The face, neck, chest and shoulders not as bad as they might have been.  The legs, feet and ankles relatively unscathed.

To the mountains, then, in perfect weather, where the medieval village of Medinaceli (altitude: 1200 metres) were celebrating their Annual Medieval Market day. Lots of medieval people roaming about dressed in medieval costume selling up to date gear. An outing for the family, one would have said. An excellent lunch in a very good restaurant (cod for me, Julia and Carlos had steaks that fell apart at the touch of a fork).

And an afternoon off the beaten track. Instead of coming back on the main roads we took to wandering the back doubles. Seventy five miles of winding lanes and picturesque villages, stopping to look at churches – in Siguenza, even a cathedral. In the same town we sat in the main square under the trees watching lots of old men in suits with waistcoats play dominoes, which they did with much serious clattering of the ivories.

Sacre bleu! Where is my easel? Where are my colours?

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FRIDAY 20th AUGUST ‘10

MADRID.

Some bright guy I turned out to be. Some seasoned traveller. With the temperature of thirty-five degrees I fell asleep in the sun on the first day of my holiday!

Boiled lobster is the description that applies.

Sitting by the pool, too.

Breakfast was taken in the new café across the street, a stroll to the park down the road – and then to the pool. ZZZZZZZZZZZ! Sizzle sizzle. Crazy, non?

Feeling like the main guy in “Phantom” I fled to my room to fashion some kind of mask. No use. Even a repeat showing of a “Seinfeld” 
episode on TV. could cheer me up.

Turn those lights out, if you please. Roll on tomorrow.

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THURSDAY 19th AUGUST ‘10

MADRID.

Here we are, snug and sound in the country that holds the World Cup and where the evening is warm and pleasant. A journey on a plane full of returning Spaniards with lots of children. Surprisingly well behaved children. No shouting and screaming from these kids. These children knew their place and gazed respectfully down through their windows at the motherland coming up fast.

My newly framed picture awaited me in my room. ‘The running of the bulls in San Fermin’. It is possible that in years to come, when bullfighting stuff is banned I will be referred to as ‘the Englishman who painted bulls’ and there will be documentaries about my life and times. I will be played by Stephen Fry, of course. By then he will have played every person and done everything there is to do. (The other day I watched him at Alexander Palace talking darts and a couple of nights ago he was on a yacht on the High seas chasing Blue whales – in between he was on a panel game. Yes, Stephen is the man to play the guy who painted bulls.

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WEDNESDAY 11th AUGUST ’10

It is mid morning and I am writing this in Leicester Square. I am taking coffee and pretending I am wealthy, live in Central London and am going walkabout prior to lunching at my club. It is pleasantly warm. Lots of tourists about. If they come too close to my table I shake my stick at them. (I don’t really, but it fits the dream).

In reality today I am lunching in Covent Garden, where the Pedal Club have, as their Guest of Honour, ‘King’Alf Engers, the cycling pastrycook and legend, who, in the eighties and nineties ruled our world. I am looking forward to seeing him again.

Lunch over, (Alf failed to show up – not really surprisingly – that is the way he is) I am making my way back to the car park where I left the Kaisermobile (impossible to find space in a couple of those I tried on the way in – raising the question what will happen in a few year’s time?)

Later still. I am in a traffic jam on the A44. We have been here half an hour. Roadworks. I shake my stick at drivers of other cars who look my way. In my mind I am still in Leicester Square.

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TUESDAY 10th AUGUST ’10

To Barnet, to spend the night at my sister Locket’s place, taking no notice of the M25 but settling for the North Circular instead.

Three accidents in the first few miles (one a five car pile-up) showed me I sometimes take leave of my senses.

But a visit to the cinema to see “Toy Story 3” redeemed my faith in humanity. The fact that it was in 3-D did nothing for it. There is no need for gimmicks if the story is good. This was  very good. Far and away the best film this year (and they let you keep the glasses!).

I recall going to see Diana Dors, I think it was, in 3D many years ago. The spectacles provided then were tinted green and red, to the best of my memory. They were cardboard and  amateur. They were hopeless. The latest are marvellous. I yelled and sobbed with the rest of the kids. I was thrown all over the cinema. I emerged a sadder and wiser man.

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FRIDAY 6th AUGUST ‘10

To an excellent lunch at the National Portrait Gallery with fellow cartoonists Bernard Cookson, Christian Adams  of the Daily Telegraph and hosted by Rick Brookes of Metro.  My plaice was superb. Thank you Rick.

Afterwards to the delightful O’Shea Gallery in St. James to look at Annie Tempest’s latest works and then to Chris Beetle for his Summer Exhibition. A good and interesting day.

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WEDNESDAY 21st JULY ‘10

Stand by your beds – we are on Sky World! The real meaning of this has not come home to me yet, but the transition (to use the new ‘in’ word) has been made, thanks to my daughter and Nick Bell, he of the delightful one-time post office in Upton. Thank you. Thank you, thank you.

Secure in the knowledge that I have Mr. Rupert Murdoch’s support I can now speak freely on subjects hitherto ignored and will take advantage of this. You betcha! Regular readers will note my style is suddenly more punchy – the word ‘betcha!’ is not a word I generally use.

Anyway, my transferring from BT to Sky has saved me money and given me fee telephone calls all over the place. And I’ve the fastest Internet in the world.

Nja nja ni nja na’

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TUESDAY 20th JULY ‘10

A week of tousled activity involving trips to London on consecutive days, and using both car and coach. It even involved a trip to see Peter Knight, agent to the Stars, and culminated with a meal in a luxury restaurant of his choosing. Holy mackerel! Such food is seldom seen.

One might assume that something big was happening. That possibly the national newspaper that has been holding on to our comic strip for eighteen months had come to a decision – but no! Nothing so life changing as that. We were, in fact, preparing the strip to be shown to other newspapers. This takes up time and money. It should have been done a year ago.

Whilst in the Metropolis I put myself about a bit, attending this function and that function (lots of chandeliers and intellectual chit chat) and enjoyed myself no end. I even wore a suit at times.

Crazy,non?

P.S. Remind me never to travel by coach to London on a Saturday morning. Horrendous.

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MONDAY 12th JULY ‘10

To Henley in the all singin’ all dancin’ Kaisermobile (Perry Como my choice today) to lunch with the Monday crowd. It is the first time I have seen Bernard since his pacemaker was fitted. Slightly disappointed to find he looks exactly the same.

We discussed at length the national newspaper that has been holding on to our comic strip “Two too  many” for eighteen months without reaching a decision as to it’s future. But these discussions all end up the same – nowhere, I am all for getting it back and trying other newspapers, but our agent, for reasons best known to himself, is not keen on the idea and has not been keen for the whole eighteen months. 
Crazy, non?

(For no special reason I shrugged my shoulders as I wrote crazy, non – I wonder if everyone does it?)

The Tour de France has, of course, been taking up a lot of my time. Eurosport have been rather good in its coverage. Readers of my diary will have noticed that my forecast of Spain winning just about everything going is uncanny – it’s a gift I have. We only need Contador to win the Tour and I have achieved a Triple Whammee!

A sporting triple whammee – and I know nothing about sport.

Crazy, non? (ouch!)

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FRIDAY 2nd JULY ‘10

The death of novelist Beryl Bainbridge today saddens me. I lived near her in Camden Town and used to see her in the Delancey restaurant. It was a place where the unlikeliest people suddenly showed up. (Larry Adler, the maestro of the mouth organ was another regular. He told me he played the piano better than the instrument for which he was world
famous.)

Beryl was, to my mind, always more ‘showbiz’ than author. I offered her the part of the tea lady in the ‘Bristow’ radio series, which I was writing at that time. She was enthusiastic but told me I needed to ask her publishers. I spoke with them but they said they would rather her finish the book she was writing. Beryl shrugged when I informed her of this but I could see she was very disappointed. The book, " Every Man for Himself' (about the 'Titanic') went on to win acclaim and the Whitbread award.

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MONDAY 28th JUNE ‘10

I have decided that Spain is the country to win the World Cup, the Spaniard Nadal for Wimbledon and his fellow countryman Contador the Tour de France - so, Spain is King! And having delivered these judgements I can enjoy my breakfast croissants in peace. For some strange reason I have taken to devouring these flakey confections lately on a regular basis, so morning finds me at a table on the Chipping Norton boulevard munching away like Billy- ho. (Don't forget the blackcurrant jam!).

Yum! yum!

And I am still awaiting for Sky to do something about the phone package. It was supposed to have been carried out on the 4th of this month. So far - nothing. Rather surprising. They have taken the money, after all.

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SUNDAY 27th JUNE ‘10 (Finally got the date right, Birthdays always throw me into a spin)

What a busy bee I am! From Barnet to Epsom via a zig zag route known only to myself (not so clever, this – it took me hours and seemed to involve my crossing and recrossing the Thames on a number of occasions) but I made it in time to devour a prawn lunch and tell Pam (my other sister) exactly the kind of socks I want. (Pam has taken to knitting socks. Her flat is a blaze of colour)

And from there, fortified by prawns in garlic sauce, to Chipping Norton, where I arrived in time to hear that England were out of the World Cup. Can’t say I am surprised – I thought they were a lousy team anyway.

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SATURDAY 25th JUNE ‘10

To London, to celebrate my sister’s birthday, in a Kaisermobile enlivened by Bing Crosby singing a selection of old favourites.

My kind of music this. Clever and witty words. And I like Bing. I met him once. I was accompanying Michael Ffolkes, the cartoonist, who went to Camden Town to draw a caricature of Bing for the magazine “Punch”. Crosby explained he was not allowed to have a drawing made for contractual reasons. Ffolkes got round this by drawing Bing from the rear, so that only the famous Crosby ears and pipe were visible. It was unmistakeably Bing Crosby. “Punch” used it, of course.

So I was in a good mood when I arrived in Barnet, and stayed in that mood for the whole weekend. Lots of football. I mean lots.

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TUESDAY 22nd JUNE ‘10

To the garage, where the Kaisermobile strolled through the MOT tests with consummate ease. (It’s the way I drive).

Today I listened to the Bristow radio series, which has been running for the past couple of months. I find the programme quite funny. 

Certainly funnier than most of the stuff that is being put out these days. Making the recordings was a rather strange experience. They were all recorded in Bush House in Central London and  because I was not ‘showbiz’ I never considered myself part of the team. I was rather like ‘the Fying Dutchman’.I cannot remember a single occasion when I had a conversation with Michael Williams, the star of the show. He was seriously ill while we were doing the series and did not enjoy himself.

But, as I said earlier, I think they are funny. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

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SUNDAY 13th JUNE ‘10

The Unity lunch – in spite of the eight members that cancelled, highly successful, and the haddock toothsome, the one problem that remained for yours truly was the return journey without the use of the A43 (for some reason great sections of it closed and the sat nav is out of use at the moment). When I eventually reached Chipping Norton I had done over a hundred and forty miles! The actual distance is seventy something miles but the people that put out the ‘diverted traffic’ signs had apparently lost their sense of directions and gone home, leaving millions of us floundering around in the Midlands.

But I made it and celebrated by eating a box of Magnums. (‘One Magnum is never sufficient’). Yum, yum.

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SATURDAY 12th JUNE ‘10

To Stamford, through villages dressed up like dog’s dinners thanks to the World cup having started. Flags and bunting prevail.  I am afraid I don’t think much of our chances.

And staying at Tone the Tailor’s palatial residence finding it difficult to get to sleep with Abba belting it out at a packed Burghley House just down the  road (Bjorn Again!).

I am in this neck of the woods to attend the Unity C.C. lunch tomorrow. It should be fun. I am down for haddock.

Bettina has acquired another pug, all black, (the name forgotten) and this one and Pandora pair scurry around the place by a circuitous route every few minutes at breakneck speed. Tony - ever placid, watches them charge up and down the stairs with amusement. He and Bettina also have ducks that turn up for meals. They wait for their food by the pond that is so packed with fish it resembles the river Ganges on a religious holiday.

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WEDNESDAY 9 JUNE ‘10

The windscreen wipers on the Kaisermobile sorted out (did I mention they packed up on my way back from Wales over the weekend?) are now fully active again due to the raggle taggle gypsies O, I am looking forward to some rain to test them.

Maybe this weekend, when I will be attending the Unity Cycling Club’s lunch will provide the time and place.

At the moment, e’en as we we speak, I am having my telephone, T.V and Broadband replaced, having transferred from BT to Sky. I wait, with bated breath for this to ‘go live’ as the man says. This was scheduled to take place on the 4th June but things are falling behind. BT have not got there act together, says the Sky man. I am to hang on.

So I am hanging on.

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SATURDAY 5th JUNE ‘10

To Rhiwbina Hill, Cardiff in good weather, to attend the wedding of Alexander and Helen. Everything organized, everything as it should be. The marquee erected in the field opposite. The rolling countryside down to the town and the sea in the distance. Lots of familiar faces. Everything hunky dory then, until I caught sight of myself in one of the tall mirrors and the awful truth came home to me.

I look like a garden gnome.

Straight up. A garden gnome. Put me in the garden and you wouldn’t think I was a day visitor. Set me down where the upper lawn meets the lower and I would look as if I belonged.

It’s the beard that clinches things. Charlie the barber from Barnet’s handiwork has done what no other haircut has ever done. It has turned me into a figure of fun. A garden gnome, though. Admittedly, age and posture may have helped, but the overall impression was garden gnome. 

I’d pass as one in a line –up is what I’m saying and this hurts. 

Quite spoilt the day. I hardly touched my food and left before it was dark. The question I was asking as I drove to the bottom of the hill that leads out onto the M4 is – do those kind of mirrors – the really expensive mirrors ever lie? Does age cause them to warp and distort?  Tell me they do. Or maybe it was not the mirror but the light? It was late evening and we were on a hill. A very steep hill…the angle can make quite a difference…

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WEDNESDAY 2nd JULY ‘10

Eight o clock in the morning and a queue at the barbers – astonishing. Not for me, Luigi. Sorry. And then to London and the theatre – and with my sister Locket to the Cottesloe on the South Bank to see the worst play I have ever seen. Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish. Waste of time and space. ‘Love the Sinner’. How it ever got on is a mystery. I was bored with it from the moment the curtains went up. Anyway, we walked out at the interval and took a stroll along the Thames in beautiful weather which more than made up for the whatever it was we had left behind. Who picks ‘em? Who writes ‘em? I am not interested in the answers, incidentally.

And when we got back to Barnet I had my hair cut at Charlies. No queues at Charlies.

Myself well shaven and meticulously shorn we returned home to pick up Henry – (Locket’s husband recovering from a broken ankle) and sped to their special fish n’chip shop where we consumed gargantuan helpings of plaice, skate and (for me only) chocolate ice cream. Scrumptious..

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SUNDAY 23rd MAY ‘10

Today, sunny and warm I went for a drive. It is very pretty around Chipping Norton. The countryside has never looked lovelier. I sat on a rustic bench on the green in Kingham. Not a soul in sight.  Just down the road, at the Daylesford organic farm it was just the opposite. The car par full to overflowing.

I did not bother.

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THURSDAY 29th APRIL ‘10

Tonight I watched the debate on who should lead this country for the next five years and although I have watched all three programmes I was struck by the fact that there has been no mention of the illegal war that has claimed so many British lives. Not one question. Not even from grieving relatives. Why is this, I wonder? ? Does it mean no one apart from myself is interested?  Am I alone in thinking that the body bags  that have been returning to this country on an almost daily basis have been accepted as the norm?

Not one question.

Not even a mention.

How sad.

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MONDAY 19th APRIL ‘10

Just as Prime Minister Gordon Brown regards benignly over the antics of fellow competitors David Cameron and Nick Clegg as children who refuse to come indoors at bath time, so I regard the behaviour of the two Icelandic volcanos  Eyjafjallajokull (the other, we are informed, broods moodily but thankfully does nothing) as par for the course. Boys will be boys, etcetera.

I understand this. Upset that the Greens seemed to have ignored them they are drawing attention to themselves.

Fine.

But when they start messin’ with yours truly I say stop.

And I say stop - Right now! For the eruption business is  messin’ with my plans. I say my plans but I mean OUR plans – mine and Bernard’s. Bermard is the all singin' all dancin'  man who draws our new strip cartoon. Eyjafjallajokull has stopped us dead in our tracks.

To explain what is going on I must tell readers that the national newspaper that has been holding on to the aforementioned strip for fifteen months employs a man whose job is to look after cartoons. And he, thanks to the outpourings of the big E., is grounded in Turkey.

This is not good. We need the man back.

It is time to send in a gunboat.

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SUNDAY 11th APRIL ‘10

The day dawns bright and fair – and after haddock and poached eggs it is down to the river in ships. Yippee! Except in this case, ship – and – courtesy of an Oyster card, a ship belonging to the Corporation of London, our destination the Thames barrier. The Unity Cycling Club has forsaken the wheel for the wave. We never made the Barrier but chose to picnic in the park at Greenwich. Splendid stuff in good weather. Good, not great. But warm enough for me to sit on a seat and pant while others climbed the hill that led to the building on top of the hill that reminded me of the lighthouse in “ Shutter Island”, the worst film I have ever seen.

And on the return journey a photograph taken by fellow traveller shows me with a face good enough to be up there on Mount Rushmore. 

Noble, is the word. Not quite the only word. Austere is in there somewhere. Austere and noble. I like it.

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SATURDAY 10th APRIL ‘10

To London for the weekend, and tonight to the cinema with sister Locket. The film “Shutter Island”. The worst film I have ever seen. 
Don’t bother.

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FRIDAY 9th APRIL ‘10

In spite of repeated assurances from our agent that the national newspaper that has been holding our strip cartoon for fifteen months will shortly be making a decision, Bernard and I are still awaiting a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I am baffled, of course, as to why it is taking so long, but I am baffled by so many things these days that I accept being baffled as the norm.

Meanwhile life goes on and with an election coming up I find myself baffled on that front too.

How can a party that takes a country to an illegal war and is to blame for the number of bodies that arrive back on an almost daily basis be re-elected? How can they expect a single vote?

Baffled again.

On a lighter note but still baffled I went to see the film “A Single Man” and came out wondering why they had gone to the trouble of making it. I have never liked Isherwood and thought the film rather pointless.

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