(from the London Review of Books, 12/19, where he reads the entries.)
1 January 2019, Yorkshire. The New Inn, the village pub, always lays on a quarter of an hour of fireworks at midnight, which we can see if not actually from our bed then certainly from the bedroom window. Brushing my teeth this morning, I catch a glimpse of my New Year self and am depressed to see how depleted I’m looking, though not quite as much as Raymond Briggs, who’s pretty much my age, and a good documentary on whom we watched earlier yesterday evening. He’s almost two-dimensional, thinned to a knife blade. Still, he drives, which after the latest bout of arthritis in my ankle, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do.
7 January, Yorkshire. On the war memorial at Malham is the inscription:
Live thou for England
We for England died
I don’t know if this is a quotation, or an injunction that was, as it were, custom-made, but I find it – if only slightly – misplaced, and I don’t wholly concur, as the sentiment reduces what was a sacrifice to more of a bargain: we did this for you, now see you do your bit in return by living in a way the dead might have approved (whatever that might be). It’s an admonition, which I don’t like, but war memorials often take this finger-wagging tone. ‘Do better.’
8 January. My six-monthly aorta scan at University College Hospital. Due at 12.30 I’m early, so that by 12.45 I’m back home. It’s a model service, today’s radiographer a bearded young man who asks about Allelujah!, and shows me the screen and how he measures the width of my (quite small) aneurysms. Good young medics always cheer me and offer hope, not for my future but for the world in general.
19 January. Wake this morning thinking of a line that I’ve always remembered Burt Lancaster delivering in a costume drama. Caught out after curfew, he says: ‘I am apothecary Manzoni on an errand of mercy for the Sisters.’ What the film was I’ve no idea. The Crimson Pirate? Doubtless some LRB-reading cinema buff even sillier than I am will be able to tell me.
26 January. We are comfortably ensconced in our Weekend First seats at King’s Cross when John Bercow comes along the platform. Not quite the elegant, slightly flamboyant figure one sees in the Commons, he’s in a scruffy suede jacket and, according to the trolley attendant, sitting in standard class, where he is happy to have a conversation about Brexit and related matters. I’m hoping he will come down the train at some point, when I’d shake his hand and say how much of the country is with him. However, when we get to Grantham, my eye is taken by an old man with an enchanting blond Labrador, and now Bercow comes along the platform and the dog makes a great fuss of him, the old man equally delighted.
9 February. This evening we watch the much vaunted The Favourite, which is good if a bit – and perhaps deliberately – casual about period details and language, ‘letters’ becoming ‘mail’ and (a battle I had in The Madness of King George) the occasional ‘OK’ and ‘fine’. The film owes something to ours, beginning slightly as I intended to begin, with the court seen from the cramped perspective of the royal servants. Not looking at the monarch is made something of a feature, though not as specifically as we tried to do, and our film was more physical than this is allowed to be. ‘Cunt’ occurs quite often, possibly less as a deliberate attempt to shock than to show how down to earth these courtiers were. Or it may just be laziness, there being some skill in inventing euphemisms or devising elaborations that get round obscenity. Still, an enjoyable film, if an anachronistic one, e.g. ‘the opposition’ not a feature of Parliament in the 18th century.