December 12th 2016

I am reading the diaries of Alan Bennet, so full of telling observations and insight. Seems unlikely that authors have more insight and observational skills than others, just that they use them more often.

We have been watching The Crown (series 1) – apparently, there are to be six seasons of 10 episodes covering the life of Elizabeth II. It is well made – and so it should be for the money spent – though not always historically quite right. But then it is a dramatization. There are some well-known facts on which it is based, but also some guesswork. Claire Foy (who plays the Queen) and Matt Smith (Prince Phillip) do well here, but others are also strong. Loved the performance of Pip Torrens as Tommy Lascelles, the Queens Private Secretary. Menacing, yet courteous.

We also enjoyed Victoria, with Jenna Coleman playing the young Queen, and Tom Hughes as Prince Albert (apparently these two are also a couple in real-life).  Rufus Sewell’s Lord Melbourne also an excellent performance.

I wonder if I will overcome the mild obsessions I have developed. Reading newspapers first thing, making sure I catch my friend DC on television, checking Facebook, clearing my email before breakfast.  As I am sixty-six, I doubt it. People kept hoping that Trump would pivot from being a buffoon to being Presidential. Trump can no more pivot as a 70-year-old than he can pirouette. Same for me.

A lot of fuss over whether the Russian’s hacked into the US election. Several reports that in fact the Democrats experienced a significant leak to WikiLeaks. A leak is not a hack. It was an insider who was a strong Bernie supporter. I doubt that Trump needed Russian support – he had enough rednecks voting for him anyway.

December 16th

Xmas tree up. We bought an artificial one with lights attached five years ago and it is fine. As long as you have one, just for 10 days, then no one really cares what kind of tree it is. Less mess.

Was in Toronto this week, where it was -5C (it was -40C here in Edmonton). The doorman at the Royal York said it “is so cold, Donald Trump has started to believe in climate change!”. I doubt it. I don’t think he believes in anything other than his own ego. What a damaged man. However, he will soon (in 35 days) be President of the United States. I would have voted for Homer Simpson or Donald Duck rather than Donald Trump. However, he is amongst the best liars I have ever come across – utterly self-delusional.

At a lunch with Tadzia, she commented “your life is so rich and so have done so much”, which someone else also said to me this week. Is it? I am not sure. I have done a lot in a short sixty-six years, but I don’t feel “special” or “gifted”. As I said to Tadzia, I am probably just more efficient than most and have a high work rate. (What an interesting name Tadzia is. Apparently, just 17 babies are given this name each year in the US – my Tadzia is a US citizen).

December 17th

To my first pantomime in close to twenty-five years – Robin Hood. Silly, fun and, in many ways, pathetic. Some of the best lines were improvised (“someone directed this..?”) rather than intentional. Nice local adaptation – Robin Hood set in Sherwood Park (a city next to Edmonton). But the grandkids (Lily and Sam) seemed to enjoy it. It was fun, if not very funny.

I managed to leave my wallet at the theatre. Not only was it found, but they connected with me about 12 minutes after we left the show and was back in my hands shortly after.

December 18th 2016

Still reading Alan Bennett’s Keep on Keeping On, which is mainly a collection of his diaries, which I always read when they appear in the London Review of Books. Full of astute observations, anecdotes, and his insights. Love the story about the Duke of Devonshire getting in the bath and noticing that his feet had turned black. Called in his butler to ask if he knew anything about it and wondered if they should call a doctor. His butler observed that he had forgotten to take his socks off. Wonderful!

December 19th

Still with Alan Bennett’s book, he recounts a joke written by Barry Cryer: I meant to take some liquid Viagra, but took Tippex by mistake – ended up with a massive correction!

The diaries remind me of James Lees Milne’s diaries from the 1920’2-1960’s. They look behind the scenes of many well-known events and offer insights and stories. Alan’s work does the same. I have the complete set of JLM’s diaries and now have all of AB’s. Hence these notes. Alan can’t last forever.

Went to the hairdressers today in the Students Union Building at the University of Alberta. I don’t look poor or ill, but the hairdresser began by saying (in a very quiet voice), it will cost $15. I said that this was fine. She then said “are you sure?”. I am a spritely sixty-six year old, well off professional. I didn’t look too scruffy. Wonder what happened here to cause this caution?

December 21st

As always, the newspapers and television begin my day – quick glances at The Telegraph, Guardian, Daily Mail, Washington Post, New York Times, Globe and Mail, National Post, Edmonton Journal and Huffington Post (US). I say quick glances, since there is generally little news I am not aware of, given the newsfeeds on Facebook and elsewhere. What I am noticing is that the shortage of in-depth analytic work by journalism affects our understanding of events and developments. A Trump Tweet gets attention since there is so little news and so many news outlets competing for cash. A story on the impact of artificial intelligence on work – based on a White House review of the issue – is pithy and weak (Washington Post). Quality analytic journalism is now reduced to 850 word op-ed pieces.

I have written these pieces. The Montreal Gazette, for example, published several as did the Edmonton Journal. The pressure to simplify (Grade 10 level) and to focus on no more than two or three critical points is intense. Yet the issue – e.g. the likely coming impact of AI / Robotics on the future of work – is substantial. Between 10 and 20% of all jobs will go in the next 20 years. But can you write about this in 850 words and just make 2 or 3 points? I doubt it. So goes our discourse.

December 22nd

After thirteen years of living here, the penultimate step on the basement flight of stairs has stopped squeaking. For thirteen years it did and now it doesn’t. Wonder if the house has moved? It did some time ago and our late handyman, Mel, said we needed to “lift the house up a tad”. It sounded a horrific task to me, but Mel simply took off a piece of siding, knocked in a small shimmy, put the siding back and was done. A door, which hadn’t shut properly since we moved in, now shut and other small adjustments occurred. Houses are part of the family – they have personality and give meaning.

I think of Mel often. He did several things here, including replacing a number of our windows. He was finishing a job and coughing very badly. L suggested that he must see a doctor, since it sounded like it was turning to something more serious, like pneumonia. He did. Turned out to be cancer. He was in surgery 48 hours later and died shortly after. We were shocked. Mel was a salt of the earth kind of guy, very skilled and excellent worker. He reminded me a lot of my father.

December 25th

Watched Alan Bennett on TV last night. He has the same clothes on he had in the 1960’s – well, the same dress code and sense. Such a nice bloke. His background and mine are very similar, though he is older than me (he is 81 and I am 66). What struck me is how simple his life is yet it produces such richness as The History Boys, The Madness of King George III and Kafka’s Dick, not to mention the diaries. Talent.

I am not sure what I feel about Christmas (and it is Christmas or Xmas, definitely not “the holidays” – some marketing invention). Lots of decent TV, not very interesting food and some reconnections with friends and family. I am with Pope Francis – another nice bloke – in thinking that Xmas has been totally made into a commercialized experience. Which is interesting, since I want nothing for Xmas. I have all I need (and more).

Later today Lynne and I have Xmas dinner with Neil and Jeanne, our oldest (both in terms of age and length of friendship) friends in Canada. John and Pat Cote will be there – John is a former Appeal Court judge and a most interesting man, though can be obsessive. Will make for an interesting evening. Also there will be Neil and Jeanne’s son (Mark) and daughter in law (Denise) and their three children, whom we have watched grow into two very smart young women and a fast developing young man. While Mark can be difficult, Denise is one courageous and smart woman. Taylor (eldest daughter) is a very attractive, smart and focused young woman of sixteen. Makes me feel old. Her sister, Kiera, is also a very smart young lady – talented and highly engaging. They overshadow young Reid, who is intellectually sharp and mechanically minded. I enjoy their company.

[Mark didn’t show. Wonder if one of his addictions took over the day. Denise and the kids showed no kinds of concern over his absence – strong women and a bright young lad]

December 26th

Watched John Didcut’s evocative film – Britten’s Endgame about the life, work and death of Benjamin Britten. Triggered by a comment in Alan Bennett’s diaries, I am reading Neil Powell’s biography of Britten. A complex, troubled (and never well) man, Britten was imperious and very protective of his civil partnership (as it would now be) with Peter Pears. He did write some wonderful music. I will never forget a performance of the War Requiem with the Halle, combined Bradford choirs (500 singers). Moved me to tears. I also performed in Noyes Fludde and sang in Missa Brevis at St. Bede’s. I have seen several of his operas – Peter Grimes, Albert Herring, Billy Budd and Death in Venice. Some of his music is difficult, and requires thought and concentration. But his String Quartets are very powerful – especially the 3rd, which I listen to on a regular basis.

Family will be here for our annual Xmas do – always do this Boxing day. Looking forward to watching the interaction between the grand-kids. Then tomorrow, we leave for Bowen Island (BC). This is where we would like to end up, we think. We’ll see.

December 30th 2016

Finished the biography of Benjamin Britten. Impressive achievements. He determined to be a composer as an adolescent and was prolific. While his manger was off-putting to many – he was very upper middle class, gay and very sensitive and liked to be liked – he did achieve remarkable things in music, in life and in his community. We should be thankful that he did what he did.

Spent a very peasant evening with my friend and fellow writer BTP and his wife K. His first novel is a serious psychological thriller and well written. His second sounds more ambitious, but we will see. His daughter is a journalist who covered Trump for Sky News from New York. Nice and very sharp / smart lady. Interesting “inside” stories about sexual harassment at Fox (sky shares the building with Fox). Roger Ailes, former head of Fox, was known in the building for his sexual predatory behavior. When he was “fired” by Rupert Murdoch, a large number of others were also fired at the same time – those who covered up what they knew. One wonders if Roger named these people to protect his pension and share value. We may never know.

Just watched a BBC program with various retiring celebrities (Miriam Margoyles, Wayne Sleep, Bobby George and Rosemary Shrager) looking at what it might be like to retire in Florida. Miriam Margoyles gets into an interesting row with some retired US people in Florida about Trump. Their understanding of the world is clear: they don’t understand the world at all, which is why they carry guns – to help them feel comfortable in their bewilderment.