Before breaking the plastic wrapper, I brace myself to have my conscience pricked. I see a sad but strong, beautiful brown boy. It is a wonderful photograph, artfully focused and lit, with a riddle: “What is worse than losing a son?” Oh God. Oh, OK- turn the page- what is worse than losing a son? “Losing his brother too.” There’s also the Crisis at Christmas menu, surprisingly upbeat: Desserts are “New skills”- meet our Employment team- and “New hope”.
There are also adverts for The Great Courses- DVDs of lectures on “A history of European Art” or “Practising mindfulness” for £45- the last time I looked, there were lectures for free on the Internet, you paid if you wanted a marked examination. Also Slightly Foxed magazine, slogan “Falling leaves, falling spirits?”
On to the magazine. It quotes Foreign Affairs: Between 1901 and 1960 every independent country had a coup d’etat except Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US. The first thing I turn to is the Stephen Collins cartoon, whose website Colillo refers to the wonderful Mordillo, then the puzzle, which takes a few minutes.
Prospect is moving to the right. The editor writes that Ed Miliband’s speech was “rightly called one of the worst political speeches of modern times” and “The Conservatives have been more honest”, then a Tory MP gloats that he suggested Scots MPs should not vote on English matters in 2005, and was sacked for it.
Where else would I read about Chinese medical care, more ruthless than the American system? “For many, falling ill is a death sentence”. Fine particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter are most dangerous to health. The WHO guideline is that over ten micrograms per cubic metre of air is hazardous to health. The rate in Washington is 10.6mcg/m³; in Xingtai it is 155.2, and the Chinese government calls any rate under 150 “moderate”.
The enlarged quote caught my eye- Dylan Thomas once summed up Welsh nationalism in three words, two of which were “Welsh nationalism”- above a cartoon skewering middle-class insincerity: a woman tells a charity collector I’d love to help but I really don’t want to help”.
The culture pages. Lionel Shriver reviews Tim Parks’ collection of essays. In “The Chattering mind” he notes “how obsessively the mind seeks to construct self-narrative, how ready it is to take interest in its own pain, to congratulate itself on the fertility of its reflection.” Parks catches a particular kind of autobiography: At least I’ve understood and brilliantly dramatised the futility of my brilliant exploration of my utter impotence”. This is too close to what I do here for my comfort.
At the end, extracts from letters and memoirs, this month on “Bitterness“. Jorge Luis Borges said, “Not granting me the Nobel Prize has become a Scandinavian tradition; since I was born they have been not granting it to me”. RB Kitaj, his Tate retrospective bruisingly reviewed, said Never ever believe an artist if he says he doesn’t care about what the critics write about him. Every artist cares. Those reviews of my show were by pathetic, sick, meagre hacks. They were about small lives and lousy marriages.
It’s always interesting to see what the educated middle classes are reading: Prospect had the slogan “The National Conversation” for a time. On putting it down today, I do not feel cheered up.