Saturday, 28 March 2020


Am I scared? As far as I can judge at this time, wearied by an afternoon of intense grappling with Dante's Paradiso - far less vivid in human terms that the other two books but saturated in theological theory - I don't know. Some of my acquaintances seems to be devouring news avidly over the course of each day and implementing any detailed precautions that anyone sounding authoritative might recommend.  Maybe they are right to do so. But the constant diet of news and opinion seems to drive personal disquiet. Like so many events, the news and opinion machines now have a gigantic life of their own. Very long lead-ins to football matches (when there were such things), often days ahead,  just 90 mins of actual play, followed by long and wordy inquests lasting over days.
I listen to the Today programme. My companion is then Radio 3, which has adequate if compact bulletins, and I tend to look at BBC News online at some point later in the day. The remainder of the time I get on with this and that, above all research and writing. The number of emails, which I thought would decrease after the Leonardo year, has steadily climbed, as have phone calls and occasional video calls. With social distancing, the social media (which I generally dislike) have a role in fostering a kind of social nearness.

Should I be scared? Probably. I am in an 'at risk' group because of my age, if not my general fitness. In 1989 In had bacterial meningitis and was totally paralysed with searing pain. That was truly awful. But the pain recedes into the past and seems like it happened to someone else.

The death of someone who was a very close friend alters things. Numbers are one thing. Names are another. She was middle-aged (seemed younger) and exuded a life force. She is one of those that we cannot believe has died. But she did so after only 6 hours in hospital.  Terrible.

Anyway, I will check the online BBC news.

Friday, 27 March 2020


A missed day. Not last I imagine.

One positive is that animals of all kinds seem to be thriving given the withdrawal of humankind from their habitats. A greater range of birds in my garden, including little darting coal tits twitching with electric energy. And a pheasant, at one point joined by two companions. These are the clever pheasants, as far as they can be clever at all. Having watched the slaughter of their companions in Blenheim Park, they decide 'let's scarper', and become semi-urbanised. The birds are bred in fortified enclosures like Russian gulags or concentration camps - wooden huts surrounded by fences of stern metal wire. To protect them from predators. There is an irony here.

One autumn I wrote one of my bits of formatted prose. I do not know enough or have enough skill to write proper poems. I offer this one, without expectations. At least he last line might remind us that slaughters other than viral persist to shame of all of us. Think of Syria.


Walking in the park of autumn,
Leaves of beech copper-gold, 
Rustling dry as old bank notes 
Clinging to the skeletal branches.
A final declamation of their passing display
In the face of dogged evergreens 
Resistant to season and year. 

Unseen shots pump from distant shotguns,
Echoing bluntly across the mirrored lake.
Fluttering pheasants, tender in iridescent glory
Tumble limp and folded from the steel grey sky
Towards the eager jaws of favoured hounds.
Geese graze cropped grass 
Complacent in the slaughter of those who are not of their kind.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

getting up

My first alarm goes off. 7.38. Mobile phone, relatively melodious.  I don't need to get up. No-one will notice. It's been somewhat like that since I stopped being employed by the university. I always feel horrid in the mornings. often very horrid. But I do some stretching exercises, albeit with a lack of joy. Clanging raucously, the second alarm intrudes harshly. A beside clock given by my son, Jonathan, thus of special value. It is 7.41. I grumpily press the stop button. Maybe a bit of stretching left to do.

What is different is the nature of the day that lies ahead. I have in the past spent a fair percentage of time'in isolation' (writing etc.), but that was not the norm  and it was my choice.  I bath and dress 'properly', keeping up appearances, which seems to be a matter of morale, oddly. I shave every 2 or 3 days - my grey growth means that the 9 o'clock shadow no longer appears.  Just spikiness. I am planning some more some video communications with family and friends, and would prefer not to look a negligent mess - but that also applies to audio phone calls;  odd.
I do have a support structure, the people I call 'team Kemp', who all have equal value to each other and to me, including Steph, who does housekeeping - at more than the recognised distance and on the grounds that she is helping to care for a cussed 'old' b***** in an at risk category. In the team she is of course what used to be called a 'sweeper' in football. (There's more gruesome puns where that came from.) Remember Franz Beckenbauer. Judd, my long-term PA is key mid-fielder, organising the shape of the team and linking defence to attack.  Caroline, my agent is a powerful striker, driving lucrative (I hope) contracts into the financial goals.  Johnnie, my accountant in St. Andrews, keeps goal with uncanny agility as the tax-person strives the net the maximum score.
(Ed. this metaphor is becoming strained).

Tania is encouraging me to put the blog on some part of the social media. I boycott most of them because of their exploitative nature, esp, Facebook, on which I have been stalked!!  Let's see. Numbers are not the issue for me.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

To late, too late
For anything substantial. The day sort of went - somewhere. It did signal the contrasts of of where we are. There is the personal, the bits and pieces of getting by, the routine, either daily or qualitatively. The morning occupied by assembling an exercise machine, the sort of thing that comes in bits as a matter of routine rather than necessity, Accompanied by a booklet of exploded diagrams of parts with highly specialised names - a jigger double left-handed gromet etc - with laconic instructions, which my daughter when young inadvertently called 'destructions'. Anyway, it was assembled in due course, sitting on the terrace in the garden, and will serve to keep up my exercise levels at a time when I can't go to the gym and cannot do much walking because of severe back and sciatic pains.

The other dimension is the big implications of the plague. My instinct is that we might be heading for the abyss. So many business shut down. So many jobs lost. So many free-lancers with their livings abruptly severed. Such huge government debts in almost every country. How can the precarious, ramshackle edifice of universal capitalism survive under its present assumptions and 'rules'? The system has long been at a state of criticality, as interlocked technologies are poised (in an unrecognised way) to collapse through the weight of their own interdependent complexities.

That's all. not good but it should get better.

Monday, 23 March 2020

the plague etc.

A great graphic on a horrible plague:

2 days in a row with my blog, maybe a record.

What of the plague?

Whatever happens, two of the last public events I attended were a fitting end (before eventual resumption?). On 11th, the opening of the National Gall show of Titian's late mythologies for Phillip II. Great tragedies of women in extremis, realised in blazing paint. Maybe they involved some voyeurism - Titian wrote to his patron promising to show nudes from back and front - but the intense and complex human dramas disarms the kind of formulaic viewing that too often passes as analysis. The other was a concert at the Royal Festival Hall, courtesy of my close friend Tania Correia, which recreated a  massive Beethoven concert from 1808, conducted with punchy elegance by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Again a heroic assertion of the human spirit - though Pierre-Laurent Aimard  played the Fourth Piano Concero more as we might imagine Liszt would have done than Beethoven with his Walter piano forte. If his piano had been assaulted as heavily as Aimard's modern titan, I suspect it would have gone the same way as Hendrix's guitar.

At some point I will write about the plague and what it 'means' - or will be seen as meaning. But not mentally geared up for that.

To a large degree I am less afflicted than many. My schedule of talks is gone - cancellation of visits to Florida, Venice, Stuttgart and Beijing. But since I work out of home, my daily routine is less disrupted than most people’s. I’m writing a book on Dante and divine light in art (for Dante’s 700th next year), which I can do largely from home since the Dante texts are all online. The visuals will be radiant. Though Dante is difficult. Also planning a big Hockney show for Cambridge in summer 2021. There are of course piles of unread books.

The problem is not one of boredom or lack of things to do. It is of variety. The same rooms, the same views, the same kind of cerebral and visual activities. Lively contact with people is vital for my morale. As a keen player of sport (previously) and avid listener to Radio Five, I really miss the games and contests. I admire great skills of the word-painting commentators, from whom I have learnt a lot.
Masters of the modern ekphrasis. They are my friends. I don't have a television.

Not in my stride yet, but bear with me....

Sunday, 22 March 2020

resumed blog

My blog has been shamefully lapsed. My resolution in these viral times is to resume on a daily basis, as a way of thinking out loud. I'm not looking for debates, which I would prefer to go via my email, but rather offering news, opinions, ruminations, in case anything might be of interest to a friend or two. It is also a way of keeping in touch with more people than I can contact in other ways.

This is now too late in the day to do anything substantial. My intention is to look at some of the big issues that are looming up in the present crisis and to tell of slighter, more local and personal things.
I have long been intending to blog on current events but have never done so on a timely basis. A case in point is the suicide of Caroline Flack, the tv presenter. The press concentrated on the role of social media and the abuse received by people in the public eye. The bigger point was largely missed; that is to say the skewed value system that parades the sexual merits of improbably fine bodies housing minds that are encouraged to be sparklingly superficial. Programmes such as 'Love Island' exploit the participants, the public and the presenters through the glossy mechanisms of false celebrity. The tenor of the whole enterprise is of 'false nudes', in which size and shape of tits is of more importance than humane values of emotional empathy. However, that is now past - old news with no learnt lessons. But there's plenty to come. Some I hope cheerful and postive.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Brexit UGH!

I am moved to take up my long-neglected blog by the succession of politicians coming on to the radio to recite the ludicrous cant that “the people have spoken” (and variations on that theme) and that the referendum vote determines everything for ever. Do the people saying this really believe this formula? It seems evidently untrue on various grounds:
1) the conduct of the campaigns on both sides relied on systematic lying and mendacious PR. The lies of the leave campaign – the promises of huge financial gains and some kind of golden age of independence  - were more potent and attractive than the project of fear run by the remainers;
2) The British rarely have referenda and do not understand that a referendum is about a very specific issue and asks a specific question. It is not an opportunity to express a wide variety of dissatisfactions with the status quo and our political “masters”;
3) a vote is of its time. The vote to leave was highly coloured by fear of Syrian refugees, which was not a genuine Brexit issue. The idea that such a vote is for ever is absurd. On that basis we would have one general election to create a government for all time, since “the people have spoken”. 
4) the referendum was in 2106. In the meantime much has changed and become apparent – not least how much we have to loose from severing our complex and rich entanglements with Europe. We can see now that the leave options are profoundly unappealing;
5) a referendum on the actual options available cannot be “undemocratic” as repeatedly claimed, or a “betrayal of the people”.  At this point is the only democratic option available.

Along the way, we may note that the gridlock in parliament, caused by the monoliths of the 2 big parties, held together only by the lust for power, demonstrates the need for truly radical reform of our political system.