Low life

How I got my encyclopedic knowledge of current affairs

13 February 2021

9:00 AM

13 February 2021

9:00 AM

Seven bells. Pitch dark still. I descend the creaking wooden stairs in the darkness, let the dog out, make tea and toast, put a pan of porridge and the coffee pot on the stove and download the Times newspaper on to the iPad. I read it from cover to cover. Every news story and comment piece, the Nature Notes, Court Circular, the letters and Daily Universal Register, the TV guide and the weather report, in which I look carefully at the daily temperatures in cities around the world. Sometimes I jot down the daily ‘food for thought’ quotation at the foot of the Daily Universal Register. This morning’s, for example, is: ‘The accent of one’s birthplace lingers in the mind and in the heart as it does in one’s speech.’ (Rochefoucauld, Maxims, 1678.) Rarely these days do I deliberately skip an article unless it is about cladding or cricket or written by Sir Max Hastings — though I very much enjoy his history books. That takes me up to about 11 bells.

For background music we have Petroc Trelawny until Catriona goes next door to her studio to paint. Left to my own musical devices I choose the Cerys Matthews Blues Show or the Craig Charles Funk and Soul Show on BBC Sounds. Otherwise it’s Kansas City Blues Radio or Radio Five for the sport.

After reading the Times, I have a gander at The Spectator daily news feed and if there is an Americano podcast I haven’t yet heard I listen to that. Then I look at my emails. I receive about a dozen a day, all from the same familiar names and addresses, all of them calling me cheerfully by my Christian name, all of them junk or scams.


By now it’s one bell, which means either one o’clock or half past. While stocks last I’ll make a bacon sandwich or baguette. I fry the bacon in olive oil. As I bite into my bacon roll, I congratulate myself that I’m up to date with current affairs. You can ask me what are the latest Covid figures or about the protests in Burma, or what is the GameStop share price. My friend the foreign correspondent reads everything except the Times because it is behind a paywall. He is constantly bemused by the extent of our knowledge of world affairs gleaned from a single British national daily. ‘Ask me anything,’ we say. ‘Right,’ he says. ‘A painting by Winston Churchill of Marrakesh is about to go under the hammer. Who currently owns it?’ ‘Angelina Jolie. Ask us a harder one,’ we say. He’s flabbergasted. ‘I really should start reading the Times,’ he mutters.

The other presence in the house is Catriona, the owner, who, as I say, paints. I would like to say much more about her only she forensically analyses every mention I might make of her in these columns and measures it against something she calls ‘truth’. These mentions not only fail to measure up, but they offend against it. So I’ll just say that Catriona paints. She paints in oils. Portraits, still life, landscape. She has a tiny studio with a stove that is also partly a cave. She goes in there and paints for hours at a time. While she paints she often listens to Radio Four. I don’t think she can quibble with any of this. When I mention her in my journal, I also try to stick to what I hope are unassailable facts.

After lunch, and in between the showers, I might peg a washing out. Afterwards I might feed a clean sheet into the typewriter and bash out a journal page in 20 minutes about what I’ve been doing since the last time. If someone gave prizes for banal journals, mine would sweep the board.

After lunch I give in to the dog and take her for a walk. She seems very happy to follow the same 40-minute route every day because she can check her usual dog-urine message boards en route. We meet the same people on these walks walking the same dogs. She is old and blind and deaf and sometimes mistakes these other walkers for me and follows them. There is one fellow who is desperate to stop and talk and if you let him he will talk about the minutiae of his consciousness until one of you is overtaken by death. When we get back to the house I go upstairs and lie on the bed and take a nap for about an hour. Then I come downstairs and light a fire in the woodburner. And by six bells it’s dark and the night curfew has commenced and there are only another four hours to go until bedtime. (The French government is contemplating another ‘lockdown’ as well as a curfew.) In the evenings we read.

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