There’s a wonderful novel by the Japanese writer Yōko Ogawa called The Memory Police, which portrays an island community living under a strange form of repression: every now and again, something is taken from them – it might be photographs, or rose petals, or hats – and not only do the objects disappear but all references, memories and language associated with them.
I remembered it last week, as reports circulated that the streaming platform HBO Max had been removing titles from its catalogue following a merger with Discovery+. Were we in a beautifully suggestive allegory of cultural authoritarianism, the anguished howls that have greeted the disappearance of shows such as Vinyl, An American Pickle and The Witches would have themselves been silenced; as it is, this is just business and some of them are even now popping up elsewhere.
No such luck for the stars of Batgirl, including Leslie Grace, Michael Keaton and Brendan Fraser, whose endeavours were decisively nixed by Warner Bros, itself merged with Discovery+ in April. The artists v the bean-counters is only ever going to have one winner.
By coincidence, I was reading about the Portuguese dictator António Salazar, who, before his death in 1970, had been severely incapacitated by illness for two years. Rather than tell him he was no longer in charge, his inner circle maintained the fiction that his rule maintained. Would it have killed Warner Bros to do the same?
I didn’t have a cat until I was over 50 and had gone to live in the countryside and even then it was by accident. A letter left by our house’s previous owner told us a gingery-brown cat called Hector occasionally stopped by and liked a dish left down. Long story short, Hector, a female Norwegian forest cat, has now been living with us for some years.
Not long before the pandemic hit, she was joined by black-and-white ZsaZsa – those of a certain age will recognise names from the antique children’s TV programme Hector’s House, in which a dog, a cat and a frog pottered around a garden together. Being French, and inspired by the films of Jacques Tati, it was quite odd; Kiki the frog, for example, is a meteorologist.
We’ve recently acquired our own Kiki, a tabby kitten, currently thought to be male. Hector, now entirely blind, is unbothered; ZsaZsa, never the most clubbable and currently made more irascible by a torn cruciate ligament, is in a state somewhere between outraged betrayal and unfettered aggression.
Each morning I must wrap blood pressure pills in ham for Hector, persuade ZsaZsa to drink a foul-tasting concoction to ease her juvenile arthritis and prevent the entirely healthy kitten from partaking of either. “I am not a cat person,” I mutter.
Fiddling with my dahlias one afternoon, I looked up to see Kiki balancing precariously on a narrow, first-floor window ledge, having escaped to the forbidden upstairs where he found an open window. “Much more of this and I’ll be joining you,” I said to him as I went to fetch the stepladder.
Everyone in my world, it seems from a cascade of out-of-office replies, is on holiday – except the freelancers picking up scraps. And, oddly enough, professional footballers. Because of the Qatar World Cup being injected into the middle of the European season, their schedule starts earlier, with the Champions League hauled into the autumn and new rules for substitutes meaning that more men will get on to the pitch. Result: reduced time for golf tournaments, the launch of new clothing ranges and the inking of elaborate tattoo “sleeves”. Take note, hard-pressed public sector workers: the struggle is not yours alone.
• Alex Clark is a columnist for the Observer and the Guardian
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