Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I was going to do a whole thing on feminism; then I thought about the nature of prejudice, mostly on account of my increasing obsession with The Trevor Project; then I wondered if I might give you a blast on the Tea Party. But it's Friday, and I've thrown quite a lot of politics at you lately, and so I thought I might do some lists. There must be light and shade, after all. And everyone loves a list.
List Number One.
The oldest brother is currently entranced with collective nouns, or what he more elegantly calls nouns of assemblage. I asked him his current favourites this morning, and here they are:
1. A disworship of Scots. (This is sadly derogatory, for which I apologise to my adopted homeland, but I love the word disworship, which does not get used often enough.)
2. A whisper of snipe. (Remember that part in High Society when Grace Kelly says, in that wonderful affected voice: 'Ah Deluth, it sounds like singing'? I think that a whisper of snipe sounds like singing.)
3. A muster of peacocks. (There is a marvellous martial urgency to this: come on, you damn peacocks, muster, muster.)
4. A fidget of choirboys.
5. A malapertness of peddlers. (I did not even know malapertness was a word. It means impudence or sauciness and comes, of course, from the French. According to the Free Dictionary, this particular collective noun dates back to 1486, when obviously there were many saucy peddlers roaming the streets.)
List Number Two.
My three favourite books to read whilst ill in bed:
1. Don't Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford
2. The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie
3. The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
I used to feel a furtive guilt about my inordinate love for Georgette Heyer. After all, her books were blatant romances, not Serious Literature. Then one day I heard AS Byatt on the radio, talking of her own adoration for Heyer. I thought: if it's good enough for Antonia Byatt, it's good enough for me.
And on the subject of books -
List Number Three.
Books I know I should love, but do not:
1. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. This is absolute heresy. Lolita is not only a cast-iron classic, but Nabokov is the writer's writer. I have tried three times. Can't do it.
2. Rabbit, Run by John Updike. I know that the Rabbit series is revered by people who know about books. I know that Updike is considered a master of the Great American Novel. I could not find a single thing to love. (Am beginning to wonder if this list was such a good idea; I feel there is a danger of people starting to throw things.)
3. Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence. Lawrence makes me want to go and lie down in a darkened room. Curiously, I love his poetry, which is beautiful and unaffected and shoots like a silver arrow straight to the heart. I read Snake when I was eight years old, in a big old anthology I think my mother or one of my godparents had given me, and even though I was far too young to read between the lines or get the whole meaning of the thing, the language was so direct and vivid and strong that the image of the snake and the watching man and the searing heat and the sharp moment of regret shot straight into my childish mind and has stayed there ever since.
(Because one of my vices is a shaming streak of intellectual vanity, I would like to keep my end up by saying that I race through Henry James and TS Eliot as if I were reading comics. Oh yes, and Mrs Woolf too. I'm not a complete philistine.)
List Number Four.
Excellent scientific discoveries this week:
1. Dr Eric Anderson at the University of Bath has discovered that male students are busy kissing each other. This is tremendous news. 'The mean gruff homophobic macho man of the 1980s is dead,' said the professor. (RIP those mean gruff homophobes.) My favourite line in the reporting on this: 'It's not yet known how the trend of men kissing extends to non-university segments of the British population.'
2. Researchers at the Universities of California and Harvard have discovered a 'liberal gene'. Which they have sexily named DRD4. Actually, it's not quite as simple as that, although it makes a great headline. There is a great deal of hedging and qualification and nature plus nurture going on. The most fun is seeing how it has been reported. My favourite is from the bastion of rigorous fairness that is Fox News: 'Don't hold liberals responsible for their opinion - they can't help themselves.' (I know; it's like a disease.) The New York Daily News wins my headline of the day award: 'Being a liberal and hating Sarah Palin, may be a genetic trait, scientists say.' This despite the fact that no scientist breathed a word about Mrs Palin, because why would they, when they are exactly the kind of ghastly elites that she so despises?
3. Did you know there was a 'Travelling Salesman Problem'? (This sounds like something from a Carry On film, but apparently it is a very serious matter.) Did you know that researchers at the University of London have discovered that it could be solved by examining the actions of bees? I certainly did not. Dr Nigel Raine said: 'Despite their tiny brains, bees are capable of extraordinary feats of behaviour.'. Apparently, our apian cousins hold the key to solving traffic jams. So hurrah for the bees and their tiny brains.
List Number Five.
Random quotations, because if there is one thing people love more than a list, it's a quotation:
1. 'Why isn't there a special name for the tops of your feet?'
2. 'All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action.'
James Russell Lowell
3. 'Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.'
That's quite enough lists. Here are some Friday pictures.
Leaves and lichen:
Spider's web on the old stone wall:
(Perhaps before the year is up, scientists will have discovered a can't help putting photographs of dogs on your blog gene. I can only live in hope.)