Friday, 29 October 2010


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?'

Lily Tomlin.

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.'

Groucho Marx

That's quite enough lists. Here are some Friday pictures.


29th Oct 5


29th Oct 3


29th Oct 6

Leaves and lichen:

29th Oct 7

Spider's web on the old stone wall:

29th Oct 8

Tree bark:

29th Oct 4


20th Oct 10

The inevitability:

29th Oct 1

29th Oct 2

(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.)

Happy Friday.


  1. Hello. I love Updike but didn't get on with the Rabbit series...try Couples...much better :-). Lou x

  2. Lou - excellent advice, I shall. (I fear I may have set the cat among the pigeons with my terrible literary confessions.)

  3. Along with cheers for the lovely lists, the pictures an yesterday's wonderful family story (I assume they all gave consent to be made so public - I would be lynched!) may I add a tinge of disappointment. I was so looking forward to a treatise on fiscal tightening

  4. BYT - Damn, I KNEW I had forgotten something. (Yr comment is making me laugh a lot.)

  5. Please don't lose sleep over the omission Tania I doubt the conundrum will be unravelled before you put pen to paper again. If by chance it is, I take it the party will be at your place?

    btw, I have tried three times to read Sunset Song. And me living on the edge of the Howe of the Mearns. It just won't click.

    Now that's my 'philistine' label showing.

  6. I loathe Updike. I finished "Rabbit, Run" and threw it across the room, I hated it so much. What stuck with me as most hateful from that book was Rabbit's grand discovery that "if you have the guts to be yourself, other people will pick up the pieces." I also finished "Lolita," but I agree with you: it isn't for me. And D.H. Lawrence makes me want to cry with despair. (My credentials: I am an English teacher and a fellow Eliot-lover. Does that make me serious?).

    I have also heard that Updike wrote better things than the Rabbits, but that book made such a searingly negative impression that I haven't wanted to try. Maybe I should.

  7. My book club tried a Rabbit book last month. Most of us couldn't get past chapter 1 and the rest hated it. I have a blind spot for Thomas Hardy. Too many bloody turnips.

  8. Looks like you are far from alone. I also hate Updike (and Phillip Roth). Just can't get into the self indulgent man thing I guess.

    I doubt there is a dog-picture-posting gene, but when you have such lovely dogs how can you resist?

  9. Thank you Tania for giving me such an unexpected treat tonight by introducing me to 'Snake'.
    Having read D.H.L. as a teenager and having loved many of his novels, was never tempted though to rivisit them later in life.
    But I loved this poem, its intimacy, the way it enravels as in film or a dream. I felt I really knew that regret at breaking the spell of such a rare and magical experience, just because you can.
    So, Thank you so, again!!

  10. Love a list; Virgo porn.
    I am beside myself that you can't read my beloved DHL not even The rainbow?

  11. I've recently rediscovered Guy de Maupassant - Une Vie; Pierre et Jean; Bel-Ami (all read in English!) and his short stories. Wonderful analyses of character and descriptions of the Normandy countryside and coast, and of Paris in the late 19th c.

    Always loved D.H. Lawrence's poems.

    Do you worry when novels are written in the present tense? There seem to be more of them about. I can't stand it - my mind keeps wanting to translate into the past tense. I don't mind a few short chapters in the present tense, but not the whole lot. Lugged home from the library the vast tome of Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel, to find it was all in the present tense, so had to heave it back unread. Even Homer, or the people who wrote the works,
    c. ?8th c. BC, wrote in the past tense. Many academics now describe the past in the present tense (in Radio 4's "In Our Time", for instance). It's a new habit which probably comes from America - a populist attempt to make the past seem more vibrant. But to me it seems like a retreat to the primitive, to early languages when there wasn't a past tense. Oh well - bee in bonnet time... one has to adjust! Others I've spoken to don't seem to mind or even notice it.

    Your political commentaries are always interesting, and the dog photos are lovely!

  12. I've read two of your three favourites, I forgive me liked Lolita, I didnt know half your brothers words, I knew just two of the scientific discoveries and what else - is there another name for sedum? I am looking high and low for this plant here in Melbourne. They have beautiful, absolutely wonderful gardens in my suburb and have not seen this. I've seen something like this in purple but not in pink. Is there a commonplace name for this and please dont lose the dog on the blog gene! Just btw Melbourne was 28 degrees yesterday and today a supposedly 17.

  13. I admit to being a D. H. Lawrence fan, but Sons and Lovers was never my favorite. I completely understand, though--he's kind of an acquired taste. Maybe the way lutefisk is an acquired taste.

    I managed--barely--to get through it once, but I have disliked Gravity's Rainbow for a very long time. It is supposedly the greatest postmodern novel ever written, linguistically complex, etc., etc., but it seemed to me to hammer one single overarching idea into the reader, and to do so with an unending variety of graphic and thoroughly repulsive imagery.

    My favorite Updike is The Centaur. I once started Rabbit Run and like you couldn't get through it. I couldn't relate to the character. Whoever said he was self-involved is absolutely correct.

  14. Ellie - SO glad I am not alone. I feel most reassured.

    Betty M - LOVE turnip joke.

    Ellen - yes, I think there IS a bit of self-indulgent man thing, esp with the self-consciously Great Novelists. So pleased you like the dogs; a compliment for them always makes me smile.

    Violet - delighted that you love Snake as much as I do. It really is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

    Anon - promise I shall try The Rainbow, just for you.

    Vivien - yes I LOATHE the present tense. How interesting you have the same buzzing bee in yr bonnet. I think it can only work in those slim novellas written by young people, set in Paris, where nothing much happens. Otherwise: NO. So pleased you like the politics and the dogs; you know I always fret about boring readers with both.

    Mystica - I discover that sedum is also called stonecrop (not a very romantic name), but when I looked it up it did say of the Northern Hemisphere. So that might be why you do not know it. Seems very unfair, when I get to grow your lovely eucalyptus in my northern fastness.

    Staircase Witch - I never managed Gravity's Rainbow either. Love how we are all coming out of the closet on our literary blind spots.


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