Posted by Tania Kindersley.
The curious thing about being at the centre of a work storm (1345 words today) is how the world recedes. It is not that I purposely cut myself off from The News. I still listen to Today, and have a look at the dear old Indy, and see snatches of the BBC bulletins. I have a quick roam across the newspapers online, and get a sense of the political blogs. But it is a little like the flickering figures illuminated by the fire on Plato's cave wall: everything seems to lack form or reality.
I hear a headline, or read a snatch of opinion, and then my mind immediately veers away to what I am to write that day. My friend The Man of Letters likes to make a little joke about how he is working even when he is shopping for food or gazing out of the window (especially when gazing out of the window, in my case). It is quite true. Even when engaged in the most mundane of tasks, I find my mind filled with antic visions. One word on the news can send me off on a whole new train of thought, not about the world but about the book.
This is why this week, a perfect firestorm of politics on both sides of the Atlantic, has passed me by. Events, dear boy, events, went on in a blur of white noise.
One of the reasons that this particular book requires so much concentration is that it is about notions of beauty, something I thought would be interesting but relatively straightforward, and have discovered instead is perfectly filled with complexity and paradox. I adore wrestling with paradox, it is one of my favourite things in the whole world, but it doesn't half take it out of a person. Today's paradox circled around the strange contradiction of beauty being both desired and admired, and yet capable of igniting a most inexplicable rage. At the end of my 1345 words, I looked up to find actual physical rage going on in the streets.
There are many arguments to be had about the government's plans for student fees. It is a complicated stew of the moral, practical, fiscal and political. It should be debated and discussed; if people want to march on the streets, they should do that, in the great and honourable tradition of public protest. But here is what you do not do, if you want me to take you seriously: you do not go around burning the statue of Palmerston and daubing Winston Churchill with graffiti. You do not scream 'Tory scum' at the Duchess of Cornwall, who was just trying to go and see a show. You do not read history at Cambridge, and then swing gleefully from the Cenotaph, which commemorates the war dead, and claim afterwards that you did not know that it was the Cenotaph. (What kind of history are they teaching, up in East Anglia?)
Oddly, it was the burning of Pam that made me properly cross. I know that there was the gunboat diplomacy and all, some of it dodgy as hell, but he was one of the great statesmen of the 19th century. You can't just go around setting fire to men who said things like this:
'I hold that the real policy of England is to be the champion of justice and right, pursuing that course with moderation and prudence, not becoming the Quixote of the world, but giving the weight of her moral sanction and support wherever she thinks that justice is, and whenever she thinks that wrong has been done.'
Liberal interventionism now has a bad name, because of the Iraq adventure, but I still think it has an honourable pedigree. Palmerston was a great supporter of both the Italian and Hungarian revolutions, and always took the side of constitutional government against hereditary autocracy (one of the reasons he made the Queen so grumpy). He was an odd mixture of radical and reactionary: he was strongly in favour of abolishing slavery, but resisted efforts to widen the franchise after 1832; he introduced legislation to allow for divorce, and was staunchly for Catholic emancipation, but was willing to suspend trial by jury to deal with the Fenian rebels. He was, in some ways, all the good and bad of the Victorian era in one man.
He also made one of my favourite political jokes ever:
'The Schleswig-Holstein question is so complicated, only three men in Europe have ever understood it. One was Prince Albert, who is dead. The second was a German professor who became mad. I am the third and I have forgotten all about it.'
So, please do not do this:
I am not going to relitigate the arguments over fees now. You know what you think. My instinctive feeling, in rather basic terms, is that it is unfair to ask a postwoman to subsidise the university education of the daughter of a banker, which is what happens with no fees.
I offer three facts:
Graduates earning £30,000 will repay £68 a month.
Graduates earning under £21,000 will repay nothing.
Undergraduates from families who earn under the median wage will get an annual grant of over £3,000.
While protestors scream insults at the Prince of Wales, the IMF unemotionally reports:
'..the Government's proposals are more progressive than the current system or that proposed by Lord Browne.'
(The best progressive case for fees is put here, in The Guardian.)
Like a clucking old lady, I want to say to everyone: calm down and have a nice cup of tea. And no more burning of Lord Palmerston.
Today's pictures are all about the sky. The snow continues to melt, rather drably, but the cloud formation rushed in to the aesthetic gap:
The trees have gone from white sculptures to stark and bare:
The view to the south:
Trees with roof and winter sunshine:
A stern view of the limes lined up like soldiers:
And the more whimsical young horse chestnuts:
For a special Friday treat, there are SNOW DOGS IN ACTION:
(Look at that action. She's like a Grand National winner.)
(Observe the look of serious determination.)
On a stiller note:
And then we walked home through the slush: