Posted by Tania Kindersley.
Taking a few days off. Back soon.
Posted by Tania Kindersley.
One of the dear readers made the very big (but very kind) mistake of saying she liked my political 'passion', an exceptionally polite word for a slightly worrying obsession. So I'm afraid this has given me licence to write yet another post on the Miliband of Brothers. I can't help it. The whole thing is so impossibly strange. Andrew Neil is quite beside himself on the Daily Politics Conference Special; he says it is the most interesting political season he can remember. And, as he likes to joke, he can remember Lloyd George.
There is a great deal of discussion about whether it is the stuff of fiction, or whether even the most antic novelist might shy from this plot. Two brothers, brought up by an unrepentant Marxist father, both embrace the politics of the new centre left. (The ghost of the father, like in Hamlet, must hover over this entire drama, livid at the surrender to market forces of both his boys. So much for from each according to her talents to each according to his needs.) One goes to work for Number Ten, the other for Number Eleven, where the tribal lines are drawn so tight you can hear the twang half way down Whitehall. The detail I like most in this stage of the story is that Ed Miliband was known as The Emissary from Planet Fuck, because he was the only one of Gordon Brown's henchmen who did not tell the Blairites to fuck off.
As the New Labour project starts to unravel, and the nation gets to watch the curious sight of Gordon Brown going mad, sentence by sentence, as Evelyn Waugh once said of James Joyce, rumours start to circulate that the older Mili will step in and save the day. In the end, he steps back from a putsch, which is, according to taste, a demonstration of moderation and loyalty, or a complete lack of bottle. He knows his time will come. He is the most talented of the next generation, adored by Secretary of State Clinton; he will be the heir apparent.
But then the smooth linear narrative starts to stutter. There are unfortunate photo opportunities, one with an inexplicable banana. This goes to prove, as one sage commentator remarks, that no political hopeful should ever be photographed with oddly shaped fruit. The word goes out that he is too geeky, too aloof with the backbenchers, not matey enough to connect with the everyday voter. Suddenly a rival camp sets up for the younger brother, with the devastating claim that their man can speak 'human'.
Instead of the Rolls Royce acceleration towards the leadership of his party, David Miliband finds himself challenged by his own brother. The more I think about this, the more odd I find it. There are stories of ancient sibling rivalry, and rumours that the poor mother finds the whole thing so upsetting that she cannot bear to watch. (Latest reports are that Mrs Miliband has actually fled the country.) Even though he is favourite in the long, relentless contest, his odds are chipped away and chipped away, until, in the very last furlong, driven on by a union campaign set up to Stop David, the younger Mili races up and steals his crown, by a paltry 1.3% of the vote.
And then, he has to go out and tell the conference and tell the media that he loves his brother and is proud of him and will do all in his power to make the new leadership a success. He has to plaster a smile on his face while inside he must be dying. And the press goes crazy.
I think perhaps it is a story too strange for fiction.
Politics is not the end of everything. David Miliband is an accomplished fellow with a big brain, a talented wife, and two lovely children. He will rally. But I understand why it was reported that his wife was in flooding tears after the result. Years ago, I canvassed for a friend who was trying to get elected to parliament. He was beaten by three hundred votes, and when that count came in, I cried like a girl, in front of a room full of strangers. It is something about all that focussed work, all those hopes and dreams, so publicly dashed. It is sharp as that old serpent's tooth.
Who knows what will happen now? The journalists teem with questions. Will David Miliband serve as shadow chancellor? Will the Labour Party take a sharp turn to the left? Will the newly resurgent unions come to collect? What plots can Ed Balls hatch next?
I quite often regret that our politics can seem small and parochial compared to the grand, sweeping madness of the current American situation. We have nothing as theatrically nutty as the Tea Party and Mrs Palin and Newt Gingrich and the sight of the Dems tearing themselves apart. I feel quite proud that at least now we have come up with something that is like a myth from Ancient Greece in its strangeness and improbability. It turns out we can do the crazy too.
After all that, a soothing symphony of green:
Small housekeeping note:
Some of you have reported that occasionally the photographs do not load, or that you have been locked out of the blog altogether. I have absolutely no idea why this may be happening, or what I can do about it. I write the blog, as always, on the live writer, and then post it up to Blogger. The photographs are downloaded from my Picasa files. If anyone more technically literate than I might have any clue why these glitches are happening, or can suggest anything I might do to remedy the problem, I would be most grateful. And for any of you who are having problems, I keenly apologise.
Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I call my mother.
'If you were Mrs Miliband, what would you be saying now?' I ask.
'Oh shit,' says my mother.
I should explain that my mother is a respectable woman who used to travel about by pony and trap during the war. She only swears in matters of national emergency.
I shout with laughter. 'I was not expecting that,' I said.
'I know,' she says happily. 'That's why I said it.'
We are both very pleased with the special Miliband joke, but actually I do feel very sorry for poor Mrs Miliband, who has spent her whole life fighting for worthy causes and now, according to one journalist, could not watch the leadership announcement, because it was too agonising.
Mili D got up and gave a tremendously good and graceful speech, and you could see the members in the hall thinking: we really did choose the wrong brother. There are all kinds of stories on the political blogs about Charlie Whelan and the union bosses bragging in the bars that they sewed the whole thing up between them. Meanwhile, Mili E gave a rather vapid interview to Andrew Marr, in which he constantly accused Marr of not understanding his answers. I hold no great torch for Mr Marr, but I do think it is not the best idea to go around patronising seasoned political journalists on your first day as leader.
People say Ed Miliband is very charming in life. I can see no sign of it at the moment in public. He keeps saying how much he loves his brother, but I think actions are louder, and you should not go about stabbing those you love in the back. I am turning out very old-fashioned about this whole affair. It's one thing to be dastardly with your political rivals, but quite another to do over your family in public.
In order to keep calm, I make a croque monsieur. There are very few things that cannot be solved by a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. Also, to continue the continental theme, a salad of endive, frisée lettuce, rocket, finely sliced radishes and pine nuts.
Some soothing things to contemplate while I wait for the conference season to wind down:
Rather blousy new hydrangea, which I do not love nearly so much as my old one, but still has a certain something:
Elderberries, which need no explanation:
The bare poetry of my dry stone wall:
The beech avenue, with the very first leaves starting to turn:
Who are these Milibands? (said in manner of Lady Bracknell, confronted with a handbag):
I don't CARE; I am EATING a stick:
(I hope wood is good for her digestion; she can demolish a small stick in under four minutes.)
Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I feel oddly melancholy about the Labour leadership outcome. I used to love Ed Miliband, but the campaign brought out the worst in him. He became tribal and oddly petulant; I saw one interview where his underlying assumption seemed to be how dare you lowly reporter question brilliant me? It was most unedifying. David Miliband I thought behaved with grace and good humour. So I think the Unions, and it was they who decided it, chose wrongly. I think it will be bad for the Labour Party and bad for the country, because strong, principled opposition is vital for the next few turbulent years. I am most Sunday-nightish about the whole affair.
Also, the more I ponder it, the odder I think it is to run against your own brother. I know there should not be a coronation sort of thing, just because someone is older, or got there first, but I still find it emotionally peculiar. I try to imagine if my sister wanted more than anything to be Prime Minister (I would vote for that party) and after she had gone about her campaign, I decided that I would step in and challenge her. It would be perfectly within my rights to do it; it would make sense on paper; but I know I could not perform such an act of familial hubris and treachery in a million years. People are saying that it shows that Mili E has the necessary ruthlessness, the chip of ice in his heart that all successful leaders must have. I think this is an old canard. I think it shows that he learnt his lessons in loyalty too well from all his years in the Treasury.
I am in danger of thinking: bunch of showers, the whole lot of them, and I hate that unworthy thought.
To cheer myself up, I made some polenta chips and started to look forward to Downton Abbey, a perfect Sunday night period drama, filmed at Highclere, written by Julian Fellowes, and starring two of my all-time favourites: Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville. (Together at last, I kept thinking.) I consulted the television guide to see what time it was on, only to discover that IT IS NOT SHOWING IN SCOTLAND. Instead, there is a thirteen-year-old programme about Billy Connolly in the Arctic. I am incandescent with rage. I am being treated as a second-class citizen on account of geography. What were the programmers thinking, when they fixed up the schedule? Scots are far too chippy to want to watch a programme about English aristocrats? It is prejudice and foolishness, and I am considering taking my case to the European Court of Human Rights.
I shall just have to console myself with conkers and roses:
Posted by Tania Kindersley.
One of the things that made me crossest about Gordon Brown was his sense of delusion. Nothing was ever his fault. I don't think I can ever forgive or forget the sight of him dodging responsibility for not getting the troops the right kit when he testified in front of Chilcot.
Just watching the Labour Conference (I know; my wild and crazy life), and Gordon has said 'I am still a full-time member of Parliament'. He has been seen twice in the House since he lost the election. If I were his constituents, I would ask for my money back.
I'm just saying.
Posted by Tania Kindersley.
I know I should have screeds to say about the Labour leadership election, Ahmadinejad's crazed speech to the UN, the Republicans' perplexing idea to keep tax cuts for the richest one percent of Americans, and the Coalition's new banking commission and what it might say. (Sometimes there is nothing more I enjoy than discussing the pros and cons of Glass-Steagall.)
However, it is Saturday, so I'm going to give you dogs and flowers instead.
Although I would like to say that I wish people would stop calling David Miliband a geek, as if that were an insult. I don't see him as particularly geeky, but perhaps that is because I am a bit of a geek myself, so geekishness looks fairly normal to me. But really calling someone geeky is just another way of saying they are bookish, better at thought than sport, likely to have a special subject on which they are freakishly knowledgeable, and prone to the gathering of facts. What is wrong with that? Besides, I think we live in the age of the geek. President Obama is very slightly geekish; Bill Gates is the epitome of the genre, and he is not only fabulously successful but is also giving all his money away to good causes. All my favourite political commentators, from Ezra Klein to John Rentoul, have a trace of geek. If I were to give one piece of advice to the Young People it would be: be nice to the geeks, because they are the ones who will end up ruling the world.
Anyway, about those flowers and dogs -
The little white lavender:
My slight obsession with the hydrangea continues, unabated:
The dear old mint is still flowering:
The little hebe is thriving in the wet:
The thyme still has its splendid pom-poms on:
Sometimes I think the rose hips look like small, alien creatures:
(I am certain they come in peace.)
And the dogs are their dear doggy selves; this one wondering, as always, whether I have biscuits in my pocket:
This one contemplating the far reaches of ontological mystery:
As for me, I am going to have a sausage sandwich and watch BBC 24 to see who is to be the next Labour leader. I vote for Mili D, the Geek.
Have a wonderful weekend.
Posted by Tania Kindersley.
There is a lot of politics about at the moment, mostly of the black is white cats are dogs variety. (A tax-cutting party gets the most seats in the Swedish election? My entire world view is shaken.) I could go on, and on, and on, but it's Friday, so I shan't.
I am going to talk about chicken instead.
I have been doing some cooking for my mum. I thought I would make her a lovely beef stew, to herald the coming of autumn. I went to the butcher and got the best rump; I poured in half a bottle of fine Brouilly; I used organic carrots and swedes. I spent all day making it. I was in a state of high excitement. And, despite the perfection genie, or perhaps because of, it really wasn't awfully good. I don't know what it is with me and beef stew; it never turns out the way I want. This time, I looked up ten different recipes, thought and thought and thought, moved with care and deliberation, and still it was not as I had imagined. It was not disgusting, but it was just blah. It would not make you sigh with delight, which is my stated goal when giving anyone anything to eat.
In a panic, I thought: I must take her something else. There were some nice chicken thighs in the fridge, and half a bottle of dry sherry left over from last week. So I did a braise. It turned out quite stunningly satisfactorily, so honour is restored. (Although I shall go on secretly fretting about the bloody stew for some days.)
Here it is, for four:
Take four plump free-range chicken thighs. Fry them in olive oil for about fifteen minutes over a medium heat in a big pan. I do skin side first, to make sure they are crispy on top. I added five cloves of unpeeled garlic, for extra flavour.
Then, deglaze the pan with plenty of dry sherry. White wine will do perfectly well if you do not have it. I used a very, very big glug, probably a glass full. Let this simmer merrily for a few minutes, then add a pat of butter. This will make the sauce unctuous and filled with flavour. I used good salted butter. Add about a third of a litre of chicken stock, or hot water with half a tablespoon of Marigold bouillon powder. Then let the thing simmer on a low to medium heat for about another fifteen minutes.
While this is happening, quarter some new potatoes and cook them for ten minutes, or until yielding. Peel some baby shallots and simmer them in stock or Marigold for the same time. Chop some leeks, and cook for five minutes. I did all this in separate pots, because I am always wary of Crowding the Pan, but theoretically, you could shove everything in with the chicken and do it all together.
Check the chicken. I just took one out and poked the deepest bit of flesh with a sharp knife to make sure it was cooked all the way through. Taste your sauce for seasoning. It will have reduced down a bit. My guess is that it will need a good go of black pepper. It may need a pinch of sea salt, or even a naughty dash more sherry. Throw in a big handful of chopped parsley.
And there you are. A lovely combination of rustic and elegant. It took half an hour from start to finish.
This is just out of my head. You could play around with it. I think it would be lovely with sage or thyme. Or some torn watercress, wilted in the final moments of cooking. Probably not carrots though; I think this is a green and white dish.
Quick added food bonus:
I mentioned something nice with potatoes and bacon, earlier in the week. This is not really a recipe, more just a comforting thing to eat on a cool autumn evening.
I peeled and cubed and boiled some waxy potatoes in chicken stock. While that was happening, I fried up some finely sliced smoked bacon until it was crispy. I removed it from the pan, turned the heat right down, added a glug of olive oil, and very, very gently fried some sliced shallots and three or four sliced garlic cloves until they were soft. In the last five minutes, I threw in some very fined sliced red chilli. Once the potatoes were done, I drained them well and then gave them a bit of a fry in a little olive oil, in big frying pan. The aim is not so much to get them crispy, but to brown them a little and let the flavour of the oil infuse them. Then I mixed it all up together, threw over a bit of chopped parsley, and had my lovely, quick, simple weekday supper.
Pictures of the week:
Have a splendid Friday.
Posted by Tania Kindersley.
Thoughts are blowing in and out of my head like autumn leaves. Here are some of them.
1. Why I love the blogosphere.
I'm always banging on about this, but that is because the bloggers and readers of blogs insist on going on being delightful. Yesterday, I suffered mild angst after putting up a post about going out to lunch. I thought afterwards that it risked looking a bit swanky: look at me with my lah-di-dah pheasant and my bouquets of flowers. I think there is a fine line between sharing the joy and doing the existential equivalent of jazz hands. I need not have worried. You heavenly readers left kind and reassuring comments. At the same time, you were making thoughtful and interesting remarks on my slightly left field legalise drugs post. I like very much that sweet peas and drug policy can co-exist in one unlikely space.
2. One of my prejudices confirmed.
I don't know if this is quite a prejudice, but I have always been slightly cross about the tottering about in vertiginous heels thing. I say this with some demur, since I know some of you adore your shoes. I wear flats or kitten heels, because anything over two inches makes my feet hurt, and I cannot be interesting if I am in pain. I like to be able to discuss geo-politics and make jokes when I am out, rather than obsess about my agonising arches. I suspect that some women simply have a higher pain threshold than I, but my feminist side still worries about women torturing their feet in the name of fashion or sexiness or whatever else it might be. A new study shows that men do not notice. I think this reflects very well on the fellows, who clearly have more important things on their collective mind than Jimmy Choos. It also means that I can go on slobbing about in my Converse All Stars with impunity. I am slightly uncertain where it leaves the trannies and the lesbians, but I hope someone is studying that too.
3. In which I have an unlikely new heroine.
I have never had any interest in Lady Gaga. Sarah once made me watch one of her videos, which appeared to be one long product placement. I felt very old and uncomprehending. But lately she has come storming out in support of the benighted gays in the American military, whom the Senate is bent on tormenting. She says that the great American value of equality under the law must apply to all Americans. I wonder how the great defenders of the Constitution square that circle in their own minds.
(My mother will be going: 'Lady Who?' and wondering if she has a nice Georgian house in Oxfordshire.)
See some of the Gaga goodness here.
Also, my enduring love for Rachel Maddow grows deeper with each passing day. If you have half an hour I recommend going to her website and watching all the reports she has done this week, since she is on an absolute tear just now. But if you only have time for one, this is the best.
4. Thing that made me laugh the most today.
(WARNING: ADULT CONTENT.)
This, from the always lovely India Knight's Posterous page:
It came via Letters of Note.
5. Thing I have been meaning to tell you.
The swallows finally left for Africa. Their departure was late this year. About ten days ago, they did one final majestic muster over my chimney pots, and then they were gone. It is of course the official declaration of autumn, but although it is rather dank today, and the odd leaf is turning, the hips are growing hippish, I do not yet quite feel it. There is a slight sense of limbo as we wait for the real thing.
Here is what it is looking like, just now:
Rather muddy and dreich:
Yet enlivened by rose hips:
And the slightly sinister honeysuckle hips:
And the suddenly colourful blueberry leaves:
Yet the hydrangea is, amazingly, still flowering:
As are the small shrub roses:
Much of the lavender is sad as hell, dreaming gloomily of the Mediterranean, which is of course where it should be living, but some of it has come back for one last hurrah:
One, in an extraordinary display of hope over experience, is even putting out new buds:
6. Thing I was not going to do today.
Put up any pictures of the dogs. There has been far too much of that malarkey lately. But then I took these, so the rational voice of restraint in my head lost:
7. Question of the day.
Does anyone know if it is too late to put in some sage plants? My old ones had to be dug up as they were ancient and had gone all to wood. I have sad gaps I would like to fill, but am afraid of the coming weather. It can easily go down to minus ten here in October, but we have not yet had a proper frost. I know that sage is tough once established, but can't remember how brave the new plants are.
8. Unexpected joy of the week.
In Our Time is BACK. I wandered about this morning listening to Melvyn Bragg discussing things I could not understand one side of, hazy with delight. That's my licence fee in action.
9. That's quite enough of all that. Have a lovely day, wherever you are.