Posted by Tania Kindersley.
WARNING FOR VULGARITY.
I was, literally, going to do a post about sunshine and rabbits. Then, a dear friend called. It took me a moment to understand what she was saying, because she was hyper-ventilating so much. Mr Quentin Letts, the very naughty, sometimes reactionary, often very funny parliamentary sketch-writer for the Daily Mail, has decided that we must all march proudly back to 1953.
‘Go and look,’ the friend said. ‘You won’t believe it.’
The headline said:
HEN-PECKED CLEGGY SHOULD TELL HIS WIFE RUNNING THE COUNTRY MATTERS MORE THAN THE SCHOOL RUN.
This was generated, apparently, by an interview that Miriam Clegg gave, where she said that Mr Clegg makes strenuous efforts to take his children to school.
You might think that is quite unremarkable. Politician Takes Sons to Class isn’t exactly up there with Italian Economy Teeters on the Brink. But Mr Letts knows his priorities, and it is to save the men of Britain from having their testicles removed. I hope the men of Britain send him flowers and chocolates for performing this heroic task.
It seems the Deputy Prime Minister is being pulled in two directions: between his desk in Whitehall, and ‘the human hurricane of Ms González Durántez, the tapping of whose feet may equal, in her husband’s imagination, the stampede of a hundred horses’ hooves. It will be no surprise to analysts of human nature that the good Senora often carries the day. Affairs of state versus a pair of flared Iberian nostrils: the nostrils win.’
I know a lot of working couples. Judging from the kind of logistical conversations they have every day, I should imagine the Miriam Clegg version went something like: I’ve got an early meeting, do you think you could take the children this morning? Or, since Nick Clegg seems like a very fond father, it is even more likely that he offered.
This ordinary, domestic transaction is translated in Mr Letts’ fevered mind into the stampeding of horses’ hooves, a human hurricane, the terrifying flaring of nostrils. And why does he specify Iberian nostrils? Is the implication that Spanish noses are somehow more scary than good old British ones? Those damn Spanish nostrils, coming over here to take our jobs and wreck our families and steal our benefits.
On and on it goes. Apparently, there is an alarming possibility that our very national security could be compromised by Mr Clegg worrying that ‘little Antonio’ might have a cut knee. How what is left of Al Quaida must be chortling in its cave. If the terrorists win, it will be thanks to Mrs Clegg.
Mr Letts is lavish in his concern for our harried Deputy: ‘No wonder he looks so pasty and frayed. It is almost as if he lives in terror of Miriam’s fingertips clicking like castanets and summoning him to his housework.’
Yeah, those damn clicky castanet fingers. That’s what they teach the ladies in Spain. Mr Clegg does not have a chance.
Letts then pauses, misty-eyed, to remember those dutiful females who gave up their work to devote themselves to wifely duty. He remembers, wistfully, the glory days of Norma Major. In a final Why Oh Why, he yearns for Miriam Clegg to enable her husband to be ‘properly supported at home’. Do it for Queen and Country, Mrs C.
I call my friend.
‘Do you think he really believes this stuff?’ I say. ‘Or is he just doing it for effect?’
‘I think,’ she says, ‘that he may be a very, very old-fashioned gentleman indeed.’
What interests me is that not for one moment does Letts wonder if any of this is Clegg’s idea. No, no, he has no agency, not when faced with the whirly Iberian virago who dictates his every move. It is not so much the vitriol: nostrils, horses, clicking castanet fingers. It is the assumption. This goes: if a man does not act in an approved manly manner, it could not possibly be his own decision. It must must must be a ball-breaking wife.
Sadly for the sisterhood, of which I count myself a proud member, these assumptions are not just confined to a cross fellow on The Daily Mail. Judith Woods over at The Telegraph is even crosser.
She starts with a question:
‘Is there a working mother in the land who didn’t read yesterday’s proud revelation by feminist Spanish lawyer Miriam Clegg that her deputy prime minister husband Nick “kills himself” to do the school run and think – for the love of God, give the poor man back his cojones?’
My guess would be that there are hundreds of thousands of working mothers who did not think of Nick Clegg’s testicles for a single moment yesterday. I admit I am speculating, but I would bet several of my Scottish pounds on it.
Another serious question: ‘Just how scared must he be of his militantly ball-breaking wife?’
Again, my guess: not very. Again, the instant assumption: there is no conceivable way that any of this might be the man’s idea. If he wants to do more with his children, it must be because he has had his ‘cojones’ surgically removed. Probably whilst Mrs Clegg ruthlessly played the castanets and laughed her terrifying Iberian laugh.
Also: what is this obsession with balls? Why do all these columnists have so much concern for the testicular fortitude of the modern man? Why is it assumed that all we feminists want to do is creep about in the night with our witchy scissors, bent on emasculation? Snip, snip, snip, eh Mr Gibbon?
I admit, I like Miriam Clegg. I think she looks elegant and intelligent and interesting. I did not fall for the Cleggmania during the leadership debates; I always thought all that talk about new politics was very old politics indeed. But whenever I had my doubts about Mr Clegg, thought he came across as a little facile, I remembered that he had married a strong and brilliant woman, and my opinion of him would rise. (This may be an assumption too far on my part, I freely admit.)
I did once hear him talk of his children on Desert Island Discs. He said something incredibly touching, like: I’m besotted by them. I think it was besotted; it might have been enchanted. It was a good, strong, heartfelt word, anyway.
It was absolutely clear that they were the most important thing in his life, and that they gave him the most joy. This did not sound like the statement of a pathetic, paltry, hen-pecked wimp, but that of a rather nice, emotionally confident man. I liked his private, human self more than his public, political self.
What is so silly, of course, is that these sort of columnists who are calling for Nick Clegg to ask for his balls back, are always banging on about how sad it is that we have a wonkish political class which knows nothing of life outside the Westminster village, and especially little about how ordinary families live. The Cleggs are not an ordinary family (although is any family really ordinary?) but they are facing a very common family dilemma. It seems they are trying to work out how to combine their professional passions and obligations with their love for their children. It has nothing to do with testicles at all. Except for the fact that a lot of this shouty outrage is utter, utter buggery bollocks.
Oh dear. That did turn into a bit of a rant. Here are some soothing photographs to take your mind off it:
Cotinus, with shed in the background:
I think the honeysuckle may have Gone Too Far:
Magical little hebe, which was on the brink of death and now has come back in wonderful blue defiance:
The sun on the burn:
There was another tremendous rabbit chase this morning. Afterwards, the Pigeon had to lie down and have a little rest, whilst our pining visitor continued to race round and round the garden, high on rabbit scent. He was moving too fast for me to take a photograph. However, this is what the old lady’s face looked like:
And today’s hill:
Thank you so much for most excellent canine advice from yesterday. Have not quite managed to reply to all your kind comments, but am putting most suggestions into practice. At the moment am concentrating mostly on food, reassurance and occasional Very Strict Voice. Next: how to deal with moments of intemperate high-pitched barking. It does make me appreciate the Pigeon, who apart from occasional postman moments, is a dog of silence de glace.
Oh, and since my post on language got some of you going, here is another question:
I instinctively use whilst more than while. Since I am on pedant watch this week, I thought I’d check to see whether one or the other is considered more correct. It seems that the use of whilst is considered, in some circles, archaic or pretentious. Should I train myself out of this shocking habit? Or sod ‘em if they can’t take a joke? I know you will know.
And one final style note: I refer to Miram Clegg by her married rather than her professional name because this software has not heard of accents, and I can’t be fagged to cut and paste all day. It does seem that she uses both versions, but I’d like to make it clear I am not making a point. It is utility rather than anything else. And I only say that because there has been a lot of sneering about which name she uses and why.
Really am stopping now.