Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Let’s do the time warp again

Posted by Tania Kindersley.


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:


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?’

She pauses.

‘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:

13 July 3

I think the honeysuckle may have Gone Too Far:

13 July 4


13 July 5


13 July 7


13 July 8

Magical little hebe, which was on the brink of death and now has come back in wonderful blue defiance:

13 July 10


13 July 11

The sun on the burn:

13 July 12

Wild grasses:

13 July 13

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:

13 July 113 July 2

And today’s hill:

13 July 17.ORF


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.


  1. I love this rant! Why shouldn't Nick Clegg be besotted by his children and want to do the school run in order to spend time with them? Quentin Letts is an idiot.

    p.s. I couldn't find an email address for you but I wondered if you minded if I linked to your blog from mine (which is new and rather pathetic at the moment)

  2. Quentin Letts is an idiot when he writes for the Daily Mail. But weirdly I look forward to his appearences on the Today Program.

    What I really can't stand is that he's given to this silly overexaggeration in the Daily Mail and then I found it on an American Hyper Conservative Christian Ladies' blog being truimphed as fact. I visit this blog sometimes because there is a twisted part of me that likes to have high blood pressure and the red rage veil across my eyes.

    Really I should stay away from the aforementioned blog and the Daily Mail.

    But what a lovely thing to say about his children. And he probably doesn't get to see enough of them in the first place.

    Pigeon looks lovely as always. My dog is still in slough of despond with his post-op Elizabethian collar. If only I could turn him into a more Elizabethian looking dog, like a whippet or a wolfhound.

  3. And I apologise for my overuse of 'lovely'. Time for a thesaurus!

  4. Kathryn - so glad you liked the rant. Link away; I would be most flattered.

    Katy - so agree. Also, I think he is a geniunely funny man. That's why I wonder if sometimes he is putting these opinions on for effect. Love idea of the Elizabethan dog. Oh, and if you should apologise for lovely, I should times ten. I use it all the time. Very naughty. But then it is such a good and expressive word and sometimes the only one that will do.

  5. Thank you for the rant and the lovely, soothing pictures, especially the burn. I had a difficult morning, and a really good rant always cheers me up.

    I'm glad to see that the Pigeon looks so well and happy.

    And please, do, use the word whilst. It's part of the charm in your manner of speech.

  6. Razinah - what a very kind comment. Don't want to sound too soppy, but the idea that something I write might cheer someone up is very touching. Also, most appropriate, since you dear readers have cheered ME up so much in the last couple of rather sad months.

  7. Meanwhile not a mile away, in another part of the village, I find myself chortling with delight at your comments, but unable to resist the thought that my cotinus is bigger than your cotinus.

  8. Eric - can't BELIEVE that cotinus wars are about to break out on the blog. It's a first. So pleased about chortling.

  9. Having never used whilst, being American and all, I rather like it when you do. Much too pretentious should I begin to use it but apropos for you, I think. And, by God, sod 'em if they don't like it.

    As for the Cleggs? I would never utter a word about UK politics, not with the loonies who inhabit the halls of government in this country, our President and a few others aside.

  10. Somehow your rant about the Cleggs cheered me up too-- like Jean P, I feel that Americans at the moment have no business criticising other nations, but in a horrible way I do feel better knowing we're not alone. What really enrages me here is the article by Judith Woods-- what is going on with conservative women competing for the title of Retrogression Queen? This is, naturally, rampant in the US, with the Bachmanns, Palins and Schlaflys lining up to destroy women's rights as fast as they can (is Schlafly still alive? I try not to notice).

    It is just odd to me that, so frequently, the most repressive people in anti-female cultures are women themselves, striving as hard as they can to squash their daughters and nieces and friends under the same thumb that squashed them-- currying favor with the squashers all the while, no? "Look at me, I can fry an egg, not like THAT unnatural woman over there! Pick me, pick me!" I grow incoherent, due to mounting rage. Does not help that I just got off the phone after 20 minutes of ranting about the debt ceiling and the intransigence of that stupid, stupid woman from Minnesota. Sorry.

  11. Jean - always love your comments. Since you give me permission to use whilst, I give you permission to say what you like about our politics. American politics does seem to be going through a period of great strangeness, but it does fascinate me like almost nothing else. Although I imagine it must be more alarming than interesting if you are subject to it. Hope Mr Obama holds his nerve.

    Ellie - SO SO agree about the reactionary women, all of whom appear to be working outside the home, who trash feminism, despite benefitting from the move to equal rights. If not for the first and second waves, Mrs Palin would be at home in Alaska baking cookies. *grinds teeth* Meanwhile, I watch Michelle Bachman with awe and wonder as she reinvents history (slavery and the founding fathers was my favourite)and stares out of the television screen with those unblinking eyes. Debt ceiling debate makes my ears fall off, it is so mad. Someone will surely blink soon?

  12. I am absolutely incoherent with rage that in this day and age people are still saying such things IN PUBLIC and UNASHAMEDLY. It is insanity. But also just so odd. Why is it unmanly to love your kids? And something that a man must be forced into by a woman? So insulting to men!!

  13. I am very much afraid that if anybody blinks it will be the people who are sane and rational; as you point out, it appears that Mrs. Bachmann physically cannot blink, which is both a literal truth and a depressingly accurate metaphor. It is hard not to think that we are in for some very nasty times ahead.

    Pigeon and plant photos are of inestimable revitalizing value in such times. It is always nice to reflect upon dogs when you are filled with despair-- impossible to stay sad.

  14. Kate - I KNOW. Hard to know which gender is more traduced by such sentiments.

    Ellie - oh, oh, so glad the Pigeon is working her magic. I do start to think she IS a little big magical.

  15. I file stuff like the Letts (incredible) "lapse" of judgment under "Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water..." (the tag line from the movie "Jaws").
    By the way, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" is one of my all-time favorite movies (Tim Curry in a bustier, black net stockings & platform shoes is, oh, just so SWEEEET <-- referencing 90s sk8board "street talk).
    Pigeon looks positively invigorated. Rabbit-chasing as some "fountain of youth" elixir??? I'm gonna go look for a rabbit!


  16. Oh Pat - I once loved The Rocky Horror Show so much I could recite every single word of it by heart. So glad you notice how splendid the Pigeon is looking. I do not want to tempt fate, but she really does seem to have got a new lease of life.

  17. Pigeon looks so happy and well again. It is lovely to see.

  18. Main topic - the assumptions are infuriating. It's one of those situations I find myself going "where do I start, will it make any difference..." and decide that the company of chickens would be more soothing.

    Katy - you do not want your dog to be a wolfhound in an Elizabethan collar. Been there, done that, and Conall had great difficulty going around corners or turning in the hallway as the collar would inevitably get caught on a wall(poor love!).

    AND - so pleased someone else uses "whilst" as a matter of course. For some reason it is a favorite of mine.

    Something I find quite effective with the dogs (when they need to be in disgrace or reminded Who Is In Charge) is to go "Bah" at them in a deep growly LOUD voice. It's the closest we can manage to a proper Dog Leader reprimand. Could be worth a try.

  19. Yes. Just yes. And what is worse would be that if the roles were reveresed and his wife was doing it, people would

    1. Expect this of her


    2. Probably consider her incapable of doing her job as motherhood apparently means handing in your card as someone able to do anything other than look after children in the minds of people who spout this nonsense.

    Sorry. It makes me cross. And it made you cross. Thank you

  20. Ahh but Erika, he is a large labrador in an Elizabethian collar that is half as long as he is! The turning circle is just as you describe! The piteous expression ('why are you doing this to me? What have I done wrong?') defies description.

  21. Thank you very much, Tania for everything you said and for saying it so well. I think I may take up castanets myself in solidarity.

  22. Tania - imagine if we got Quentin Letts together with New Zealand's Alasdair Thompson, the former chief executive of the Employers and Manufacturers' Association (Northern). AT was recently dismissed for a series of unfortunate foot-in-mouth comments, such as: "If you really want to keep some statistics, look at who takes the most sick leave. Why do they take the most sick leave? Women do in general. Why? Because, ah, you know, once a month they have sick problems."

    Notwithstanding his appalling attempt at a coherent train of thought (this is a direct quote), his "sick problems" euphemism defies belief.

    He went on to say women were also less productive because of taking time off to have and tend (sick) children. But then with a stab at enlightenment he suggested,"It may be because they haven’t got it sorted out with their partners, where the partners take more responsibility for what happens outside work."

    Perhaps Letts and Thompson could compete to see who could be the most outrageous misogynist?

    I do know who will win the prize for the greatest mangling of the English language. And, in my book, it's a dollar each way on the other score.

    Loving the Pigeon today: she's radiating happiness. x

  23. Lou - it IS lovely, isn't it? Can't tell you how it cheers me.

    Erika - so pleased you like whilst too.

    Siobhan - yes, yes, yes. So agree. Here is to unity in crossness.

    Katy - so know piteous look.

    Lillyanne - hurrah for the castanets.

    Michelle - ONCE A MONTH???!!! Am breathless. We must concentrate on radiance of the Pigeon to recover.


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