Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Not really about Greece at all

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I was going to wade into a whole thing about Greece. I have been telling you an awful lot about my life lately, and it is high time I swished about my soi-disant credentials as a citizen of the world. I have no idea where this citizen of the world idea came about, but it is something I have had stuck in my head since I was about eighteen. In my addled mind, it has two essential elements. One is that despite different cultures and customs and local mores, people have more that unites them than divides them. It’s a bit mushy, I freely admit, but I like to think the human heart knows no borders. And secondly, I feel a perfectly inexplicable duty to look outward, and not get trapped into an insular, island nation state of mind.

So, I get an odd guilt when I just bash on endlessly about the garden and the dog and the hills. I must have serious opinions about world events, especially when the world is so very strange. I have no notion where these internal imperatives come from, but I must obey them.

Greece, I thought. Come on. It’s the only story in town. It’s the most incredible, in its literal sense, story in town. The idea that one small nation could effectively hold the world economy to ransom seems almost too curious for my small brain to take in. Possibly the repercussions might not be felt in Indonesia or Brazil, but if Greece goes smash, the shattered pieces of the Euro dream will shake the mighty behemoth of America, as well as all of Europe. Poor battered old Blighty, with her shaky 0.5% of growth, will almost certainly fall back into deep recession. Banks will totter and fall. Consumer confidence will crash through the floor, lending will dry up, stock exchanges as far away as New York and Hong Kong will shudder and sway.

I was going to be snarly and cynical. What does that Greek Prime Minister think he is doing? I was going to write about the reaction to his decision to call a referendum on the bailout deal in the House; how the Indian Prime Minister curled his lip; how Sarko and Mrs Merkel are tearing out their hair. I was going to write about years of incompetence and corruption.

Then I thought: hold on. I thought of the people living in Greece, and how they must feel. They are in the worst crisis since the war. There are no good options for them. And then some superior British person comes along and starts pontificating about their government. It suddenly seemed like insult on injury.

One of the oddest things about nationality is how it can feel a bit like a family. I can bitch and moan about my relatives, but if someone from the outside were to do the same, I would rise to my family’s defence like a tiger. So it is with Britain. I can complain about the government, or national absurdities, or societal weaknesses. But if I hear a foreign voice on the radio being critical of the British, I get prickly and defensive. This is entirely irrational. In the same irrational way, I get a mad gleam of pride when I hear someone saying something kind about us.

There was an excellent programme on the World Service the other day about The Establishment: what it is, how it has changed, whether it even exists any more. The Britons interviewed were, quite rightly, rather scathing about the remnants of the class system and other anomalies which allow Oxbridge to dominate the corridors of power. I did not mind that at all. It was within the family.

Then a thoughtful German correspondent called Thomas Kielinger came on. I’ve heard him before on Radio Four, and he is always incisive and fascinating. He could have torn into the oddities of The Establishment, but he chose instead to be polite. He said the thing he noticed most about those Britons who rise to the top of politics and journalism and the arts is how broad their intellectual reach is, how antic and interesting their conversation. He said it was what he enjoyed the most about working in London.

This had nothing whatsoever to do with me. And yet, I felt proud and pleased. There is no explaining it.

So, I’m not going to go sneering at the Greek government. There are plenty of economists and international experts and Euro commentators who are going to do that anyway. The Greek people are having a perfectly ghastly time. I am not going to intrude on family grief, with my gimcrack opinions and my cheap shots.

This is why I would never have been any good at being a columnist. In the abstract, I believe absolutely in the right to give offence. It’s a great British tradition; it’s one of the glories of Private Eye; it’s a central tenet of freedom of speech. But in the particular, I think: I’m not sure I want to put words on a page that might fall like a new blow on a fresh bruise. It’s ridiculously mimsy, and I’m not especially proud of it, but there we are. That turns out to be my admission of the day.


Pictures of the day:

More autumnal hills:

2 Nov 1 01-11-2011 16-01-51

Almost my favourite of the little beeches:

2 Nov 3 01-11-2011 16-06-32

For all that we are in a riot of ambers and scarlets, there are still amazing patches of green. This is the philadelphus on my dry stone wall:

2 Nov 5 01-11-2011 16-06-57

The very last leaves on the rowan tree:

2 Nov 6 01-11-2011 16-07-11

Carpet of leaves:

2 Nov 10 31-10-2011 15-12-24

The lovely hydrangea just keeps flowering:

2 Nov 7 01-11-2011 16-15-42

As does my tiny sedum cutting, which I hope is going to survive the winter:

2 Nov 9 01-11-2011 16-17-15

Sometimes this dog is so sweet and funny I really don't know what to do. This morning, she decided to amuse me by posing next to the marjoram, so it looks as if she is wearing a flower in her hair, like Carmen Miranda:

2 Nov 19 02-11-2011 10-40-42

And then she did her OHMYGOD OHMYGOD Is That A Rabbit face:

2 Nov 20 31-10-2011 15-04-13

The sky had clouded over by the time I got to the hill, so it sits, rather regal, under the violet murk:

2 Nov 22 02-11-2011 10-40-20


  1. Can you please take the Pigeon on a world tour, so that all of your adoring readers can meet her, one by one? I think this would do much to shore up failing confidence.

    I cannot weigh in on the Greece problem because I have been sticking my head in the sand about absolutely everything, from the GOP debates to the various international monetary crises, because I can't stand it; but I do know exactly how you feel about somebody criticizing your country. When I go back to Seattle it seems that all they want to do is sneer at Texas, in the cheapest ways, and while I know that they are only doing it because TX seems inexplicable and terrifying to them, it enrages me. I want to shout that they should really come here and see us before they start making assumptions based on Rick Perry. Ann Richards, I want to yell, Molly Ivins! (Two lovely Democratic Texan ladies). Lady Bird Johnson! But ah, well. I also bristle when people down here write off Seattle. Nationalism is so complex. I mostly feel it on a small scale, unless somebody really egregiously insults the US.

  2. Ellie - what a lovely comment. Pigeon World Tour is genius idea. I think I shall just put her on the Queen Mary. So glad am not alone in the defensive stakes. I admit Rick Perry does seem v strange, but I DO NOT think that he in any way represents all of Texas. As for Molly Ivins, I ADORE her and have read all her books. And of course Ann Richards was, I think, the originator of the backwards in high heels quote about Ginger Rogers, from which Sarah and I took the title of the book. So hurrah for dear Texas!

  3. Sign me up for the Pigeon tour, please.

    Best. Picture. Of. Hill. Ever.

  4. Marcheline - Pigeon tour is making me laugh. So glad you liked today's hill. :)

  5. When I lived in London, I loved your photos for the memories of the countryside I grew up in but saw so rarely. Now I live in Cheshire and am surrounded by the beauty, I think I love your photos even more because they mirror my world. Thank you for that x

  6. As usual, beautifully put. If everyone were as thoughtful about giving offense the world would be a vastly more civil place.


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