Posted by Tania Kindersley.
Each week, I dutifully get The Speccie and The Staggers. For non-Blighty readers I should explain that these are the two grand old duchesses of political periodicals. The British periodical has a long and venerable history: The Spectator was founded in 1711. It was a daily sheet, its mission ‘to bring philosophy out of the closets and libraries’. Now it is online; now, it has blogs.
The New Statesman is a much younger girl, invented by the Fabians in 1913. The nickname comes from the fact that it has staggered from one financial crisis to another. (I always used to think it was because all its writers were drunk, which was very wrong and silly of me.)
One is right, and one is left, although there are blurs and overlaps and token interlopers from each side. I read them both because the insane liberal in me insists that I must see both sides of an argument. Also, as the regular readers will know, almost my entire raison d'être is to wage a daily battle against tribalism.
It turns out that I agree and disagree with both in about equal measure, although the current incarnation of The Speccie is more likely to make me laugh, even when I want to throw things. (The New Statesman has an occasional ‘how can you smile when the world is so oppressed’ tendency.)
Anyway, none of that is the point. The point is that both run those kind of articles where someone gets a whole page, and will address anything from two to six different subjects, in short, discrete sections.
Sometimes it’s a regular columnist – Peter Wilby in The New Statesman and Hugo Rifkind in The Spectator are my two shining stars – and sometimes it’s a diary, written each week by a different person. As I read Charles Moore this morning over my breakfast croque monsieur, I suddenly realised what a pleasing form it is. His final paragraph was a lovely bit of domestic reportage. His young nephew is autistic, and had suddenly asked him: ‘What colour is God?’ I am not religious, but even I can see it is a stunning question. It is philosophical, poetical, and beautifully, gently comical.
I think: this short, snappy paragraph thing is something I should try. I’m always getting my teeth into a subject and shaking it like a grumpy Jack Russell with a rat, droning on for a thousand words about one thing. Why not just skip about a bit, and give the Dear Readers a break? When I start thinking of the day’s blog, usually on the morning walk, there are at least eight different subjects rattling around in my brain. I start each in my head, then discard. That’s too dull; that’s too obvious; that’s too demoralising. Why not let them all out to play?
Having made this thrilling blog decision, I sit down in some excitement to type and find – all today’s subjects have fled. It’s like my mind is playing a little cosmic joke on me. There you are, with your many subjects and many paragraphs idea, and now there are no subjects. That’ll learn you.
I screw up my eyes and concentrate. The Pigeon, oblivious to my travails, snores gently by my side. The room is suddenly very still. I think: if I sit quietly for a while, will inspiration strike?
I have a look at Twitter, as if this might provide a spark. Everyone is going nuts over the resignation of Chris Huhne. Surely a small paragraph there? But I find the very thought of Chris Huhne so profoundly lowering that I cannot bring myself to waste the language of Milton and Shakespeare on him. (Oh, did the pretention klaxon just go off?)
The weather, I think, that’s always good for a word or two. I am British, after all, discussion of the elements is stitched into my DNA. It was minus seven on the morning walk and my ears started hurting. Not really much there; Scotland cold in winter shock. Although it always does make me laugh that the anti-climate change people get so tremendously excited when the mercury falls below zero, as if that fact alone refutes acres of science.
Ah, refutes. Now that may ignite a train of thought. (Can a train of thought ignite? I shall be pondering that for the rest of the day.) People are increasingly using refute to mean deny rather than disprove. Its correct dictionary definition is: to prove to be false or erroneous as an opinion or charge; to prove a person to be in error. The crucial word in that definition is prove. It’s not just he said, she said; it’s not the Mitt Romney school of ‘because I say so’. (cf Romney’s repeated charge that Obama took the recession and made it worse. Look at the graphs, Mitt; look at the GRAPHS.) But then I think: do you really need a dose of pedantry on a lovely, shining Friday? My suspicion is: not.
At this stage, I decide to give up. I have work to do after all, and so do you. It seems that my brilliant new plan shall not go into commission today, but shall remain at the blueprint stage. All this also gives me new respect for those writers who use this form, week after week, with such seeming effortlessness. Condensing a complete thought into one paragraph turns out to be really difficult. Even the idea of tackling it has led me into the mazy realms of inconsequence.
Still, I don’t mind a bit of inconsequentiality. Not everything has to have a definitive ergo. Lucky for me, I have The Pigeon, and I am going to make up for lack of provoking prose by giving you some tremendous dog pictures with which to end your week. It is the very least you deserve.
So, photographs of the shining day.
As we set out, I became suddenly obsessed by these stripes of sunlight slatting the path:
A tiny glimpse of the distant, frozen hills over the trees:
Now for the dog pictures. When I say tremendous, I do not mean they have any merit in sharpness or composition. But I was thinking that The Pigeon has been looking rather serious lately, since she has taken to putting on a grave face for the camera. (Mostly from resignation and boredom at the posing process, I suspect.)
I wanted to show her having fun. So, when I threw a stick for her this morning, I decided to try and capture it. It's very difficult, partly because she is so quick. I had to chuck the stick, swiftly aim the camera and snap, relying entirely on chance and autofocus. The pictures themselves are rotten, but the antic story they tell is, I think, rather enchanting. Bear in mind this dog is thirteen years old.
Here we go. Stick joy:
What I especially love about all that is not only the delighted pleasure she gets from it, but also the serious determination with which she retrieves. She's not messing about. We did not teach her to do it. It is encoded in her ancestral past. Or something like that.
And this is the face I get at the end of it all:
Oh, please, just one more:
Pure happiness. For me and her:
(Do you see the tiny bit of lichen she still has in her mouth? Lichen, I discovered last year, is part of the staple diet of reindeer, and is even regarded as a delicacy for humans in some parts of Japan.)
Anyway, that is my dog story of the day. Not bad for an old girl.
And today's hill: