Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Politics and ponies. Or, a divagation on authenticity and assumptions.

Author’s note: slight warning for length. Sorry about that.


There is an awful lot of politics going on. It is conference season, which is like Christmas and Easter for a political anorak like me. Over the pond, the election season is antic with poll reversals, strange veers in position, and a startling amount of statements which are (and I would be thrown out of the Commons for saying this) not true.

Usually, I would be glued to the computer, watching all the speeches, parsing the interviews, ear cocked for the shift in message. It’s not that I am not interested; politics will always fascinate me, it’s like a disease. But I don’t have the time.

There are two secret projects to write, there is my new, enchanting work for HorseBack UK, there are the equines to school and groom and feed and keep generally happy. (There is too, the racing to keep up with; I must not let my William Hill account down under any circumstances.)

This morning, I listened to the Prime Minister in the 8.10 slot on the Today programme. Normally, I would have an awful lot to say about the policy and the positioning and whether there really is a plan for growth.

In fact, the thing that struck me most was a light moment, right at the end, when James Naughtie made a sly little joke about Boris Johnson. For my foreign readers, Johnson is the Mayor of London and easily the most popular politician in Blighty at the moment. In terms of the Tory party, he is the prince across the water, whom disillusioned backbenchers long to draft in as leader, because David Cameron is not right-wing enough, or not anti-Europe enough, or not hard-line enough, or whatever it is that is driving them demented this week.

Perhaps, Naughtie suggested wryly, the PM would like to send Boris abroad somewhere. Cameron burst into laughter. He managed to stutter out some non-committal answer, but he was really tickled.

It was a revealing moment. He went from being a good but standard politician to a vivid human being. Cameron is actually rather good in interview situations; he does not use jargon, he does use humour, and he generally answers the question, as much as any politico does, these days. I can’t work out whether the not answering the question thing has got worse, or whether it has always been the case. I was really struck by it last week, when Ed Miliband was interviewed by Evan Davis in the same slot. He blustered his way through some polite but forensic questioning on the economy, and then he got the softball question at the end. Everyone was impressed with the fact that he memorised his conference speech, Davis said, and that he spoke for so long without notes. How did he do it?

It was a really nice question. It was a perfect opportunity for him to make a little joke about how he stood in front of the looking glass, declaiming, or made his children listen to the thing at breakfast. It also would have been interesting to know, a little glimpse behind the curtain. But Miliband would not answer. Even on that light, charming point, he dodged and fudged. I was surprised, and rather irritated, partly because I rather did want to know, and partly because he missed a huge open goal.

Everyone who knows Ed Miliband says he is very nice, much funnier and easier in private life than in his public persona. This not answering the question does not help in getting that across to the voters. I wonder if politicians are so handled now, so surrounded by advisers, so hamstrung by being on message, or repeating talking points, that they find it almost impossible to be themselves. When the Prime Minister burst into laughter, he was being absolutely himself, and it was like a gale of fresh air. But it happens so rarely. When did you last hear a politician really laugh?

I wonder too if it is slightly the fault of the voters, the old idea that we get the politicians we deserve. Everyone appears to love Boris because he is so funny and outspoken and bumbly and eccentric. Yet most politicians are liable to be punished if they step out of line, say what they really think; it can work, but it can backfire horribly. I suspect most of them think the risks are too great. They stick to this mealy, fudged, on message line, so that no one can have a cudgel to beat them with.

The public and the press say they long for authenticity, but too much authenticity can come back and bite a political operative on the arse. It’s why there is the revealing phenomenon of politicians out of office almost overnight becoming twenty times more interesting and thoughtful and amusing than when they were in power. (John Major and Michael Portillo are the two most shining examples of this.)

The absurd thing, I suddenly realise, is that this was going to be a post about how I was not going to write about politics, and now I have written of it, although not quite in the way I had intended. It’s an aspect of blogging I rather like; there is the galloping off on an unexpected tangent, the liberty to make it up as you go along.

What I really wanted to tell you today was a little story, not about conferences and polls and psephological minutiae, but about my pony. Yes, today is the day when sweet little Myfanwy steps out into the limelight.

It’s a parable really, and I’ll keep it as quick as I can.

She arrived as a rather unexpected loan, to keep Red the Mare company. Compared to my grand duchess, she was a little bit scruffy and little bit furry and a little bit ornery. Because I was working so much with my own horse, I did not pay nearly as much attention to the small Welsh person.

But then I realised that was unfair, and began concentrating on her. With the help of the brilliant Horse Talker, we have taught her to join up, to stand on command, to yield to pressure, to do all the natural horsemanship things, which she loves. We take her for gentle walks and sometimes, for fun, I lead her off Red. With the arrival of Autumn the Filly, we have moved them all into a strict herd routine; we work with them in turn, we groom them and feed them at regular hours, they know what to expect. They are a happy and settled band.

But the pony is the particular revelation. She was tense and uncertain when she first came to her strange new home; there were lines of anxiety over her eyes, and her little jaw was clenched. The more I work with horses the more I see that some of them really, really hate change. You can’t throw them into a new situation and expect them to get on with it, even if they are a tough little mountain breed.

Now that she is bathed in attention, now that she has her own little job to do, the pony has blossomed. Her eyes have softened, she whickers when she sees us, she stands in ecstasy when I scratch her sweet spots. I did not expect to love her as much as Red; I felt mild fondness, but I’m ashamed to say I felt at first she was not in the same league. (Horrid, horrid equine snobbery; I must cast it out.)

Now I am besotted with her. Her coat is soft as velvet from brushing, her ears are pricked, and she has a little dancing swagger about her. Everyone adores her, and she basks in the love. She is an integral part of our herd, and I can’t imagine the field without her.

I think this is a parable because it is all about appearances and assumptions. It’s a sort of frog turning into a prince thing. Just because someone does not look shiny or brilliant or eye-catching does not mean one should sideline them or write them off or make cheap assumptions about them. I had rudely, stupidly, assumed that because Myfanwy was old, and a pony, and a bit roly-poly, she would not learn in the way my sleek, clever Red did.

It was absolute nonsense. When I gave her a chance, she turned out to be a model pupil. And now she is so happy and proud of herself that she grows in beauty every day. She might not be descended from a Derby winner, but she is an absolute champion in all our hearts.


Today’s pictures:

The cows, sheep, hills and mountain of Red’s View:

9 Oct 1

9 Oct 2

9 Oct 3

9 Oct 4

9 Oct 5

9 Oct 8

Autumn the Filly is very relaxed in her work:

9 Oct 9

Red was also very chilled out today, looking more like a donkey than a duchess:

9 Oct 14-001

The wibbly lower lip, always a good sign:

9 Oct 15

Inspecting her view:

9 Oct 14

The Pigeon, in three of her different incarnations – sniffing for clues,  yearning for biscuits, and in ball ecstasy:

9 Oct 20

9 Oct 21

9 Oct 23

The heroine of the day goes in the place of honour. See how lovely she looks:

9 Oct 10

9 Oct 11

9 Oct 13

And the dear old hill, very blue and stately today:

9 Oct 24

PS. One of the Dear Readers asked a while ago about the camera I use, and I quite forgot to reply. It is an Olympus PEN 3 series, with a zoom that goes up to 200. I also use Picasa software, free to download, and very good for cropping, putting on colour effects like sepia or black and white, and beefing up contrast if the pictures sometimes come out a bit flat. Very occasionally, the opposite is the case; sometimes the Scottish colours are so wild and surreal that I actually tone them down a bit, because they look too vivid to be true. Oddly like fiction, in that regard.


  1. a very lovely post, with lots to ponder.

  2. thanks for the posts. good blog.

  3. Maybe now I can admit that I have secretly liked Myfanwy's face better than Red's from the beginning... ;-)

  4. What a lovely story. Myfanwy must feel like she's arrived in heaven.

    As for politics . . . the topic is so depressing at the moment that I can hardly contemplate it, and wish I had a pasture and a small herd to turn to, to just shut the whole subject out! What you say, though, is dead-on.


  5. I've been away and have had a lovely catch-up through the posts. The family has grown: welcome to Autumn the Filly! Hurrah for Myfanwy! She has always reminded me of the horse on the cover of a childhood book I loved called The Little White Horse.
    Beautiful pictures as always; of your Scotland and of your Darling Ones. xx

  6. You have made me so happy with that story. I always secretly worried about poor Myfanwy being neglected a bit and considered worth less than your glorious Red.

    And you are right, she looks different now than when she first arrived. I love you to bits for bringing that about.You're a gooden,Tania Kindersley!



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