Thursday, 24 January 2013

The political and the personal

The Political.

The debate about obesity is back in the news. I seem to remember writing an article about this years ago for a political periodical, where I suggested that the government should subside watercress, or kale, or something. My theory was that crap, fattening foods are cheap and good, healthy foods are expensive, and so no one should be surprised that weight is a problem.

This morning, Diane Abbott was being very naughty on the Today Programme. Government must do something, she said, staunchly. But, said John Humphrys, most reasonably, you were in power for years and you never did anything.

Ah, said Diane, and this was the naughty bit, but you know very well that I was not in government.

This was an inside baseball joke because all politics geeks know that Abbott and the leadership were never exactly cosy.

She then refused to talk about what Labour had done or not done in the past, and criticised this government for doing nothing now. People need help, she said. It’s no good just telling poor people they are useless because they are overweight. (There is some evidence to suggest correlation between poverty and obesity.)

It made me think about personal responsibility and what the state should do. I’m an old lefty at heart, in that I really, really do believe in government. I know all its flaws, but I think there are people who need help in helping themselves, and that the free market is too red in tooth and claw to be left to its own devices.

I think government should not only do certain things, but that it can set a tone. Matthew Parris had a theory that Britain became a kinder place under Tony Blair, for all his faults; more open to and tolerant of immigrants and minorities.

I remember knowing that I could never vote for Margaret Thatcher or the Conservative party of the eighties and nineties, not because of economic policy or geo-political theory, but because of Clause 28. That tone was a bad and horrid tone.

It was the wording of it that really got me. It said that schools could not teach the ‘acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.’ Someone sat down and drafted that clause. Someone wrote that sentence, and thought it was a good one. It is dripping with contempt and less than and general mean-mindedness.

A lot of people probably never knew what Clause 28 was, let alone what it actually said. They cared about jobs and pensions, and so they should. But I knew, and I cared, and it made the Tories impossible for me. Tone matters; leaders lead. That nasty little clause effectively said that it’s all right to look down your nose at someone because of whom they love.

So I think that what happens in Whitehall is very important in many different ways. But I’m not sure about the obesity thing. Is it really government’s job to put the nation on a diet? Isn’t that rather intrusive and patronising? Surely the decision to eat or not to eat is a very personal one indeed?

Although I do think it is a national scandal that a small bag of watercress, with all its iron and vitamin C, costs over a pound, whilst a tin of spaghetti hoops, groaning with hidden sugar and salt, is nineteen pence.


The personal.

The grumpiness has gone, and I have decided to enjoy the snow. It’s a still, calm, pretty day, which helps. As the blizzards have stopped, I took the rugs off Red and Myfanwy, so they could loaf about with the air in their coats. Despite the fact that it is still minus two, their clever internal thermostats are so efficient that they stayed beautifully warm.

The snow is still too deep to do actual work with them, so this morning, after feeding and watering, I just hung out with the herd for a bit. I go and stand with them, and one by one, they come for love. I scratch all their various sweet spots, and chat to them a bit, and feel their lovely velvety muzzles and smell their glorious clean scent.

It’s easy to take this for granted, to accept without question that they are just very nice, polite people, who are naturally relaxed and affectionate. But when Red first arrived, she did not want any of this. She stayed in the furthest corner of the field, waiting for me to go and fetch her. The moment I took her halter off, she disappeared. In a new place, with a new human, away from her old herd, she had no desire for contact. She was distant and uncertain.

The very fact that now she mooches by my side like an old donkey is a small miracle. She whickers when she sees me and comes straight along, hoping for love or food or both. She knows I am her person.

We got here through time and patience and thought. We took steps forward and steps back. Sometimes I really do think she is my best life lesson. She lifts my heart and opens my mind, and I don’t take that for granted for a single second.


Today’s pictures:

Mostly of snow trees:

24 Jan 1

24 Jan 2

24 Jan 3

24 Jan 4

24 Jan 5

24 Jan 6

24 Jan 7

24 Jan 8

24 Jan 9

The amazing thing about these is that they were all taken in colour, but the landscape is so monochrome at the moment that they almost look like black and white.

We have two new additions to the field, a lovely pair of robins, who are flirting about all over the place, and come and sing to us in the feed shed:

24 Jan 18


24 Jan 19

Autumn the Filly, looking very pretty today:

24 Jan 28

And about twenty-seven pictures of Red, because she was very photogenic today, and at her very sweetest, so my heart is filled with her:

24 Jan 20

24 Jan 22

BLINKY EYES; just like the darling old Pigeon did them:

24 Jan 23

24 Jan 25

24 Jan 26

They say the two things to look for in a racehorse are a big eye and a big arse. Red qualifies on both counts:

24 Jan 27-001

24 Jan 27-002

I pressed some button on the camera when taking this Stanley action shot, and it came out with an odd neon effect, but I rather like it:

24 Jan 27

With his good boy serious sit and stay face:

24 Jan 29-001

24 Jan 29-002

Those EYES.

Hill, from two different angles:

24 Jan 30

24 Jan 35


  1. Aha! So I, too, have the ass for racing! I don't know whether to be elated or....depressed.

    Don't know why but snow seems to photograph WHITER in color than in black and white. Trees similar in Belgium (they look sugar-frosted).

    1. Hurrah for the racing asses amongst us!

  2. God, what heartwrenchingly gorgeous photos.

    1. So funny - I know I'm supposed to be all about the prose, but a lot of the time I am more delighted when people like the pictures. I suppose it's because it's not my job or my talent, and I'm just busking it. Anyway, SO SO glad you liked them.

    2. It might not be your job, but I'm not sure you can say it's not a talent...

  3. Hi Tania - LOVE your pictures. Your pony's eyes are beautiful. I always enjoy every photo you post of her. And the others, too. Quite lovely. About politics, food and government telling people what to eat - yes, it probably would be intrusive. However, government can and should play a far stronger role in the process of making good, natural, nutritious food available to all at reasonable cost. But the lobbyists spent a hell of a lot of money to influence legislation allowing GMOs and cost-cutting that save the food processing interests a lot of money in producing cheap food that really isn't that good for anybody. Until that changes, neither will people's eating habits, as people with lower incomes will buy less expensive foods out of necessity.

    1. Such a thoughtful comment, and SO agree with you about the nutritious food.

    2. I agree. I just read a fascinating book called "The American Way of Eating", which documents the problem in a slightly different way... I wish we could get rid of the big agribusiness lobbies... the US has done one good thing, in that there are now food stamps that are useable at farmers markets. It doesn't help much when there are no markets in the area, though.

      I just saw a fascinating movie, called The Moo Man, at Sundance. It also illustrates the problem, in that there are fewer and fewer small family farms, as they keep getting pushed out of existence by the big agribusinesses. The farmer also made a telling point about the difference between "shop milk" and "fresh milk". And the same is true of food. I notice the difference in how I feel in summer, when eating mostly locally and fresh, as opposed to winter, where the "fresh" stuff is trucked in. (sorry, you got me on my soapbox)... (also, so excited, and don't mean to hijack your blog, but my sister's movie, The Square, won the Audience Award at Sundance!!!!)

  4. The last picture is BEAUTIFUL. Sky opening up with the hill peeking out...

    1. So pleased you like the sky and hill. :)

  5. All I am going to say here (rather than expound insanely on those photos) is that it's a very good thing I'm in New York and Myfanwy is in Scotland. Because I think that if we were in the same place, I'd just eat her up, ice-capped chin hairs and all! 8-)

    1. Your love for dear little Myfanwy gives me so much pleasure. We all adore her here too. So glad you noticed the icy whiskers.

  6. I too heard Diane Abbott on the Today Programme this morning. I really want to like her and mostly she speaks sense, but she sounds so smug. And that's never good in a politician.

    Excellent pictures, the snow makes everything look so wonderfully peaceful. But then I would think that.

    Helena xx

    1. Helena - always so lovely to hear from you. Completely agree about D Abbott. I always liked her on This Week and forgive her the occasional contradiction, but oh oh she did sound too pleased with herself for words this morning. And you can't mess with John Humphrys like that. :)

  7. Love the snow piled slightly askew on top of Stanley's nose!

    Clause 28 sounds bone chillingly awful. Not that, as an Australian, our politicians were/are any better on the topic.


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