Sunday, 26 June 2016

The little ships put out to sea.

Down in my quiet Scottish field, the sun shines and I work the horses. Yesterday, I cheered myself up with horses. The beautiful and brave Harzand won the Irish Derby to add to his English one and I shouted him home. My sweet domestic thoroughbreds are equally adept at lifting the heart.

Every so often, though, I feel something clutch at that heart. It is fear, and dismay, and regret. As if it were not enough that the global economy is rocking and rolling (I never knew the world would pay so much attention to little old Blighty), that pre-referendum promises are being torn up like old betting slips, that there are already plans for a Scottish breakaway, the two main parties have plunged into an orgy of internecine warfare. In the blue camp, the Anyone But Boris bus is revving its engine. In the red camp, half the shadow cabinet is on the brink of resignation: the stage is like the final scene in Hamlet, littered with corpses. The sunlit uplands seem very far away.

I sternly tell myself to retrieve my Blitz spirit. I shall be the little ships of Dunkirk. Every woman must do her duty. I shall work twice as hard. I shall write only cheering books, because everyone is going to need cheering books. I will look on the bright side. Perhaps Schumpeter’s gale is blowing; perhaps this is creative destruction. The Beloved Cousin said on Friday, as I told her of some of this: ‘Yes, we must rise like the phoenix from the ashes.’ I remember the seventies, and the three day week, and the feeling that poor old Britain was finished. She was not finished. The old lady rallied. She may rally again.

I quite wish everyone was not so cross, but perhaps they need to be cross. Perhaps there has been a great store of crossness building up in their breasts and it needed to be released. Even the winners are cross, oddly. Some of the losers are furious, but more of them seem to be sad and baffled. Many of the winners appear to be livid, which I don’t quite understand, despite my study of the human condition. (Study human condition more, I tell myself, adding another resolution to my list.) ‘Stop whining,’ they shout, on the social media. ‘Suck it up.’ I think, slightly bizarrely, that they should watch the racing more. Racing people are amazingly good at losing with dignity and winning with grace. They tend to be humble in victory. The trainers always give credit to anyone but themselves: a great horse, a great team, we were very lucky, they say, with sporting good manners. Nothing that is happening now is very sporting.

Work harder, be resilient, look for the silver lining. Dunkirk boats. Rally, rally. I put the horses back in their field and go to see the dear Stepfather. I think: I must make a joke, to cheer him up. My job, since my mother died, has been to cheer him up. If I can bring a smile to his poor face each morning, then my job is done. I make a slightly mordant joke about the forty new trade deals that must be negotiated, and the fact that Britain has no negotiators. Job opportunities there at least. I suddenly realise that was not really very funny. I try to make a Boris joke, but that does not quite hit the mark either.

He sits down, looking defeated. He is over eighty and he can’t see a way that any of this is going to get any better. I try my rally, rally tactic, but it gains no traction. In the end, I just listen, quietly, to his sorrow. All I can do now is give him an ear. I wonder what the stop whining brigade would say to this old gentleman, if they could see him.  Would they tell him to butch up, to get with the programme, to savour his new freedoms? I wonder what, precisely, those freedoms are. I wonder: what happened to empathy?

The little ships of my mind put out to sea. Dunkirk was a disaster, by any calculation. Yet the British cherish it as a kind of victory, in the odd way that Britons adore their defeats. A phoenix did flap her wings over that troubled sea, rising from the ashes of Europe. Can I be the captain of my small ship, the mistress of my soul? We are a sea-faring nation. Perhaps we can chug, chug, chug over this stormy ocean. 


  1. Ah losing gracefully as only a gambling woman can. I did that Friday. On reflection, it was probably the shock.

    By Saturday I was in deep disappointment.

    This morning I woke with a ball of rage in my chest.

    Rage at the machine that spewed out fear and lies on every side. Rage that there is no plan. Rage that good people, born elsewhere, are being openly abused and told to leave.

    The Dunkirk analogy is apposite. British (or English) history spun in the favour of the plucky underdog: win or lose. It's the kind of narrative that's left its mark over the years and I wonder when we will feel able to let go of it.

    I cannot just suck it up. How much worse for your stepfather. Feeling some of the pain.

  2. We will survive - we always do.

  3. I went looking for that quote, thinking some great statesman had said it and, as it turns out, it's from a song sung by none other than (Dame) Vera Lynn.
    "There'll always be an England...

    While there's a country lane,
    Wherever there's a cottage small
    Beside a field of grain.
    There'll always be an England
    While there's a busy street,
    Wherever there's a turning wheel,
    A million marching feet."
    It was written in 1939 and became popular during the Second World War.

    England WILL survive. I'm not so sure about the UNITED Kingdom however.
    (And, as an American, the whole swing toward what seems almost like rabid nationalism scares me. Donald Trump could be elected the next president of the USA. That was my first thought on hearing the Brexit result.)

  4. My late first father-in-law was at Dunkirk and brought out in a little boat, at the age of 21 or thereabouts. Had he not survived, and as many of the BEF as could be got away had not survived, he could not have gone back on D-Day+2. Nor could he have fathered my first husband, born in 1946, who in turn fathered my only child, my daughter who is 36 and voted Remain, as did her father who lives in France but voted by post. As did her stepfather and I. As did her young husband. As did everyone I know, feel close to, and am related to, all bar one. Who knows better than to crow victoriously in our hearing. We are a family that was taught its manners, on the whole.

    The United Kingdom might be an outdated concept. Scandinavia manages pretty well as a region of small independent countries with shared cultural origins and a history of warring between one another.

    England is too big alongside its neighbours though, and often too arrogant to see its own faults. Regional assemblies with devolved powers might be the next step. Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, London, Oxford, Cambridge etc, the pro-Remain cities, might quite like that idea, but can they take the shires with them?

    More than anything, the Brexit vote has been a vote of rebellion, a protest, an urge for change, which they were promised by men with no mandate or power. Now they must wake up to the fact that not all change is an improvement, necessarily, and not all promises can be kept, and in fact they weren't promises they were mere suggestions, if read carefully enough that was quite evidentt

    Still very quiet on the Ghastly Godawful Gove association, Tania. When ARE you going to write about your old university chum? He is conspicuous by his absence, as Rachel remarked a day or two ago, in these pages.

    1. I guess the complete redesign of your blog speaks volumes, Tania. No more mention of the book you co-wrote with Sarah Vine, or oblique references to any political operatives.

      Old friends can change, can't they? Eventually they can become almost unrecognisable. I guess that shows how we all change with age and time.

      Sometimes that change is an improvement, sometimes we are not so sure.

      When that happens to me I try to file the friendship away under Ah Well...though I have no idea what they file me away as, of course.

  5. I think we have to try and keep the faith with whatever we had faith in before. Chugging on is the only option, thanks as always for your words. In a sea of commentary, they still shine, Rachel

  6. No offense to anyone, but at a time like this, it is unlikely that anyone in official positions is taking calls from old chums, and if they are, said old chums are definitely NOT writing about what is said.

  7. I can tell by the way you spell the word offence that you are not in the UK, Rafe.

    Look up links to Sarah Vine in the RH column. Tania was pleased enough to trumpet the association a few years ago, I suppose it was all with a view to shifting copies of Backwards in High Heels.

    Why so quiet now? As I said a few days ago, elephant on the blog...

  8. Hello Tania,
    I truly hope you continue to write your blog in your inimitable style, and cover the issues that you want to, in a way you choose. Most of all, I hope that you are able to ignore unkindness and inappropriate judgement about aspects of your life that you choose not to share.

  9. Ditto to what Jane said, Rachel

    1. You've changed your tune, Rachel. You were the one that called it The Elephant on The Blog, the first to point out the connection and the silence on that aspect of the topic.

  10. Dear Anonymous, I am a different Rachel...

  11. Oh dear, what a sad day, whichever side you voted for, a nightmare seems to have been created. And all the bad feeling and wrangling currently going on just is not helping. Perhaps we illiterate nobodies should never have been offered the chance to vote on such an important issue. But the politicians offered us that chance and must deal with the outcome. And I just wish they would get on with doing so, instead of all this playground squabbling. I do very much agree with Jane in SF. And as an old non-reconstructed hippie, can I just add three little words . LOVE. PEACE. TREES.
    Tania, I am so much looking forward to your next blog and send you my best wishes. Gill

  12. I think there's been a bit of confusion and some people have mistaken this blog for a radio call in type talk show scenario. Its an easy mistake to make but basically a blog is written by someone who chooses what they want to write about themselves as often or infrequently as they like, and a radio chat show invites people to call in and share their opinions and be cross. It's an easy mistake to make but for the record - this is a blog. Hope that helps.

    1. It is a public arena. Some people have been following this blog since pretty much the outset. If we are not meant to comment freely and ask awkward questions occasionally then that is just stifling genuine discourse, a sort of tyranny. If all Tania and the likes of you want is a chorus of gushing approval and an echo chamber of Me Too, Me Too, at a time like this, then that is a bit fucking pathetic.

      We have not mistaken this blog for anything it is not. Four or five years ago it was all politics and publishing, look at me ma and buy my/our (with Sarah Vain)'s books. Now it is I love my horse(s) like no-one could ever say they love their children without everyone needing to reach for the sick bucket, interspersed with oh and look the world is still going round, I suppose I'd better say something about that too.

      It has developed since starting out as the last word in vainglorious self-publicity. It is often excellent. It is often mawkish and sentimental. Some of us have better memories than you do, Fi Cotter-Craig. Some of us have been paying attention

      Stop being so fucking condescending. Hope that helps.

    2. Bravery thy name is Anonymous! Put your name on it if you have the nerve. No, then its obvious you can't take the venom you are spewing.

  13. Dear anonymous, if you have something to say to me feel free, fcottercraig@gmail will find me. I'd hate you to clutter this lovely space with more of your ranty swearing.

  14. Oh dear! What's wrong with everyone? Perhaps you need to moderate the comments on your blog Tania? Looking forward to your next post.

  15. Indeed, Connika, you couldn't have put it better. Isn't it enough that we have the media spitting and spatting? And I can't be the only one worried about Tania - I do hope everything is alright with you. And am also looking forward to your next post. Gill

  16. "Can I be the captain of my small ship, the mistress of my soul? We are a sea-faring nation. Perhaps we can chug, chug, chug over this stormy ocean."

    Chugging means something very different these days in UK yoof parlance. I believe it refers to drinking wine straight from the bottle, not too sure.

    Perhaps there is a lot of rather drunk, and very angry, betrayed-feeling, desperately frightened typing going on among UK-based commentators? Just a the top of my addled and exhausted head.

    Some people flea when they are frightened, some people stand and fight, and others blame others. Whatever is going on, cortisol and adrenalin will have fueled at least some of it. Allowances do need to be made.

    Farage just resigned (agaaaain) this morning. No-one here knows if they are coming or going. If Tania has the wherewithal perhaps she's taken a holiday to an Scottish island with poor or no broadband for a few days. It would be a blessed relief for her if she has.

    1. I meant flee, not flea. Doh! I said my brain was addled.

  17. I add my voice to the chorus of other readers hoping that you are not feeling silenced by rather spiteful calls for complete disclosure and arbitrary standards as if this were a public service medium rather than a private individual's personal blog. Looking forward to your next post,

  18. My voice from over here also hoping you don't let anything other than summer, your beloveds and lack of blog time be keeping you from posting here. Always, always, always love your words. Looking forward to next time and sending love, xxx


  20. Ahoy there!! Please come back!

  21. In the interest of trying to limit my internet time, I have been reading but not commenting for quite some time, but I feel compelled to speak up after seeing anon's boorish behavior. Don't let it bother you. Ignoramuses abound, but they cannot dictate what we do with our personal blogs, and that's just a fact of life, whether they like it or not. I enjoy your writing so much; you have incredible talent. Take care, and take heart.

  22. Dear Tania,
    So sad to see your absence and hope you're ok up there. I left Facebook for similar reasons as the above and hence sadly miss your posts and our occasional chat.
    I'm still here though, with Jon and an ever growing George - he starts school in September - can you believe? - I remember you being on birth alert for can it be so long ago now?
    West Yorkshire love and trees, always, Anne.x


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