Friday, 30 April 2010

Random thoughts from a broad

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I'm a little politicked out, after all that. So today it is just random musings, because it's Friday, and why not?

Here is what has been wandering through my mind today:

Would it be utter heaven to have a lovely, shiny black floor, or would you fall over every time you put your heels on and had one too many martinis?

Image via Dress, Design and Decor

(Via Dress, Design and Decor.)

Will there ever be a human being as elegant as Cary Grant?

Cary Grant

(Photograph uncredited.)

Why is it that I take so much pleasure in beautiful photographs of ordinary objects?

Logs by Mitesh Asher at Photographs for the Soul

(Logs, by Mitesh Asher at Photographs for the Soul.)

Where in the world are these glorious hills?

Rolling Hills via Pixdaus

(Hills, uncredited, via Pixdaus.)

The day I get bored with Jack Kerouac is the day that they carry me out feet first.

Kerouac via Visualize

I would love to know what Bird-in-Hand is, and why it is one mile away. Also, do let us all Use Other Door.

Signs from A Collection a Day

(From the excellent blog A Collection a Day.)

When I am an old lady, I am going to wear hats. And possibly gloves as well.

Henri Cartier Bresson 1951 avedon carmel snow marie louis bousquet

(Photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson.)

Wouldn't it be lovely if the dear old British could make matches as beautiful as the Swedes do? It surely would help to revive our ailing economy. Give the matchmakers a government grant, I say.

Matches from Dress, Design and Decor

(Matches via Dress, Design and Decor.)

I am dreaming, dreaming, of the first asparagus of the season.

Asparagus via Best Room in the House

(Via Best Room in the House.)

And I wait too, very patiently, for the first sign of blossom. Nothing yet, but I live in hope.

Blossom from La Tartine Gourmande

(Photograph by La Tartine Gourmande.)

Thank you all so much for your amazingly kind comments about yesterday's vulgar post, and for all the good wishes about the book. I cannot tell you how much it warms every last cockle of my heart.

Have a lovely weekend.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

A shameless moment of utter vulgarity

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Today is the paperback publication day of Backwards.

Backwards paperback

To mark the day, in a momentary frenzy of hideous self-promotion, I am putting up a link to the most glorious review Sarah and I ever had, by the lovely India Knight.

(It still makes me blush.)

I know that many of you very kindly went out and bought the hardback, for which Sarah and I thank you keenly and sincerely. Should you want to buy the paperback, obviously I must recommend you support your local, independent bookshop. If you do not have such a gem on your doorstep, you can also find it at Amazon:

I should not say this, I should not, I should not, but I don't think I can help myself: TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS.

Right. That's quite enough. I do apologise. Now I shall stop flaunting my wares, and go back to my more sober preoccupation with the key marginals. If I carry on like this I shall be sent to bed with no supper.

Sarah on bodies

Posted by Tania Kindersley

Happy Woman photographer unknown

Sarah, on embracing all shapes and sizes, in The Times:

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Gordon, Gordon, GORDON

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I had a little bit of angst yesterday after dissecting the psychology of the Prime Minister. It has to be admitted that I am not, in fact, a doctor. I read a bit of Jung when I was younger, that's all. Am I really fit to pronounce on the mental state of our Dear Leader?

Then Mr Brown, ever the gentleman, came along and saved me. 'Good, good,' he said to a certain Mrs Duffy, after she asked him about benefits and immigration. 'Nice to meet you. Good family.'

Then, in the car: 'Who set that up? It was a disaster. She was a bigoted woman.'

Mrs Duffy was a lifelong Labour voter who may not be quite so lifelong after that. Money quote comes from a reporter who spoke to her afterwards: 'She did not even know what a bigot was.'

The defence, being mounted manfully by Lord Mandelson of Foy, Andy Burnham, and Alistair Campbell is 'he's only human'. It was a human reaction, apparently. We all get crazy sometimes. It's very, very bad luck for them that Mrs Duffy is a widow who works with handicapped children.

The thing about the stickability of gaffes is that they have to feed into an already existing narrative. If some national treasure like Joanna Lumley described someone as bigoted, we would all assume that she had a keen ear for prejudice. When the Prime Minister hurls that word around, especially after saying 'good family', it confirms the lurking suspicion that he really does not like us voters very much. It illustrates the difference between public, smiling, politicking Gordon, and private, growling, telephone-throwing Gordon. It fits the pattern that, in his eyes, when someone challenges him, they are not only wrong, but bad.

The Only Human defence is not helping. It would be much better to say: it was wrong, he regrets it, he has apologised, now do let us move on to our plans for giving every single ordinary hard-working Briton a puppy. If Nick Clegg or David Cameron had called a member of the public bigoted, I do not think that Lord Mandelson or Alistair Campbell would have reacted more in sorrow than in anger. I suspect it would have turned out that Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron were not 'only human' but in fact the spawn of Satan come to raze our fields and despoil our women.

The curious thing about all this is it almost makes me feel sorry for Gordon Brown. I stick by my analysis. I think he is enraged, entitled, and unable to admit to his own flaws. I think he has made catastrophic mistakes with the economy, and I get madly grumpy that he will not face them. I wish he would stop doing that weird phoney mad uncle smile. I wish he had not sold gold at rock bottom prices. I wish he was not running a once proud party into the ground. I wish he did not have an unattractive tendency to blame the people around him for things which are his fault. I hold him culpable for the lack of kit and helicopters in Afghanistan. But after all that, he is still a human being. Mrs Brown, whom everyone says is very nice, loves him. He has two small boys who must see him not as failed leader, but good old dad. He is not running around selling crack to minors and drowning kittens with his bare hands. He is not evil. There is a tiny edge of the pitiful in watching him flail about, unable to get anything right. I take no pleasure in his downfall. I do, however, think it is complete.

In the final, Shakespearian twist, it was Mrs Duffy, a Labour loyalist, on her way to the shops to buy a loaf of bread, who, quite without meaning to, struck the fatal blow. The ironies of that shall echo around the commentariat until there is no more ink with which to write. It was, in the end, the unkindest cut of all.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Whoah, Prime Minister

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Gordon Brown outside Number Ten

I am going to admit something very, very embarrassing. When I was young and foolish and believed in new dawns, I had a tiny little crush on Gordon Brown.


You have to cast your mind back to the late nineties, when the talk was all of Tory sleaze. The papers were filled with Neil Hamilton and Jonathan Aitken. The government had lost economic credibility after the ERM debacle, and suffered from a sense of drift. Everyone was making jokes about John Major's cones hotline and that speech he made about old maids cycling across village greens and the thwack of willow on leather. (For my international readers, this is not an S&M reference, but a cricketing expression.)

There, like two beacons of hope on the horizon, were Gordon and Tony. It seems absurd now, with all that has happened, but they represented everything new, vigorous, exciting. They were young and serious and determined; they seemed even idealistic. Brown appeared not dour and livid, but serious and brooding. I actually got a little thrill when he started talking about macro-economics.

Something terrible happened to him along the way. I think he allowed his burning desire for the top job to eat away at him. He sat, deep in the Treasury, biting his nails, furious that Blair, with his easy charm and plausible manner, was getting all the love. Then, in an almost Shakespearian twist, when Brown finally elbowed Blair aside and grasped the holy grail of power, it turned to dust in his hands. The economy, his special subject, his claim to ultimate credibility, smashed into a million pieces. There was not even time for him to take a victory lap before he was faced with the worst financial crisis since The Great Depression.

What is really interesting about Gordon Brown is that he often accuses the Tories in general and David Cameron in particular of having a sense of entitlement. The shrinks call this projection: you accuse your enemy of your own character flaws. I think what happened to Brown is that, in all those years of yearning and waiting, he developed a huge, fat sense of his own entitlement. It seems to baffle him that when he finally got what he felt he deserved, there was no credit waiting for him.

The voters, disgruntled over the expenses scandal, frightened by the massive national debt, disenchanted that the children still could not read, upset over the tragic roll call of fatalities in Afghanistan, bitter about the dodgy dossiers and the missing weapons of mass destruction, turned their pent-up ire on the Prime Minister. There was, it turned out, no love for Gordon. There is no love still, as the Labour Party languishes at its lowest point in the polls since Michael Foot ran on the longest suicide note in history.

Brown's view of himself is that he is a hard-working devoted public servant, who has pulled himself up by his bootstraps, and steers by an unimpeachable moral compass. He talks often of his values, and of his devotion to the people. He specialises in doing the Right Thing, unlike those shiftless public schoolboys on the opposition benches. In order to maintain this pristine persona in his own mind, he cannot admit to mistakes. One brick removed would bring the whole edifice down. This is why he continues to insist that the crash was nothing to do with him. It is why he ignores the fact that countries like Canada and Spain avoided a banking crisis. His hands must remain clean.

Just now, the Prime Minister gave the most inexplicable performance on The World At One. Martha Kearney is running an excellent series of programmes where the voters can telephone in and ask the party leaders questions. David Cameron appeared last week, and acquitted himself very well. He is much better when faced with real people with unscripted questions than in the artificial arena of the debates. He was polite, engaged, and articulate. Interestingly, he seems unfazed when people disagree violently with him, not in an I know better way, but in an each to each is what we teach way. He appears to understand that there are people who will always oppose his policies and his ideas, and that is their constitutional right.

Gordon, on the other hand, takes it personally. Where Cameron understands that people who argue with him simply hold a different point of view, Mr Brown appears to believe that anyone who opposes him is utterly wrong. He growled, he talked across callers, he hectored and lectured. I listened in utter astonishment. There were long moments where you could hear him actually banging the table. I could imagine Lord Mandelson of Foy putting his head in his hands in despair back at Labour HQ. This is not the way to win over the electorate. The voters are battered and bruised. My sense is that they would like not only a few brave policies and effective economic solutions, but also some humility and empathy from their elected representatives.

As a political performance, it was disastrous. It is very hard to understand why such an old hand as Gordon Brown would make so many schoolboy errors in one fifty minute slot. I think it is because, much as he talks of The People, he only likes them in the abstract. In reality, he is enraged with the electorate, for not understanding him, for not giving him the love, for denying him the garlands that they once gave so generously to Tony Blair. However many spin doctors or pollsters or body language advisers or focus groupers advise him, he cannot prevent this rage and resentment from seeping out round the edges.

It makes me sad. This is my party that he is leading to catastrophe. There are still great arguments to be made for the role of government, but Brown is not making them. He is just getting cross with the voters. The people are not right all of the time. They have quirks and contradictions and sudden strange mood swings. They can be nimbyish and demanding and prone to bizarre moments of Cleggmania. But they deserve better than this, Prime Minister.


If you want to have a listen, and have access to the BBC iplayer, you can hear the oddness here:


Picture of the day is a slightly pointless red collage, just to take your mind off all that election grumpiness:


(All pictures by me, in case you didn't guess.)

Monday, 26 April 2010

In which I thank the Academy

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

The lovely Marcie over at Lemons and Laundry has given the blog an award:


I find this both very flattering and excruciatingly shy-making. It is wonderful to be acknowledged by other bloggers, but at the same time I feel this is such a tiny, fledgling thing compared to some of the tremendous and polished blogs out there, that I really don't deserve it.

It has made me think about the curious nature of blogging. The marvellous thing about it is that there are no rules; the terrifying thing about it is there are no rules. I like to do things well; there is still a part of me which is the small schoolgirl who wrote and rewrote pages of homework so that there were no smudges or blots or crossings out. I adore the kindness and comradeship of the blogosphere, yet, despite all the encouragement and generous words, there is still a voice in my head which insists I am not doing it quite right. Even though I sort of know there is no Right.

I think, on this glorious sunny Monday, I am going to put these absurd nagging doubts aside, and just say Thank You. I dedicate the award to all you dear readers, without whom this would be nothing.

The rules are: you say seven things about yourself, and then pass the award on.

So, my seven things:

1.  The first album I ever bought was Songs of Love and Hate by Leonard Cohen. I was nine. Go figure.

2.  My favourite novel in the whole world is The Great Gatsby, followed closely by The Sun Also Rises. I love Mrs Parker and Mrs Woolf. For comfort reading, I go back again and again to Nancy Mitford. I can recite quite long chunks of Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love. I don't really understand people who say they don't read.

3.  I take an absurd pride in my ability to make really good soup.

4.  When I was younger, my secret ambition was to be a backing singer. I wanted to be one of those shimmying women who went woo woo do bop wop. I have recently had to admit to myself that this is never going to happen. (I also once quite seriously wanted to be a professional backgammon player.)

5.  I am embarrassingly bad at: tennis, cryptic crosswords, skiing, sewing, mathematics, poker, remembering where I left my keys, keeping my bag tidy, filing, and making any form of bread except for soda bread.

6.  I am in a state of constant awe and wonder at the loveliness of my female friends. They are brave, funny, elegant, clever and kind, and I could not exist without them. (I love the boys too, of course, but it the women who take my breath away.)

7.  I take an odd delight in the fact that I can type at 75 words a minute.

And now for the passing it on part. I have my very old favourites, whom I mention quite often here, so I thought I would highlight three new discoveries. They are:

Lou, Boos and Shoes, which is not only utterly charming but also one of the most aesthetically pleasing blogs I have ever seen.

This led me to another gloriously visual blog, The Bottom of The Ironing Basket, which is a perfect feast for the eyes.

I read quite a lot of wordy blogs, which I love, but a couple of weeks ago I had a sudden desire to gaze upon beautiful photographs, and I rummaged around the internet in search of prettiness. That was how I found these two, and they are packed full of delightful photographic treats.

Another one new to me is Fashion's Most Wanted. Despite the name, it is about much more than fashion. It is a great combination of life in Dalston, pictures of style icons, general musings, and excellent quotations from interesting women.

There we are my darlings. Now I am back to the election. I leave you with some pictures of the one thing I did not have to include on my list of seven, because you all already know of my absurd and irredeemable love for my two old ladies, who spent last night basking in the spring sunshine:

dogs garden April 25th 056

dogs garden April 25th 082

dogs garden April 25th 062

dogs garden April 25th 070

(Now they are getting on in years, their faces have taken on a faraway philosophical expression. Unless of course they see a rabbit or a biscuit, in which case they revert to the frantic puppiness of youth.)

dogs garden April 25th 061

Friday, 23 April 2010

Happy St George's Day

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I'm never quite sure what nationality means. From my voice, you would conclude I was as English as crumpets and Morris Dancing. By blood, I am English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, French, and, if the dottier of my two grandmothers is to be believed, American and Danish too. I grew up in the Lambourn valley, in a landscape of downland, chalk horses carved into the hills, and ancient barrows. I was briefly at school in France, and languished away long weeks of my twenties in Dublin and Connemara. Now I live high up in the north-east of Scotland.

But what's not to love about a gentleman riding about on a horse, slaying dragons? So let us tip our hats to St George.

Today also marks the birth of William Shakespeare. Here is a little burst of the St Crispian's Day speech, which never fails to bring a tear to my eye:

    Oh, do not wish one more!
    Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
    That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
    Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
    And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
    We would not die in that man's company
    That fears his fellowship to die with us.
    This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
    Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
    And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
    He that shall live this day, and see old age,
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
    And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
    And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
    Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
    But he'll remember, with advantages,
    What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
    Familiar in his mouth as household words-
    Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
    Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
    Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
    This story shall the good man teach his son;
    And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
    From this day to the ending of the world,
    But we in it shall be remembered-
    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
    For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
    Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
    This day shall gentle his condition;
    And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
    Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

It is also my lovely sister's birthday. I gave her white roses and those crazy green chrysanthemums that look like they are made-up flowers, and some nice scented things for her bath. Tomorrow, we shall have a little celebratory dinner.

In the meantime, I leave you with some pretty pictures for your Friday evening pleasure:

Flowers by ethanollie

(Lovely picture of flowers by ethanollie.)

Road uncredited from Pixdaus

(A road that looks almost like a metaphor; uncredited, from Pixdaus.)

Volcano image by AP

(Could not resist another volcano picture; by the AP.)

Holland Park by Little London Observationist

Tulips in Holland Park taken by Little London Observationist

(Two marvellous views of tulips in Holland Park from Little London Observationist.)

Wall decal by Shanna Murray

(I love this. It's a wall decal by Shanna Murray. Via A Cup of Jo.)

Fete from Basically Anything that is awesome

(If we did not live in murky Scotland, we would have a glorious outside dinner like this for my sister. From Basically Anything That Is Awesome.)

Radishes by creature comforts

(Who knew that radishes came in so many colours? From Creature Comforts.)

And I can't let you go without a gratuitously delightful animal picture:

Polar Bear by Hall Brindley wildlife photographer

(Astonishing picture by the wildlife photographer, Hal Brindley.)

There we are, my darlings. Happy HAPPY birthday to my lovely sister, and a lovely happy weekend to all of you.

Sarah, and Serendipity

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Mother and Baby 1949 by Ruth Orkin

Sarah weighs into the crying baby debate today in The Times:

Even when I am just putting up a link, I like to find a good photograph to go with it. I am keenly aware of the importance of offering you a little visual pleasure, especially at the moment, when our eyeballs are seared by wall-to-wall politicians. So off I wandered on The Google to find a nice illustration. Most modern photographs of babies are simply ghastly, it turns out, banal and obvious and glutinously sentimental. It might sound like a rather awful thing to say, but babies as a generic are not that interesting. What are lovely are photographs of babies one knows, because they are invested with love and intimacy and context.

Anyway (there is a point to this story), I turned away from the gloopy baby pictures and typed in 'vintage photograph of mother and child' to see if I could find something more interesting. And that led me to a website showing the photographs of Ruth Orkin. I collect photographs, and have some passing knowledge of it, but I had never heard of her.

She turned out to be rather brilliant. I found photographs like this:

Stopping Traffic, Florence, 1951 by Ruth Orkin

And this:

Tirza on Sinks by Ruth Orkin

And this:

Man in Rain, New York City by Ruth Orkin  1952

And this:

Photograph by Ruth Orkin

(Sorry they are rather tiny; they come out that way and if I blow them up they lose focus.)

Here is where the serendipity part comes in. As I browsed through the archives, I found this photograph:

American tourists in Rome by Ruth Orkin

I bought this as a postcard years ago. I remember absolutely loving it because I hoped it would be exactly what I would be like when I was an old lady, running off to Rome with one of my girlfriends. I too would wear a hat and an elegant frock and drink my drink through a straw. And today, because Sarah wrote an article about babies, and I needed to find a good photograph to illustrate it, I finally stumbled upon the author of my postcard. I don't know why I did not just turn the card over and look for the credit, but there are many things I do or do not do which have  no explanation. But now I do know, and I could not be more pleased. Ruth Orkin, I salute you.

To see more of her photographs in their full glory, go to It's really worth five minutes of your time.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

In which it all kicks off

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

(Warning: this post has not been edited for length.)

The election has now gone into twenty different kinds of crazy. I woke up to Chris Huhne shouting at John Humphrys on The Today Programme. Everybody knows that only Mr Humphrys is allowed to shout.

Actually, he was being at his most calm and moderate this morning. He made the perfectly reasonable point that it was slightly curious for Nick Clegg to present himself as the shining figure of the new politics, almost an anti-politics character, when he has worked as a bureaucrat in Brussels, was picked by Lord Brittan on Lord Carrington's recommendation, and then did a little light lobbying on the side.

'SMEARS,' Mr Huhne yelled.

It was all damn rotten SMEARING, and the BBC had been at it for years, and he would see that lily-livered Mr Humphrys round the back of the bike shed if it was the last thing he did. I paraphrase, obviously.

In vain did John Humphrys point out that there was nothing wrong with Brussels or lobbying; it was just that it did not really seem like novel politics, or the act of an outsider.

Those were 'REAL JOBS' howled Mr Huhne.

This in itself was curious, since the only inference one could draw was that he regarded being a politician as not a real job. In which case, why would he or his leader choose such a non-job in the first place?

'AID PROGRAMMES,' he kept repeating. 'TALKING TO CHINA. CHINA!!!'

I could see the aid programme thing; obviously halos must be burnished to keep them in spit-spot condition. I was less certain about the talking to the Chinese thing. Was it supposed to suggest that Mr Clegg was a tremendous citizen of the world? There was the tiniest, merest whiff of a very old idea indeed: brilliant Mr Clegg could stand up to the wiliest of Orientals. I think that must be just me reading between too many lines; surely no Liberal Democrat would ever think in such outdated stereotypes? I should never let such a common thought or mean cross my mind. It's just that the Lib Dems, being big on human rights, are generally not great supporters of the Chinese, so I can't quite understand why Mr Clegg talking to them would be considered such a marvellous thing.

There was a bit more harrumphing, a little light fisticuffs, Mr Huhne resolutely refused to address the question, and then they all went out for lashings of ginger beer. Or something.

I am still mystified as to why Mr Huhne chose this morning to unleash his dark side.

Talking of dark sides, the Prince of Darkness himself, Lord Mandelson of Foy, marched into The World at One and told Martha Kearney with a straight face that the Tories were manipulating the press to spread SMEARS (there goes that word again) about the poor hapless Liberal Democrat leader. Because everyone knows that Lord Mandelson of Foy never manipulated the press in his life. Not he. To her luminous credit, Martha Kearney also kept a straight face as his lordship told her how 'disgusting' he found the entire affair.

As the clip clop of high horses was heard around the BBC, The Daily Mail had found a tall pony of its very own to gallop about on. Apparently Nick Clegg had made a NAZI SLUR against the great island of Britain. This was tremendous news. The blogosphere duly exploded with delight. On closer examination, it turned out that Mr Clegg had written an article for The Guardian which was less fascist propaganda and more well-meaning moral relativism, but I suppose that does not make such a catchy headline.

Over at The New Improved Indy, shenanigans were taking place at the daily editorial meeting, when James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks burst in and began berating Simon Kelner, apparently because he had implied something disobliging about Mr Murdoch senior. Euphemism of the day goes to an unnamed witness, who described Mrs Brooks as being 'in full gesticulating mode'.

On hearing of this on The Daily Politics, The Guardian's Nick Watt revealed that he had once been in a lift with Rupert Murdoch and that he was 'very grumpy'. I nominate this for runaway scoop of the day. (It was actually terribly funny, and reduced everyone on the set to schoolyard giggles.)

On Twitter, half the nation was having a huge amount of fun with a #nickcleggsfault hashtag. (Currently number one trending topic.) My favourite examples:

I burnt the toast and set off the fire alarm. It's #nickcleggsfault.

I have nothing to wear. It's #nickcleggsfault.

Nick Clegg lived in the same town as a seriously ill man and never visited him, though he knows he has a spare kidney. #nickcleggsfault

And, in my very favourite shock development, Saint Nick's surname has morphed into a new word. Charles Nevin at The Independent this morning wrote of a 'breezy, cleggy optimism'. It's a fabulous neologism. It will of course be open to shifts in meaning. At the moment, it may be used as an adjective to suggest new, insurgent, unexpected, the implausible growing plausible. If the Lib Dem bubble bursts, 'cleggy' may come to mean short-lived, flash in the pan, not quite everything it promised. Should the hung parliament scenario play out so that Gordon Brown stays in Number Ten with a Lib-Lab pact, so that Nick Clegg's promise of a vote for change means a vote for exactly the damn same, 'cleggy' will be the quickest way of indicating the law of unintended consequences at work. Happy linguistic geeks shall be watching this space.

So come on, my darlings, who said politics wasn't interesting?

PS This is too perfect. I thought I might just google 'cleggy' to see if anything came up. Apparently it is already a word. According to The Urban Dictionary it is street slang for either a lifeless hobo who is immature and an idiot; or a blatantly boneheaded move; or, an incredible human being, a perfect specimen, the ultimate, sublime.

Those Lib Dems, I thought, there really is more to them than meets the eye. They have clearly infiltrated The Urban Dictionary and inserted that last entry. But no. I look more closely. The definition was posted in 2005. Although, that was when Nick Clegg first entered parliament, so perhaps some very far-sighted person was looking ahead. Funny business? I am saying nothing.

After all that, you really do deserve a lovely picture of the day, so I give you this animal enchantment:

Leopard from Pixdaus

(Uncredited, via Pixdaus.)

And to my international readers, who perhaps do not indulge in a close reading of British politics: I really do apologise if you have no idea what I am on about. If it's any consolation, I have very little idea of what I am on about either.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

I could not have put it any better myself

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

My brain is all used up today, and I can hardly type one letter in front of another, let alone give you a coherent blog. Luckily, I came upon an enchanting piece by Jon Snow this evening, and I am going to direct you to it instead. It is about how Britain might not be quite as broken as the more sensational newspapers like to think:

It's something I've been thinking of for a while. Of course there are feral children, and irresponsible parents, and shiftless scroungers, and venal bankers. Of course there are holes in the road and health and safety zealots and a permanent traffic jam on the M6. But there are also the carers and the volunteers, the courageous soldiers and the dedicated scientists, the investigative journalists and the antic comedians. There are the good, ordinary Britons who laugh when interviewed by a newsperson after being stranded for five days at JFK because of the ash and say: 'Well, you've just got to get on with it, haven't  you?'.

So, thank you, Mr Snow, for saying all that for me when I am so tired my ears are about to fall off.

Appropriately enough, today is the Queen's birthday. I was once a furious republican, but age does curious things, and now I admire Her Majesty as much as any taxi driver. So Gor Bless you, ma'am.

The Queen stamp

Picture of the day is a little British collage:

2009-12-01 Royal Academy and London

(All pictures by me except Chelsea Pensioners, Dornoch Castle, and black and white police, which I found, uncredited, on the internet.)

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

In which I am entirely random

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I like the young people. I think they are far more interesting than they are portrayed in the media. I think they do more than just text all the time.

One of the things I like about them is their interesting use of language. (Although I do wish they would not punctuate all their sentences with the word 'like'; but I am old and what do I know?) One of my favourites is what the young people have done with the word random. It no longer has its rather dull meaning of without definite order or plan but has, in the hands of the young, embraced a myriad of subtleties and nuance.

It can have a slightly derogatory sense, in a woman of no importance way:

'Who was that?'

'Just some random guy.'

I am told that in America it can indicate sexual looseness:

'I'm not just some random chick, you know.'

It can mean startling and unexpected:

'Wow, that was random.'

The same reaction may greet a tremendous and amusing non-sequitur.

I have heard young people who do not quite fit in with the cool kids and the sports heroes at school refer to themselves as random with a certain sense of pride, as if owning their slight non-conformism. They might not be top of the class, or dressed in the latest trainers, or in the first eleven, but they have randomness as their secret weapon. Personally I would take the random kids over the cool kids any day of the week and twice on Sundays. Maybe that's because I was a little random myself, back in the day, although we did not have a word for it then.

Anyway, the point is that after yesterday's extended rant, which was greeted with astonishing tolerance by you dear readers, I am going to indulge in a little scattershot randomness of my own.

Here is what caught my interest today:

A religious gentleman in Iran proclaimed that scantily dressed women were directly responsible for earthquakes.

"Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray and spread adultery in society which increases earthquakes," he said.

Personally, I am thrilled. By his lights, I certainly qualify as a loose woman. When I was very young and naughty, I used to go out in skirts which people mistook for belts. Now I discover that I can literally make the earth move. I shall try and use my power for good instead of evil.

In other natural geological phenomenon news, the wonderful Rebecca Guoleitsdottir has been posting astonishing photographs of the Icelandic volcano over at her Flickr blog. This is her latest:

Icelandic volcano by Rebecca Guoleitsdottir

Observe the famous Icelandic horses in the foreground. As a breed, they date back to the 9th century, and are famous for their five gaits, the extra two being a lateral ambling movement called the tolt, and a flying pace called the skeio. I am secretly obsessed by Icelandic horses, which although mostly under fifteen hands are never called ponies, partly because there is no word in Icelandic for pony, I learn today. I would quite like to own one. If I ever write a real bestseller I should buy one. I should also like a Connemara pony:

Connemara pony from Wikicommons


And an Appaloosa:


And maybe a retired racehorse who needs a good home:

Dan de Man and Formeric in retirement from racing

I always rather yearned for a coloured horse, although I think my mother secretly considered them a bit infra dig (the furthest she would go was strawberry roan):

coloured foal

And I'd like a Suffolk Punch to gaze at, and because they must be SAVED:


And a lovely thoroughbred mare:

Mare and Foal

Then I could have a Dalmatian plantation, except with horses. So keep your fingers crossed for the book.


In other news: apparently nautical striped shirts are back:

Picasso by Rene Burri

(Picasso by Rene Burri.)

I have absolutely no idea what to do with this information. The last time I wore a fisherman's shirt was in 1988.

Talking of life on the ocean wave, I am vastly diverted by tales of plucky Britons virtually paddling back to Blighty with their bare hands. Everyone you hear interviewed is amazingly good-humoured and phlegmatic. Perhaps the famous British self-deprecation and stiff upper lip are going stronger than the newspapers like to think. Everyone is having a little competition to see who can mention Dunkirk the most. It reminds me of the great scene in Don't Tell Alfred, when a coachload of British tourists were stuck in the British Embassy, which they appeared to think was a genteel hotel. They settled down on the grass and got up a bit of a sing-song. (For those of you who know the book, my favourite part of all in that section is the bit with Northey and the badger sett. Dear old Mr Brock.)

Don't Tell Alfred

Finally: I LOVE these guys. I have never heard of them until today, when they were brought to my attention by the power of the internet. It was a perfect example of the stick insect theory, because they could not embody randomness more if they tried:



If that doesn't cheer you up during election fever, I don't know what will.

Monday, 19 April 2010

In which I bang on

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

(Health warning: long political post.)

Exhausted by the wave of Cleggmania sweeping the country, I took the weekend off. I tried to think of diverting things, like daffodils and the first tiny white blossoms on my philadelphus. I even made chicken soup, for God's sake. But all the time, like a small rodent scratching at the skirting board, a tiny voice in my brain was trying to work out exactly what it was about the Liberal Democrats that disturbs me so.

I should love the Lib Dems. They are all for the kind of progressive policies that warm my battered old bleeding heart. I remember, years ago, getting very excited about the SDP, and not just because of David Owen's saturnine looks and delightfully drawling speaking style. I am a Labour voter who has grown horribly disillusioned with Gordon Brown; surely lovely shiny Nick should be my first port of call? Surely I should want to do the Pasa Doble with dear old uncle Vince?

I don't.

It's a visceral thing, I am ashamed to admit. I pride myself on empiricism and reason. I have even read the damn manifesto, which almost killed me. Some of the policies I agree with, some I don't, which is pretty much the case with all three parties. I like the idea of taking those earning less than £10,000 out of income tax, although the £10 billion in government efficiencies and savings that will pay for half of it is left rather vague. (The vagueness is also common to all three parties, so I can't really blame the Libs for that.) Smaller class sizes are always good, although again I am not certain where the money comes from. Oddly, some of the policies are very similar to those of the Tories: a commitment to localism, a determination to slash quangos, even an attack on bad IT systems and mad bureaucracy.

The big difference is the enduring commitment to the Euro. The Liberal Democrats are mad on Europe, even though both Clegg and Cable have had to admit that it would have been catastrophic for the economy if Britain was now tied to the single currency. Despite this, they confirm that they are still in favour of joining it when the time is right.

I cannot bear the little England knee-jerk reaction to the European Union. At the same time, I think that where we are is pretty much right, and the further integration of which the Lib Dems dream would not suit cussed old Blighty.

For all that, it is not the policies that are holding me back. It is the whiff of hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy in politics, I hear you cry. What next? Soundbites? Spin? Broken promises? Well, yes, but the point is that Mr Clegg won Britain's Got Political Talent by presenting himself as a pristine outsider, the keeper of the New Politics Flame, unlike anything we had ever seen before. He is up on the mountain top, pointing the way to the New Jerusalem. He is all honesty, all the time.

Except he is not. For starters, as I have pointed out before, he is promising things he knows he cannot deliver. He refuses even to discuss a hung parliament, when that is the best he can hope for, should his poll numbers hold. That is not new politics; if you were being stern, you could call it rank dishonesty. In his fudging of the question, he is traditional politics in action.

Honest Vince performed the exact same old politics when asked about the very first poster in the Liberal Democrat campaign, which told the alarmed electorate that it would pay £339 more a year in taxes under The Conservatives. The poster was illustrated with a huge bomb, to represent the potential explosion in VAT. This was predicated not on a Tory pledge to raise VAT, but because they have not ruled it out. When asked how he knew of the secret Tory plan to hike VAT rates, Cable said it was because previous Conservative governments have done so, neglecting to mention that thirteen years have passed since then. So it's a guess? pressed the dogged Jon Sopel. Upright Vince admitted that it was 'a prediction'. Finally, after a bit of running about the houses, he confessed that his very own party would not rule out a rise in VAT either.

So: the Liberal Democrats, those glorious transformers of old politics, were playing the oldest game in the book. Scare the voters with a claim based on a hunch rather than a fact, and do everything in your power to obfuscate the fact that your own policy is exactly the same.

I would not mind this so much if it was what it was. Everyone plays a few political games at election time, and usually the voters are smart enough to work out what is going on. But you really can't have it both ways. If you say that you are the only person in the living world who can end the game, you can't go on playing it yourself. You just can't. It is this hypocritical stance that makes me read the Liberal Democrat manifesto with a sceptical eye.

The other thing that bothers me is the gap between the rhetoric on the television and the behaviour on the ground. Lib Dems are famous for running dirty tricks in local and national election campaigns. It's such an old meme among the political classes that it hardly needs mentioning. It's one of those things like rain at Wimbledon; so stitched into the fabric of national life that you almost don't notice it.

These tactics are not horrendous high scandals. They usually involve small dishonesties, minor bendings of the rules, ad hominem attacks. In Durham, for instance, a Liberal Democrat contacted the Tory candidate to suggest running smears against the Roberta Blackman-Woods, who is standing for Labour. The Tory, to his credit, refused, and immediately contacted the local press. What was interesting was not so much the cheapness of the thing, but that no one  was surprised.

In Wavertree, a similar act of pettiness was revealed when the Liberal Democrat tried to jump on the bandwagon of a campaign by the Shields family to get their son out of a Bulgarian prison. Pamphlets were sent out with prominent pictures of the family, used without their permission, despite the Lib Dem having had nothing to do with getting their son out of jail.  The Shields were absolutely livid.

In Kingston, Liberal Democrat MPs launched an emotive campaign to Save the Kingston Hospital, which sounds like a marvellous idea until you discover that no one had any plans to close it down. In a lucky piece of right place, right time, The Mirror's Kevin McGuire happened to be on a train where the fellow who invented the fake story was bragging about it. Mr McGuire turned at once to Twitter: 'Train bloke now boasting hospital scare story cooked up at his kitchen table. Very proud of Facebook following.' Train bloke turned out to be Lib Dem activist, Dan Falchikov.

None of this is criminal, but it leaves a sour taste in the mouth. I am certain that neither of the other two parties are whiter than snow when fighting for votes. Early in the campaign, Labour sent out alarmist leaflets to cancer sufferers virtually insisting that a Tory government would kill them off. (Ironically, it was not a million miles away from the right-wing opposition to President Obama's healthcare bill, when unscrupulous politicians insisted it would kill grandma, and Sarah Palin cantered about talking of 'death panels'.) The Tories did a stupid poster trashing a Labour idea about paying for care for the elderly that was not even a policy yet.

The problem of it all is that the Lib Dems will swank about presenting themselves as the lovely, kind, new, fluffy party of the people. There has always been a whiff of holier than thou about them, but it is now in overdrive. If your central selling point is that you are new and clean and different, you can't just say that and expect it to be true by mere repetition, and to hell with the facts. The Lib Dems fight dirty, and they are  not untainted by the expenses scandal or the matter of non-doms. Look at them for more than ten minutes, and you find that they are just as old politics as their opponents.

Should I mind so much about all this? I have a horrible, lurking feeling that the electorate is being conned. Perhaps it should not matter, and I should go back to the manifesto and vote on policies alone. But I cannot shake the conviction that, as I have written before, character matters. Call me old-fashioned, but hypocritical posturing is not, in my book, a desirable personality trait.


Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. I shall not test your patience for so long again.

Tomorrow it will be all puppy dogs and butterflies:

Labrador puppies


Or perhaps a mystical contemplation of the loveliness of sheep, since it is the lambing season:

Or a salute to men who can really wear those old time fifties suits:

Andrew Paynter men in suits

(Delightful photograph by Andrew Paynter.)

Or a consideration of the cloud of Icelandic ash that hovers over us all:

Volcanic ash

Or a tribute to the red telephone box, even if it did always smell slightly of pee:

Red telephone boxes Covent Garden

Or really anything to take my mind off the fact that we are hurtling towards the unspeakable mess of a hung parliament all because someone was not that bad on television.


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