Sunday, 17 June 2018


I have noticed recently that for a lot of people whose grievances once went unnoticed - (possibly unnoticed even by the people concerned, those entitled to be aggrieved) - justice is now being done. What a relief. We no longer have to switch off the television in disgust, revolted that some neglected group in our society remains unrepresented.  Vera Stanhope may work in  rural Northumbria but her police station can boast its share of minority groups - as can the Shetlands outpost of law enforcement run by Anne Cleeves’s other famous character, Jimmy Something or other.

Except, hang on a minute - there are still some of us out here feeling utterly excluded and severely discriminated against. Yes, that’s right, me - and all my brothers and sisters who have also struggled with lifelong discrimination. I'm talking about those of us who are lefthanded, a group who have to face battles with scissors and smudging ink and lack of representation in the media. Just look, next time you see someone pick up a pen on the television or a film: which hand do they use, eh?

When do we so-called "southpaws" - (I know, I know, life really is tough for us and everywhere we look we are degraded by strangers) - get a look in on prime time? When will the shadowy forces that run everything in the wicked conspiracy of empathy-free entitlement  that is today's so-called "society" recognise that, unless every fourth or fifth shot on the screen of a person picking up a pen in their right hand and writing is balanced by a shot of someone doing the same thing but with their left hand, there will be thousands and thousands of us out here, feeling marginalised yet again. Spare a thought for the sense of exclusion each one of us in the left-handed community feels each time we witness a letter being written, a document being signed - by yet another right-hander.

Oppression, tell me about it.

If the creation of positive images of lefthandedness had not been neglected in my youth, who knows what I might have achieved. Instead of spending sports afternoon after sports afternoon being forced to hold a tennis racquet in my right hand, before being told that I was simply the worst tennis player any of the sports teachers at my school had ever seen, I might have felt "empowered" enough to go on to conquer Wimbledon.

Or possibly I might not have. And possibly we all have our own individual difficulties and strengths and weaknesses and possibly gestures at representation cannot cover the entire spectrum of individual sense of self and possibly we should relax and stop making ridiculous nods that change nothing and distract and confuse audiences, so that instead of following the story of Murder on the Orient Express, for instance, we are left asking ourselves, "Were there really people of African origin working as policemen in Slavonski Brod between the wars?"

And do not get me started on the current Hamlet production at the Globe.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Cavaliers and Roundheads

The UK education system spends a great deal of time teaching children about the Tudors but, in my experience, very little time teaching them about the English Civil War. I find this surprising as I have a suspicion that that conflict still influences the stance different Britons take when forming their opinions about contemporary issues. Just lately, in fact, following the Brexit vote, it has felt more and more as if a second civil war might be on the point of breaking out, The level of hostility felt by supporters of each side towards their opponents seems almost as intense as I imagine that felt by each side in the days of Cromwell.

It is very dismaying.

What I’d love to know though, if there is anyone out there who has access to this kind of information, is whether any kind of correlation can be discerned between parts of the country that once supported the Cavaliers or the Roundheads and parts of the country that voted to leave the European Union in the recent referendum - or to stay. Does anyone know? Is there any kind of discernible pattern that shows views on Brexit mirroring former Civil War allegiances?

Friday, 11 May 2018

Nigel's Trousers

A year ago today my beloved brother died. My sadness was initially made a little easier because it was mixed, if only to a very small extent, by relief that he was finally free from the misery he had endured for a very long time.

As time has gone on though, I have grown to miss him more and more, as the pile of things I've wanted to share with him - mostly funny things that I knew would amuse him as much as they did me - has mounted up. A lot of those things I would have shared via this blog, which he encouraged me to write in the first place and which became for me another way of talking to him. That is why, since he hasn't been here to talk to any more, I haven't really posted all that much.

But today it occurs to me that I can continue talking to him here. All I have to do is to pretend that he is listening. If I can create for myself the illusion that our conversation continues, if rather one-sidedly, that will be a small comfort, (and will also help me get rid of that ever increasing pile of things I mentioned).

And instead of being sad today, I'm going to listen to a song that I know my brother would have laughed and laughed at. It is by John Finnemore, who my brother loved, and its choice is, I suppose, influenced by nostalgia, (as, one could argue, this whole post is): when my brother and I were children we used to make up imaginary characters and conduct increasingly complicated conversations between these fictional people on long car journeys; our favourites were Nigel and Daphne, and this sketch makes affectionate fun of the kind of person Nigel, my brother's alter ego in our game, would have grown up to become, (with acknowledgments to Country Life magazine, from whose article about red trousers the illustration comes):

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Be Brave

There are circumstances when a woman is in danger on public transport - late at night, on unmanned trains, for example. I wish it wasn't so - and I regret the cost-cutting measures that led to conductors and other transport staff no longer being the reassuring presences they were in my youth, (and is there any Londoner who grew up in the 1960s who didn't secretly yearn for their own conductor's ticket dispenser, slung round the neck on a leather strap? But ooh look, you can have one, provided you have the money and your own strap).

Anyway, in the interests of the great god of ever-increasing-profits, we have lost so much, including in the case of public transport, a sense of safety, a source of employment and also some considerable convenience - travelling by train now, you cannot simply leave your luggage with the guard; you have to rush onto a train and shove your luggage into whatever racks are available, trying to get there before they all fill up, in a manner that contributes to making society a less civilised place where everyone is forced into the first-comes-first-served-elbowing scrum that is inevitable on any crowded route -  (plus, rather than trusting a guard, you then have to keep a worried eye on the luggage yourself at every stop, in case someone should, mistakenly or otherwise, hop off with your bags.)

But, back to women in particular - we are not always safe, (no more are men, but, at the risk of some kind of gender slur to someone or other, it has to be recognised that biology does give women a disadvantage; we do tend to be built less strongly than males and, for that and other reasons to do possibly with male testosterone, we are more likely to be the victims of violence and sexual assault). Nevertheless, in my experience, when we are relatively safe is when we are travelling on crowded trains in daylight - our safety at such times comes from having fellow passengers around us.

The makers of new advertisements being screened on British televisions profoundly disagree. They have identified an outrageous new area of danger threatening women who choose to take the Tube or bus to and from work - namely, sleazy men who rub themselves up agains unwitting females. The advertisements tell viewers that this behaviour is unacceptable - agreed - and encourage women to dob men in if they are the victims of such unpleasant activities.

Strangely enough the first advertisement I saw about this apparent social problem was one that was broadcast repeatedly in the breaks during an episode of an entertaining detective series called Vera.  The eponymous central character of that programme is an exceptionally capable woman who would take spirited action if anyone tried on any funny business on a bus with her.  Vera would never feel the need to whimper, as one of the voiceover women does in the promotional advertisement in question, "He put his hand on my leg", speaking in tones that suggest this was as bad as being raped; Vera - and most grown women - experiencing such an intrusion in a crowded carriage, would have quite enough gumption to tell the person in question where to get off.

Women are not violets. We are strong human beings. We are capable of giving birth, for heaven's sake. Don't turn us into pathetic weeds.

Sadly I cannot find that particular advertisement, which encourages women to report any hands on thighs or attempted frottage or whatever by running anguished women's voices in the background of  footage of a very ordinary looking businessman who has a pixellated face and is running an office meeting (and generally being horribly entitled and not recognising that a woman should always be in charge of such things), until police officers burst into the room and his face becomes unpixellated and he is arrested for feeling up people on public transport.

I did find this one though and it infuriates me almost equally.

How did feminism - which I understood to include the idea that women are capable and strong and perfectly able to turn round and shout, "Take your hands off me, you ghastly, sweaty pervert", possibly folowing up with a well-aimed knee to the groin - get twisted into this protectionist racket, where we are delicate and vulnerable and in need of special care? We aren't, and we mustn't be seduced by the idea that this kind of mollycoddling is good for us or gets us closer to a position where men and women might deal with each other with empathy, trust and above all respect.

I do acknowledge that women are often victims of male violence but that does not mean we should be encouraged to be afraid to use public transport, imagining every man within a four-foot radius is keen to rub himself up against us. And, in the very rare instance that a man does actually try such a thing, we should not be encouraged to collapse in a fainting fit and go running to the authorities for help. We are not babies. We are not pathetic. And we live in a society where, I hope, it is still possible to rely on the instinctive support of our neighbours and fellow public transport users, when we raise loud and vehement objections in such situations.

In short, we don't need to waste public money making films encouraging women to feel unsafe, nor do we need to put anyone who behaves like a foolish pest in jail. Just jeer at the idiots, in the very unlikely event that you actually encounter them, shout at them, shame them into behaving properly. For so long a blind eye was turned to the plight of truly vulnerable young women, (for examples, look at this and this and this and this); whipping up a panic about an almost non-existent problem on public transport seems to me to add insult to injury to those who were neglected for so long by the police and other responsible authorities in so many parts of the British Isles.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Transport Fun, Hunterian Museum and Northern Sights

Okay, let's admit it: this blog post, like the last couple, is nothing more than my online holiday photograph album.

Right, that's that out of the way. Now where was I? Ah yes, Glasgow. And we went to the transport museum, designed by an architectural genius, we were told. Yet it was possibly the worst building I have ever been in - the interior materials almost uniformly horrible and the arrangement of the internal space so bad as to create the most cluttered museum I have ever been in. Making things worse, the signs about the exhibits partially obscured most of the exhibits themselves.

But there were some interesting things there, including:

1. This vehicle, made in 1896 and used until 1914 "for the exclusive purpose of conveying breakfasts from the Palace Hotel to Aberdeen Station for members of the Royal family passing through on their way to Balmoral"; I am not of a revolutionary temperament, yet even I feel faint stirrings of Corbynism in the face of such a thing:

2. A beautiful 1934 Bentley 3.5 litre Sedanca coupe:

3. An original London taxi (they were first made in Paisley, by a company called Beardsmore's, which was "a giant Scottish engineering company that employed tens of thousands of workers. It built ships, trains, motorbikes, cars, taxis, planes and even air ships"; alas for Britain's lost industrial might):

3. This fine 1866 figurehead, which was "fixed to the bow of the ship Helen Denny, which took hundreds of emigrants to New Zealand. Her namesake was married to Clyde shipbuilder Peter Denny":

4. A display of paintings showing how nice the area occupied by the museum used to look. The display included this one, whose name and painter I somehow managed to miss:

On our way home to the little flat we rented in the West End, we passed a church with this memorial outside
and these stern faces on its portal:

The next day we passed through Glasgow's answer to Bath:

stopping to admire this fine monument to a servant of empire - Field Marshal Earl Roberts of Kandahar, Pretoria and Waterford, no less:

and at last found the Hunterian and the Mackintosh House open.

In the Hunterian, I liked this Chardin, (the Hunterian has two others):
A Lady Taking Tea, 1735

and this painting, attributed to Simon Vouet:

The Conversion of the Magdalen, oil on copper, no date
I don't know why but the woman on the horse in this one struck me as rather endearing, although the caption claimed that Joshua Reynolds was not a fan:
Hunting the Stag, Philips Wouwerman, c 1650, oil on panel
I was astonished that this Rembrandt is not given more fanfare - the wall information claims the picture is not, as originally thought, a sketch for another painting, but a finished work, begun in the 1630s and revised in the 1650s, "including the bright figure of the woman with candle, painted in a thick impasto"; I think it is a moving picture and worth the visit to the Hunterian on its own:

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, The Entombment, oil on oak panel

I didn't actually particularly like this one much, but I am dedicated to collecting paintings with dogs in them, (no, I don't know why); also the caption explained that there were two le Nain brothers and they were founding members of the French Royal Academy in 1648, which is, I suppose, moderately interesting and might be a piece of information to impress someone with somewhere some day:

Peasant Family at a Well, Matthieu le Nain, c 1670, oil on canvas

I was quite struck by this landscape, which somehow reminded me of something I'd seen in an exhibition of Ravilious and his colleagues at the Towner Gallery; a work not by Ravilious but by someone who influenced him, possibly Paul Nash? Anyway, this painting was made several centuries earlier and was one of the first pictures to be bought as part of the Hunter collection - for 16 guineas in 1754 (Dr Hunter believed it to be a Rembrandt at the time):

Philips Koninck, Panoramic Landscape, c. 1665, oil on canvas
I was extremely taken with this little picture, less for its artistic qualities and more for its link to people in the past and the story of how it came to be in Glasgow. It is a portrait of Mozart's wife, "painted by the composer's brother-in-law, who was himself a composer and pianist, as well as painter. Lange also painted the best-known portrait of Mozart himself. This picture was given by Mozart's son, Franz Xaver Wolfgang to the Czech musician Hugo Zavertal, whose son Vladislav settle in Glasgow in the 1870s, where he was active as a conductor
Costanze Mozart by Josef Lange, 1782, oil on canvas

This next painting amused me, because I thought that, if you stripped away the hair and the lace and put this young man in a plain shirt with a shortish floppy hair cut, he could be your quintessential young public school boy:
Sir Thomas Isham Bart, by Jacob Ferdinand Voet, 1678, oil on canvas
According to the gallery note on this one, parrots symbolise eloquence and play a role in the worship of the Virgin Mary. The painting is thought to have been commissioned to celebrate the marriage of the sitter to a leading goldsmith in Antwerp, whose pendant portrait is in the Mauritshuis, although I don't recall seeing it, despite having been there three or four times, ("needs to pay attention more" I think one of my school reports said; how true, how very true):

Portrait of a Lady with a Parrot, by Antonis Mor, 1556, oil on panel

This picture hardly interested me at all, (pictures with classical subjects have that effect on me, don't know why - I wonder if others feel the same). However, it did have dogs, (not to mention introducing the rather peculiar idea that one can drink ashes - while whisky often tastes as if it has been sieved through the contents of an ashtray, I still don't quite understand how drinking a non-liquid substance is possible; actually, now I look, I realise the caption explains: Artemisia turned her husband's ashes into a potion and drank them to secure her claim to the throne; so an early whisky distillation, I'm guessing):

Artemisia Preparing to Drink the Ashes of Mausolus, by Erasmus Quellinus, (a pupil of Rubens), 1652, oil on cabvas

The all-important dogs
Next up, I'm a sucker for a trompe-l'oeil letter rack (isn't everyone)? "The subject of this painting  is Britain's relationship with Holland. The monarch, whose printed speech appears among the objects, was the Dutch King, William III of Orange. The dates, 29 April and 1676, refer to the death of the greatest Dutch admiral, Michiel de Ruyter. A number of objects (watch, feather and scissors) reinforce the associations with death":

Trompe-l'Oeil Letter Rack, Edvaert Collier, 1700, oil on canvas
I like interior scenes so this took my eye. The museum explained that paintings of interiors with figures were bought by the middle classes and often presented a moralising context that appealed to a sense of decorum. It seems that this scene is no exception Apparently a card game is going to determine the fate of the young woman in the middle - will she have to head off with the old or the young bloke?  Although, since she herself is playing, rather than sitting passively, I find this idea a bit confusing. Supposedly, the empty open cupboard, the stormy landscape and the footwarmer from which coals have been removed are all symbolic hints about the danger she faces:
Interior with Card Players, Hendrick Sorgh, 1670, oil on panel

And hurray, another trompe-l'oeil painter, this time the major example in Britain of this particular artist's work, so the Hunterian visitor is told. His paintings were "often painted as overdoors, to be seen from below. The flintlock gun dates from around 1620. The cage contains a small bird decoy. Below hangs a game bag containing a net and the wooden pegs used to fasten it. Also displayed are various bird-calls and whistles, two hunting knives, a powder horn, a leather bag for shot, and a portable net cage for live birds". The thing I love about this picture is getting a good look at the objects that were a part of 17th century life - at least hunting life anyway:

Still Lie with a Gun and Fowling Equipment, Johannes Leemans, 1682, oil on canvas

After the Hunterian, we visited the Mackintosh House, which is curiously encased into the concrete of the Hunterian building. Here is the dining room in the house:

You aren't actually supposed to take pictures in there - plus, despite looking forward to seeing it, I was disappointed to find that I didn't like the place at all. Mackintosh was extremely original but is originality a virtue in and of itself? 

So that was Glasgow. I loved every minute of it - and my husband spotted this very old pillar box there too:

Having said goodbye to Glasgow, we headed northward, stopping briefly to trudge to a ruined 15th century castle by a lake. It is called Kilchurn Castle and belonged to the Campbells. The lake is Loch Awe and, walking back, we met some jolly Irishmen who were setting off for a long weekend rowing toward islands; exhausting, to my mind, particularly as they had to take vast quantities of food and equipment with them, but seemingly their idea of heaven:

We ended up for a couple of nights in a little place called Afrisaig, from which we took a rather long walk:

stopping to feel sad for the families who lost these youngish souls and put up a bench looking out to sea there:

If anyone's missing a glove, by the way, it is still there:

Our aim was a so-called "secret" beach (everyone up there knows about it, of course):

We sat on the secret beach for a while, until a nice family from Aberdeen, also in on the secret, turned up. We talked to them for a while, but then a woman with a dog that barked at their small daughter and made her jump also appeared. At that point, we headed back the way we had come:

When we got close to these two, the woman on the right decided to give us a lecture on her dog which was some kind of Canadian breed of which she was extremely proud and knowledgeable. The anecdote told by the Duchess of Devonshire about overhearing Nancy Astor one night saying to her neighbour at the dinner table, "Well that's very interestin' but I'm not interested" hovered very strongly in my mind as she talked on and on and on.
The next morning we walked up to the Arisaig catholic church where we discovered that an 18th century poet called, in English, Alisdair Macdonald, is buried. He was a Jacobite and clearly quite a figure. Here is a piece of his poetry:
And this is the graveyard where he lies:

There is also a Commonwealth war grave there (in Arisaig itself there is a monument to Czech SOE forces too - they trained there - but it is so hideous I couldn't bring myself to photograph it):

Here is the plaque in the churchyard to Alisdair Macdonald, the Clanranald bard, as they call him:

The blue stone of this building made me think of the Western District of Victoria, where my mother's family have houses made of the same material:
I got so excited at the signs of spring, I took a picture of an almost bare hydrangea:
From Arisaig, we headed to a ferry to Skye:

We both love a ferry ride. Most of our fellow passengers were French.

We left Skye and drove north, stopping for a cup of tea in Dornoch, which seemed to be a very northern branch of the Cotswolds, and very nice too:

 It has its own cathedral (quite a small one):

 with quite nice stained glass windows:

The cathedral houses the remains of a rather battered knight called Sir Richard de Moravia, who mainly caught my attention because the memorial plaque claims he slew an invading Dane with the leg of a horse:

I was pleased to see a tiny reference to Australia in the cathedral:

I felt the inscription here suggested less burial with all pomp than disposal in the correct recycling bins:

As everywhere in the Western world, there was a reminder of the sad wasteful cataclysm that was World War I:

I particularly liked the former post office's door:

We headed on to Forss, which is way up north. Near Forss is a rather fine beach, although I am not convinced it ever gets warm enough to use it in the normal way:

By the beach we met a very nice man with a very nice dog; the man claimed the dog was a hairy viszla, which is not a breed I've come across before

We then went to find the most northerly point of Britain and got slightly lost. While my husband tried to work out what was happening, I got interested in a cloud formation:

Eventually we sorted ourselves out and reached Dunnet Head, where we were almost blown away:

Then we headed to the Castle of Mey, built in the 16th century and rehabilitated by the Queen Mother following her husband's death.

Having almost been blown away, we retreated first to their tea room, where, had I forgotten, I was reminded that we were definitely in Scotland:
This is the outside of the Castle of Mey:
These are some interiors at the Castle of Mey:
In this, the main sitting-room, you will spot gonks on the mirror and various other fairly surprising ornaments. The Queen Mother was given all sorts of presents and her response was always, "Oh, I've always wanted one of those", which I think is a very good policy that I am going to follow from now on:
I believe that the dress in the foreground establishes beyond any reasonable doubt my contention that the royal family do not have particularly good taste when it comes to clothing:
This is inside the walled garden at the Castle of Mey which, I must admit, was looking fairly bleak:

It had a very nice green house though:

and there was a good view of the castle from the walled garden:

If you are in the far north of the British Isles, do not miss the castle, it is a really lovely place.

I cannot say the same of John o'Groats, a tourist hell hole that we shall draw a veil over, hurrying on to Duncansby Head, where we once again were almost blown away, but saw a cliff with birds nesting and some terrific stone formations called "The Stacks", lapped by wild seas:

And, although I am now right at the other end of Britain as I type tis, I will close this ridiculously lengthy post here, staring out at The Stacks, barely able to stand in the gale coming off the sea.