Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A very nice (and rather coquettish) wild boar, via the Guardian (George Monbiot’s piece on the re-introduction of wild boar to South-East England is interesting too). Thanks to the cohab for passing it on.



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Picture via the Oxfam bookshop.

Happy new academic year! September still feels much more like a new year to me than January, especially because autumn is wonderful and January is dismal. I shan’t rehearse the resolutions I’ve made (I am always making resolutions), but in honour of the new academic year, here are my five favourite books about schools.

Villette – Charlotte Brontë
One of my favourite books of all, anyway. Villette is such a weird little novel and the school in it is even weirder, all claustrophobic jealousies and neurotic competition. The portrayal of the headmistress Madame Beck, and spoiled pupil Ginevra Fanshawe bears out what Angela Carter wrote about Charlotte Brontë: that one of the most pleasing things about her is that she can sometimes be gloriously bitchy.

Autumn term – Antonia Forest
If you only read one middle class, mid twentieth century girls’ school story, choose one by Antonia Forest, who is massively more talented than any of the other school story writers. She’s very good at the awkwardnesses and petty worries of teenage friendships. Autumn term is very funny too; Forest writes some very good sarcastic lady teachers.

Claudine à l’école – Colette
This is most fun for the central character, the fifteen-year-old Claudine, revelling in her last year as Queen Bee in her tiny village school. She is one of those characters who would be unbearable to know – so malicious! so full of herself! – but is tremendously enjoyable to read: clear-eyed and smart and funny, with no time for hypocrisy and stupidity.

Frost in May – Antonia White
I’ve never been religious, but if I were to incline that way, Frost in May would work quite well as an antidote, I think. A lot of novels about schools are about the tension and claustrophobia of shutting up a lot of young women together; Antonia White adds strict Catholicism and some very scary nuns to this scenario. Reading Frost in May feels a bit like going slightly mad: you follow Nanda White’s initial revulsion at the cruelty of the environment, then her abject attempts to believe and conform, and finally her rebellion.

Mike and Psmith – PG Wodehouse
Someone recently produced a list of the sexiest men in British literature. It’s a pretty disappointing list, all things considered, but the omission that most appalled me and my sister was that of the unflappable, inimitable Psmith, definitely one of the most attractive literary heroes (certainly more attractive than Jerry Cruncher). Better still, he’s a socialist, if an unorthodox one:
“You won’t mind my calling you Comrade, will you? I’ve just become a socialist. It’s a great scheme. You ought to be one. You work for the equal distribution of property, and start by collaring all you can and sitting on it.”
Mike and Psmith is the first novel in which he appears, and has the extra virtue of being full of thrilling cricket matches. (Reading cricket matches in novels might be quite a specialist pleasure, I admit. Antonia Forest provides some good literary cricket matches too.)

Other excellent novels about schools I could also have mentioned: Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and fall; Jane Gardam’s Bilgewater; RF Delderfield’s To serve them all my days; and dozens of children’s books, of course; and if you don’t follow @reelmolesworth on Twitter, you should.

Suggestions in the comments for ones I’ve missed?

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Via the Guardian, pigs in an organic farm in Germany.

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Photo from the Guardian’s coverage of protests in Athens. (Although, where is protest dog?)

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Pigs in high-end jewellery in Russian Vogue, via Fashionologie

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Pig of the week

Thanks to Gwen for the photo of Poppy having a bath. If you want to meet Poppy she lives at Newham City Farm.

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One of the highlights of my summer so far. We went to the East of England show and having done the more conventional livestock competitions for pigs, they moved on to ‘piggy pranks’, in which pig farmers competed to take their pigs round a course: wiggling in and out of cones, marching through two poles (as above), in and out of a maltese cross-shaped fence, and penned within a magic circle. It was marvellous and hilarious. The pigs shown were very lovely and clever too. I recommend it very highly to all my readers.

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‘[…] After all, you aren’t someone who writes little novels about the emotions. You write about what’s real.’

Anna almost laughed again, and then said soberly: ‘Do you realize how many of the things we say are just echoes? That remark you’ve just made is an echo from Communist Party criticism — at its worst moments, moreover. God knows what that remark means, I don’t. I never did. If Marxism means anything, it means that a little novel about the emotions should reflect “what’s real” since the emotions are a function and a product of a society …’.

The above passage, from Lessing’s The golden notebook, marks out what is really interesting about The grass is singing. I haven’t read it in some years and remembered it as a fairly straightforward novel about the colour bar in colonial Rhodesia. The surprise on rereading it is how much of the novel is taken up with the mental disintegration of the central character and the way in which Lessing shows that mental breakdown as being intertwined with the political situation of the white colonialist farmers.

The novel begins with the murdered body of Mary Turner, killed by her black house servant Moses. Lessing gives us the ‘facts’ of the case as set out in the newspaper report of the incident, and then proceeds to examine what she sees as the ‘truth’ of the situation. Mary has married unhappily; her husband Dick is a poor and incompetent farmer in the Rhodesian veldt. Isolated and unhappy on his farm, Mary begins to break down mentally, to the point where she behaves in a way unthinkable to white Rhodesian society of the time and breaks the colour bar, forming a strange and dysfunctional relationship with Moses. In offering us the truth rather than the facts of the case, Lessing leaves out the details of what might be considered the two essential events of the novel: she does not tell us the sexual details of Mary’s relationship with Moses, and she leaves out the details of Moses’ murder of Mary. Instead, Mary’s relationship with Moses is shown only through one scene described through the eyes of another character:

He was struck motionless with surprise. Mary was sitting on an upended candle box before the square of mirror nailed on the wall. She was in a garish pink petticoat, and her bony yellow shoulders stuck sharply out of it. Beside her stood Moses, and, as Tony watched, she stood up and held out her arms while the native slipped her dress over them from behind.When she sat down again she shook out her hair from her neck with both hands, with the gesture of a beautiful woman adoring her beauty. Moses was buttoning up her dress; she was looking in the mirror. The attitude of the native was of an indulgent uxoriousness.

The strangeness of the incident is highlighted by showing it from the viewpoint of Tony, newly arrived from England. Taken aback, his only remark to Mary about the incident serves only to heighten the bizarreness of the situation:

He said, in a jocular and uncomfortable voice: ‘There was once an Empress of Russia who thought so little of her slaves, as human beings, that she used to undress naked in front of them.’

At this point the outsider viewpoint makes it clear how detached Mary is from sanity, and the racism of the colour bar is underlined: Tony realises that Mary has reached a point where ‘other people’s standards don’t count’ any more, which for him is madness. It is only in this state of ‘insanity’ that Mary can have anything approaching a human relationship with her black servant, however warped a form this may take.

But there is no simple answer as to why Mary undergoes her breakdown. Loneliness, isolation, the difference between her expectations and the reality of her marriage, the impossible situation she finds herself in with her husband and his disastrous farming experiences, and their separate sexual neuroses are all factors. But more than that Lessing suggests that the terrible situation of the white colonialists and the racism of their society also create the circumstances for Mary’s encroaching madness. This implication is never crude: one of the really interesting and good things about Lessing as a novelist is the way in which she connects the external circumstances of her characters with their mental states. She has an uncomfortable psychological honesty which makes it difficult to sympathise with any character, but reveals their motivations with an unsettling clarity. At the same time, she evokes the oppressive heat and the bitter struggles of the farming life in a way that allows one clearly to imagine the unbearable physical and emotional pressures that Mary has to endure.

In the end, Mary approaches her death at Moses’ hands in silent acceptance, as he will later submit to arrest by the white authorities. Her behaviour has passed the point of no return long before her husband starts planning a recuperative holiday for her; Dick and Moses are left, one mad, the other taken away by the police. The white people refuse to admit Tony’s views on the situation that led to Mary’s death; her behaviour has been so unthinkable for them that they see her death as the best solution to the whole problem.

I’ve always liked Doris Lessing’s novels, particularly the early ones, and it was interesting to reread this one after thirteen-odd years and see how much is in it that I loved in The golden notebook and the Martha Quest novels. A lot of the themes are recurrent – in particular, the dry bitterness of the unfulfilled woman’s experience. Lessing’s own mother had a disappointing experience in emigrating to Rhodesia; Mary’s experiences may in part be based on hers, but the difficulties that Mary feels with her own mother are more like the way that Lessing describes her own relationship with her mother. Later in Martha Quest she returns to a young Rhodesian woman character who has a similar upbringing to Mary, but whose life turns out differently: rather than the isolation that Mary endures, she becomes politically engaged and ends up a middle-aged activist in 1960s London, where all life is going on. But there too Lessing brings her brutal psychological truths about the dependencies and dysfunctionalities of human experience and the way these reflect and are shaped by the political situation of the time. Again it comes back to the quote from The golden notebook: Lessing’s little novel about the emotions is unquestionably about what’s real.

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The justice secretary, Ken Clarke, will today launch a scathing attack on the Victorian “bang ’em up” prison culture of the past 20 years. […] Clarke will warn that simply “banging up more and more people for longer” is actually making some criminals worse, without protecting the public.

Tory hypocrisy aside, this stat is actually pretty shocking when you consider that crime, except violent crime, has fallen in the last fifteen years:

Clarke was last in charge of prisons when he was home secretary between 1992 and 1993, when the prison population in England and Wales stood at 44,628. He says today that the current population of 85,000 is “an astonishing number which I would have dismissed as an impossible and ridiculous prediction if it had been put to me in a forecast in 1992.”

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I’ve had something of a journey with Christopher Hitchens, from quite liking him in my teens, to despising him and hating everything he said after 9/11, to thinking of him with a sort of affection as a mad old uncle figure who bellows away in the corner, only rarely saying anything of importance. The Another country sections of his memoirs did a lot to bring me round to the affectionate state, as did his ludicrous hard-man talk about trying waterboarding (as the victim).

So I’m extremely sorry he’s developed oesophagal cancer and wish him all the best. Of course, as a scientific rationalist, I know my best wishes won’t make a spot of difference to the outcome of his cancer treatment; no more than praying for him. This is still outstandingly smug and self-righteous though! Possibly on an Ann Atkins level!

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The Gloucester Old Spot has been given ‘the same protected marketing status as French champagne’. Picture via the Guardian.

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Thanks to Jason! It’s well worth clicking through to the Pigs Peace Sanctuary channel for their other videos.

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Soviet pigs in space

Very disappointingly, these lovely pictures of a pig being sent into space by the Soviet Union aren’t really real. How nice if they were.

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Pigs are being used to clear woodlands in Holland park:

It has been decided that the best way to manage the enclosures is to use pigs. This is the most sustainable approach and is seen to be an innovative and progressive approach to woodland management within London. This approach will have a minimal impact on the parks biodiversity.

It has been found that pigs can be used in various woodland management situations to help with the overall management of the woodland. The pigs provide an excellent natural clearing source, and can be used to manage the removal of bracken, bramble and nettles. Pigs reduce the need for chemicals and mechanical interference on scarification sites. They can also help in the removal of invasive exotic weeds. Pigs can easily be used to clear the ‘brash’ and undergrowth of woodland to help the regeneration of saplings, woodland pasture and small herbaceous plants.

More on the Kensington & Chelsea borough website.  Thanks to Lu for the tip!

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An excellent piece by Gary Younge about the way that the ‘immigration debate’ in Britain is so surrounded by racism, misinformation and dishonesty that an actual debate is made impossible.

For the most part, the political responses to fear-mongering seek not to enlighten the participants but pander to them. “We deport someone every eight minutes,” immigration minister Meg Hillier tells voters in Dagenham, where the BNP leader, Nick Griffin, is mounting a challenge against Margaret Hodge. “We fingerprint anyone who comes in for over six months. Foreigners now have to carry special national identity cards.”

It is not clear how targeting foreigners helps anyone born in Dagenham. But it’s not difficult to see how it would help the BNP.

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So cute. Via the Mirror. DON’T click through to look at the monkey-faced pig, which is a terrifying nightmare animal.

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Blog on hiatus

I’m very busy right now. Back soon, hopefully.

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Photo from the Guardian: electronic musician Matthew Herbert has been refused permission to record the sound of a pig being slaughtered for his One Pig project. His idea was to record the entirety of the pig’s life from birth to slaughter but he couldn’t find an abattoir or vet prepared to let him record the pig’s death. His blog now states:

the pig is now dead.

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Pig of the week

I’ve lost my reference for this lovely boar on ice. If anyone knows where I found it, let me know and I’ll credit it.

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Pig of the week

Pigs and tigers are exchanging their offspring at the Sriracha tiger zoo in Thailand: tiger cubs are feeeding on pig milk, while the piglets play with the tiger mother. Photos via Metro (definitely worth clicking through to see the other one).

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