Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Funniest thing of the day

Here is my brilliant idea: the BBC should run episodes of Cabin Pressure on a constant loop to keep up national morale through the economic gloom. It is so funny, so spectacularly well-written, so gloriously acted, especially by the mordant Roger Allam, that it deserves a place as a national monument.

For those of you who can get the iPlayer, there is a special Christmas episode here:

So sorry this blog has been a bit spotty over Christmas. Back to normal vv soon.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas dog of the day

Happy Christmas from a very festive Pigeon:

Doesn't she look perfect with her special Christmas bow on?

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Quote of the day

I just heard someone say this about Peter Lawford, on a radio trailer for a programme about him:

'He was tall, ridiculously good-looking, and British, without being goofy about it.'

The speaker was an American. I love the idea of managing to be British without being goofy about it. What can it mean? What form would the goofiness take? Endless quoting of PG Wodehouse? Ostentatious drinking of tea? Constant renderings of Land of Hope and Glory? An obsessive drive to understatement? The breeding of bulldogs?

I'm trying to think of the most British thing ever. What runs into my mind, carrying a Union flag, is the habit of Ordinary Decent Britons to say 'Oh, you know, not too bad,' when asked how they are. This usually means: the dog died, I lost all my money in a Ponzi scheme, my other half has just run off with my best friend, and the roof is leaking. But you know, not too bad.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Picture of the Day

The very beautiful blog A Gift-Wrapped Life has some delightful Christmas pictures up, but for some reason the one I loved most was not really Christmassy at all. It's just a delightful horse picture, and I can't get enough of those.

Wonderful photograph uncredited.

Song of the Day

This may be the most beautiful song I have heard this Christmas. I've always loved Annie Lennox, but now I love her even more. That voice.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Dog of the day

Here she is, the little smiler, with her stick:

Lovely thing to do of the day

Make the incredible Military Wives number one for Christmas. I can't listen to this song without feeling a bit teary, and keenly aware of my own luck. I have no beloved in mortal danger; these women do. If I can say this without sounding too sentimental: I salute them. And I salute the lovely Gareth Malone for seeing their promise, and believing in it. It's a real good news story for Christmas.

You can buy the single in various ways: shop, internet, or through iTunes.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Can't believe I forgot the dog

No DOG yesterday. What is wrong with me? A day is not a day without this face in it:

Song of the day

I'd forgotten how much I love this Beach Boys Christmas song, until I heard it on the wireless this afternoon.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Treat of the Day: Bona Books

Oh, this is funny. Bear in mind it was written and performed, on the respectable BBC, over forty-five years ago.

Quote of the day

My father died this year. As it comes up to Christmas, I am thinking of him and missing him a lot. This morning, as I was noodling about on the internet, I found this quotation, which seems just perfect to me.

'Bereavement is the deepest initiation into the mysteries of human life, an initiation more searching and profound than even happy love.'

Dean Inge.

My favourite old photograph of my father:

Interesting journalism of the day

Brendan O'Neill has a thoughtful take on Hitchens, Orwell, and the cavalier use of the word fascism in today's Telegraph Online.

Funnily enough, I had been thinking about this exact thing over the weekend. I was talking to a charming, interesting person, sophisticated and funny. I mentioned something in passing about Barack Obama. Sudden, alarmed face: 'Oh,' the person said, in horror, 'but he's a socialist.'

I'm afraid I was so astonished that I was not quite polite. 'No, he's not,' I said, with some heat.

Calling Barack Obama a socialist is like calling my dog a goat. It's demonstrably, provably incorrect. I never saw a man with less desire to nationalise the means of production. The thing is, most people who throw that word around have no idea what it actually means. It has become a catch-all for vaguely Left, or, more pertinently, not Right. So it is with fascism, as O'Neill points out: this is the word that some leftists use to mean not very nice.

I believe in accuracy in language. Language matters. That is why, with each passing year, I love Orwell more and more.

You can read the piece here.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Dog of the Day

In majestic black and white:

Poem of the day

I am not feeling very worldly today. There is no news; current affairs go on without me. So I read a poem about hills, instead.

A Spell Before Winter, by Howard Nemerov.

After the red leaf and the gold have gone,
Brought down by the wind, then by hammering rain
Bruised and discolored, when October's flame
Goes blue to guttering in the cusp, this land
Sinks deeper into silence, darker into shade.
There is a knowledge in the look of things,
The old hills hunch before the north wind blows.

Now I can see certain simplicities
In the darkening rust and tarnish of the time,
And say over the certain simplicities,
The running water and the standing stone,
The yellow haze of the willow and the black
Smoke of the elm, the silver, silent light
Where suddenly, readying toward nightfall,
The sumac's candelabrum darkly flames.
And I speak to you now with the land's voice,
It is the cold, wild land that says to you
A knowledge glimmers in the sleep of things:
The old hills hunch before the north wind blows.

And a picture, of my very own hills, in their glimmering winter light:

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Dog of the Day

In action, to make a change. With her intense, mouse-hunting face on:

Poem of the day

      HE heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
      As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
      Afar o'er life's turrets and vales does it roam
      In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.
      The heart of a woman falls back with the night,
      And enters some alien cage in its plight,
      And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars
      While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.

      By Georgia Douglas Johnson.


      Rather blurry old black and white photograph, photographer unknown.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Dog of the day

Suddenly realised that I forgot to give you the dog, yesterday. What was I thinking? Here she is, the old beauty:

Interesting journalism of the day

There is a thought-provoking piece from John Harris about Europe in The Guardian. I don't agree with all of it, but as I try to negotiate the mazy complications of the Euromess, I am gathering all opinions and facts that I can. It's worth reading the comments too, as the more moderate of them present a fascinating collage of arguments for and against. That's why I say: Euromess. Not because I am against the European ideal, but because the state of the Euro, the sovereign debt crisis, the endless debate are all so massively complicated now that it is almost impossible to draw any clear conclusions.

You can read the article here.

Old photograph of the European Convention, photographer unknown.

Good news of the Day

A survey has found that working mothers are not the root of all evil. This is tremendous news. I just hope that, by inference, stay-at-home mothers are not then nominated to fill the breach.

Oh, and while I'm on it, here is my question of the day: why is it that middle-market newspapers appear to exist  in order to bash the mothers? No one has ever answered this for me satisfactorily.

Report on the survey here.

Photograph by Nina Leen.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Funniest thing of the day

The Daily Mash has a tremendous time with The Royal Bank of Scotland. It wins my prize for satirical headline of the day: RBS collapse 'not caused by the ghost of a dog'.

You can find it here.

The joke dog in the piece is a Border Collie called Dash. I idly flipped that into the Google, looking for a picture to illustrate this post. Amazingly, there actually is a very handsome real Border Collie, actually called Dash, posted on a dog forum by someone called The Mutts' Mum. He's an absolute beauty:

Most interesting political analysis of the day

Michael White at The Guardian is one of my very favourite political commentators. He is of the liberal left, but not at all tribal, so he can see clearly flaws in his own side, and strengths in the other. He has also been around for a very long time, so he has that wonderful seasoned sense of political history that comes with experience. He has counted them in, and he has counted them out. He also has absolutely no need for point-scoring; he is too measured for that. He observes, wryly and drily, and makes a gentle prediction or two along the way, but he does not run about setting his hair on fire. Whenever I read him, I feel better.

His take today on the Coalition and the Eurocrisis is one of his best and well worth a read. It contains the perfectly wonderful observation on Paddy Ashdown that he can 'believe six impossible things before lunch, three of them pretty smart'.

You can find it here.

Rather wonderful photograph, which I stumbled upon, of people in Philadelphia gathering to observe a new map of Europe in 1918, taken by a gentleman called H. Wallace.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Dog of the day

Quote of the Day

Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them - every day begin the task anew.

St Francis de Sales.

Clock; photographer unknown.

Treat of the Day

Hidden away in the dusty curate's egg that is Radio Four Extra is easily the loveliest thing currently on the BBC. It is the late Alan Coren, reading a selection of his own columns. They are quite, quite brilliant. I'm not sure I really ever took in what a good writer he was. There is no one doing what he could do now. There is rather a sweet moment when the continuity announcer introduces the programmes, and says: the late, and very much missed Alan Coren. I can see now why he is so missed.

Anyway, if you have the BBC iPlayer, you can find the loveliness here.

Rather wonderful old picture of Coren with John Cleese; photographer unknown.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Dog of the Day

Neologism of the day

This may become a regular series.

Today's neologism is from a writer called Liz Ohanesian, in an article I found via The Dish.

The entirely new (to me) phrase is: geeked up.

It appears to mean, get excited in a geekish way. Or, become slightly geeky, or informed of all things geek. The context does not make it quite clear.

I LOVE it. I am going to be getting geeked up all the time, from now on.

And here's a bonus quote of the day from one of the greatest geeks of them all:

Internet favourite of the day

I don't know how I got there, but I stumbled upon the Oxford English Dictionary's list of common differences between American and British English. I find it both enchanting, and funny. I like to think I know quite a lot about American culture, but I discover there are things I did not know at all. Are there really no zebra crossings in America? And I love the choice of terms. Did we really need to know that British people speak of boob tubes, whilst our American cousins talk of tube tops? Who has even worn a boob tube in the last twenty years?

But easily, easily my favourite is:
British English - brawn (food) - American English - headcheese.
I think the compilers were just having a naughty little joke with that one.

You can see the whole list here. It has kept me happy for hours.

Could not find an appropriate photograph to illustrate this, apart from some very pedestrian shots of American and British flags, so here is a nice picture of an old Fowler's advertisement instead. (British English: treacle; American English: molasses.)

Friday, 9 December 2011

Dog of the Day

Quote of the Day

It's rather long, and it's a month old, but it could not be more interesting or relevant.

It's an interview with John Kay of the FT, by Polly Curtis at The Guardian, originally posted on her blog. She is asking him about the consequences for Britain if the Euro were to collapse. This is what he said:

There is a desperate anxiety in the financial community to say that unless governments give us lots of money and pay off our debts the world will come to an end - without being very specific about how it comes to an end. We are enthralled to the financial community as we were in 2007 and 2008. They are saying if you don't give us loads of money we will bring the world as you know it crashing down around your ears. To some degree they can do it, it's not an empty threat.
As far as an ordinary British business is concerned if the eurozone collapses new currencies are created and some go up and some go down. That's what happens. But the real impact is what happens in the financial sector and how that impinges on them. That's the story of 2007/08. It was the knock on consequences if you couldn't get a loan from your bank rather than a crisis in America. As in 2007-08 this is a financial sector problem and that sector will work very hard to make it into a problem for the rest of us one way or another. Until we tackle that culture, it will keep reoccurring.

For absolutely no good reason,  I have decided to illustrate this with a photograph of men rowing a boat during the 1953 floods in Harwich, photographer sadly unknown:

Headline of the day


From the German newspaper, Der Spiegel, after David Cameron said no to the latest EU deal.

I always like a picture to go with each post. For this one, I thought I'd try and find a nice waving goodbye shot. I stumbled upon this, which is a most poignant illustration of Goodbye, England. It is the crew of the Endurance, in 1916, waving as the lifeboat which is their only hope of salvation sets out on its 800 mile journey to South Georgia:

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Dog of the Day

What with the Euromess and storm force winds bashing poor old Scotland, I think we all need the serenity of this face more than ever:

Fair and Balanced

I have been a tiny bit Eurosceptical on the main blog today. (I used to be a tremendous Europhile; now I feel very ambivalent indeed. I cannot tell if this is a sensible reaction to current events, or the onset of grumpy middle age.) Anyway, in the interests of balance, here is a funny and salutary view from the other side:

Lovely picture of Europe by night sadly uncredited.

Quote of the day

'Twenty-four hours to save the Euro.'


Second excellent article of the day

This one is long, and very tragic, but so awfully fascinating that you will read to the end with your breath held. It's about the crash of Air France Flight 447, which fell out of the sky into the Atlantic two years ago. No one knew why. The cause remained a mystery and a speculation. Now, they have found the black boxes, and the last minutes of the flight can be pieced together. It is very sad, and very strange. Jeff Wise of Popular Mechanics writes about it absolutely brilliantly here.  It's really worth ten minutes of your day.

It's too awful to give you a photograph of the wreckage, so here is a happier snap by Robert Doisneau:

Excellent article of the day

From the online edition of The New York Times, a fine meditation on why politicians should not eschew the life of the mind.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Dog of the day

Did you miss her?

Quote of the day

Paul Krugman, being asked by Christiane Amanpour about Newt Gingrich, said that ‘somebody said ‘he’s a stupid man’s idea of what a smart person sounds like’.

I wish I knew who that somebody was. She or he was right on the money. The common wisdom among the American media seems to be that Newt Gingrich is an intellectual. I never saw anyone less interested in the free play of ideas, and with less intellectual discipline. I have never heard him say a brilliant thing, and I watch a lot of American political television.

Maybe the oddest and most stupid thing he ever said was that the only way to understand President Obama was to look to that famous Kenyan model:

‘What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” Gingrich asks. “That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”’

This is an almost meaningless string of words. It is unmoored from reality on about four different levels. Obama was born in Hawaii, of an American mother and a Kenyan father, spent some of his childhood in Indonesia, went to university at Harvard and Columbia, and taught law at the University of Chicago. From this, the famous intellectual concludes that he must be a Mau Mau.

I always like to put a photograph with each post, and so was looking for one of Paul Krugman (too much to see the wide face of Newt). Instead, I came across this beauty, which has nothing to do with anything, but is so lovely I thought I'd put it up anyway. Sadly, it is completely uncredited, so I have no idea of its date, provenance, or artist. 

What do you think? Paris? Some time in the late fifties? If it turns out to be a really famous picture by Brassai, I shall feel quite ashamed that I did not know that.

Appropriate neologism of the day

As I was typing my main blog today, I accidentally wrote the word ‘forgiveness’ as ‘forgivement’. This is unusual. I am a fairly fast and accurate typist, thanks to the course I took a hundred years ago in a tiny, airless room in South Molton Street. (Young People: if you do one thing in your life, learn to touch-type. One of the best things I ever did.)

As I deleted the offending letters, I suddenly thought forgivement was rather a wonderful word. It sounded faintly Shakespearean, or even biblical. The forgivement of sins has a splendid ring.

As always, when I stumble upon, or, as in this case, create a neologism, I rushed to The Google to look it up. Chances were, it was a word after all, one of those ones that has arc. for archaic after it in the dictionary. It could have been one of those ones that went out of fashion in 1760, as some words do. (It wasn't.)

This kind of thing always amuses me. The British rather love to mock the American pronunciation of herb as erb. (Don’t even get us started on the correct stress for oregano.) There is a naughty snobbism among Britons about The Queen’s English, which we were speaking before America was even invented; a sense of ownership, as if our use of it is the only correct one, and our cousins across the pond are just bowdlerising the hell out of it.

But I read somewhere that erb is indeed an original Scottish pronunciation, from some time in the 17th century, or something of the sort. I may be wrong about that. Certainly in 1911, Edith Nesbitt was writing of 'an herb', which suggest that in England at that time the h was silent, just as in 'an hotel' which is what both my grandmothers called a place to stay. (Some people, even now, talk of 'an historian', with the silent h. So that in strict pedantic terms, there is a chance that people in Boston, Massachusetts are more strictly correct than those in Boston, Lancashire.

Anyway, forgivement is my word for the day, because it is what I must ask of you. I have been away from home for over a month, and in that time, let this fledgling blog shamefully lapse. I barely had the minutes to write my main blog, let alone pay attention to this smaller enterprise.

But I am back, and I hope that the readers will come back with me, and forgive the vacancy.

I was looking for an appropriate picture, and found this lovely one:

It was taken in Barcelona by J. Salmoral, and appears on his Flickr page.

Saturday, 12 November 2011


I am so sorry; I am away from home, away from my desk, and the blogging is suffering as a result. I have not abandoned this exercise, but things might be a little spotty for the next couple of weeks. Please forgive.

Here is the dog, with her two hostesses:

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Question of the Day

I love it when someone sharper and better informed than I asks, and then answers, the very question I have been holding in my head. Over at The Dish, Andrew Sullivan asks: Why can't Jon Huntsman gain traction?

If I were a Republican, I would be falling all over myself to nominate this fellow. He has two terms as governor, he is articulate, humorous, and speaks Mandarin. He served as ambassador to China, so he has an intimate understanding of possibly the most important world power for America's future. He is tall and handsome. That should not make a difference, but it does, because politicians have to make an impression on television; also, there is that thing where one must be able to visualise the candidate on the steps of the White House. Looking presidential is intangible, but it counts. And yet he is bumping along at one percent, whilst the crazy pizza guy and the incurably odd Mr Perry romp ahead.

Anyway, Andrew Sullivan tells me why this should be here. It's sad, but I think it may be true.

Picture from Wikimedia Commons.

Dog of the Day

Love this slightly distant, enigmatic face. 

Photograph of the Day

I love this, partly because it is so beautiful, but also because it looks just like Scotland. It is, in fact, somewhere in the middle of Germany. I also like it because it is shared under the generous Creative Commons. This means that I can post it here, for my dear readers to see, as long as I attribute it. I completely understand why some people are protective of their photographs, as they may wish to use them for commercial purposes; as a writer, I know all about the importance of copyright. But there is something very lovely about those people who are happy for their pictures to be put up on other people's blogs. So thank you to the excellent Daniel Zadda, who took this wonderful shot:

You can find his Flickr stream here.

Easily peasily the best thing on the internet today

I know I haven't read the entire internet, but if there is anything on it better than this, I am a Dutchman.

Best lines, for my money:
'What if there are no aliens?'
'Then we are screwed.'

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Dog of the Day

Can't you just hear the voice of Maggie Smith from Miss Jean Brodie: 'Posture, girls, posture.'

Quote of the day

With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come. 

Shakespeare, in The Merchant of Venice.

View of the Grand Canal by Guardi.

Interesting article of the day

An excellent meditation on revisionism, by Geoffrey Macnab, in the Indy here:

He is particularly scathing about the revival of the Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare conspiracy, in the new film Anonymous. I am with him. I hate this theory. I do not know why I am so invested in the idea of William Shakespeare being the true author of Hamlet, but I am. I say: leave old Will alone.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Dog of the Day

Here she is, sniffing the air:

Quotation of the day

Since we are on libraries:

A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people - people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.

E.B. White.

Love this book cover. All book covers should really feature a typewriter and an indeterminate dog and a slightly quizzical look.

Most shocking thing of the day

Of course there are more shocking things, but there is something peculiarly saddening and startling and mad about a library being supposedly improved by the removal of books. If you feel strong enough, you can read about it here:

Lovely photograph of Trinity College library sadly uncredited.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Dog of the day

Love that slightly narrow-eyed what's going on kind of face.

Poem of the day

Let the snake wait under
his weed
and the writing
be of words, slow and quick, sharp
to strike, quiet to wait,
—through metaphor to reconcile
the people and the stones.
Compose. (No ideas
but in things) Invent!
Saxifrage is my flower that splits
the rocks.

William Carlos Williams.

Voyage to Pagany

Joke of the day

    Thou shall not kill. Thou shall not commit adultery. Don't eat pork. I'm sorry, what was that last one? Don't eat pork. God has spoken. Is that the word of God or is that pigs trying to outsmart everybody?

    Jon Stewart.