Friday, 28 December 2012

My seventh day of Christmas: lovely festive things to do

So sorry; rather let my Twelve Days of Christmas lapse. Now I am back.

In the limbo period between Christmas and New Year, what better way to distract the mind from mince pies and Turkey curry than to watch some excellent American political television? Ezra Klein is easily my favourite of the political geeks (self-described); he is even geekier about politics than I am, which gladdens my heart. Here, he moves away for a moment from the fiscal cliff and the hopelessness of Mr John Boehner to contemplate, slightly surprisingly, the amazing feats of Ranulph Fiennes. He not only pronounces his full name quite correctly, but makes an excellent Debrett's joke. Who knew that American political commentators had even heard of such a book?

This is just sweet and lovely on every level:

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Saturday, 22 December 2012

My sixth day of Christmas: lovely festive things to do.


A little pot pourri today for you.

1. Pay someone a compliment.

I realise that I am now wading into treacherous hippy-ish waters. I shall soon be teaching the world to sing and suggesting you wear flowers in your hair. No doubt, I shall mention the fact that a smile costs nothing.

But here is the thing, especially if you are British: often reticence or even shyness can strangle generosity of spirit. Paying a compliment can feel a bit cheesy or gushy or even faintly phoney. Much better not to risk it. And, if it is someone you know very well, you may assume that they already know they are kind or brilliant at making gravy or clever with numbers or have a way with flowers. You don't’ need to say it out loud.

My theory is: say the thing. Even the people who appear most confident have a small critical voice in their heads which occasionally tells them they are pointless and feckless and useless. Even the most well-armoured sceptic can find their heart lifting when they are appreciated. A compliment is the easiest thing you can give someone this Christmas.

2. Shop small.

The great retail giants are very efficient and easy and have everything under one roof. They are known quantities. But there is something charming and delightful about the small local shop. The best one I discovered this year is in the back streets of Cirencester. It is called For You and Your Home, and it is run by two incredibly nice gentlemen and their incredibly nice dog, and it has lots of beautiful things for the house, from salad bowls to scented candles. They source British where they can, and quite a lot of the things they carry have a story behind them. If you have not yet finished your Christmas shopping, and are in the area, I cannot recommend them enough.

You can find them on Twitter here:

3. Deck the halls.

If you are not yet quite Christmassy enough, get in armfuls of eucalyptus. I’ve gone eucalyptus crazy this year. It’s not too expensive, it looks wonderfully festive, and it lasts forever. It also smells delicious.

Friday, 21 December 2012

My fifth day of Christmas: lovely festive things to do

This is really hopeless of me, because I should have written it before the last posting day for Christmas. I was going to say buy someone a delightful present and support a fledgling business at the same time, but I am stymied by the temporal laws.

However, I then thought perhaps a lovely festive thing to do is to forget about presents, and buy something delightful for yourself. You have thought of everybody else over the last days, spent all your money, used all your brain agonising over whether Aunt Marigold would really like another bar of gardenia soap; now it is time to reward your kind, selfless self.

The days between Christmas and New Year can be anti-climactic. One may feel a little wintry and liverish. Why not order yourself some delicious potion or lotion from L'Apothecary, which was established this year and makes glorious oils and balms, for men and women both. I have tried their products, and they are beautifully packaged, made with love and care, entirely natural, and a pleasure to use. The business was started by the lovely Lou, of Lou, Boos and Shoes, whom I know through the blogosphere. I have a great admiration for people who set things up from scratch, and especially when they make something both beautiful and useful. William Morris would be proud.

So, if you want to give yourself a treat, you can find L'Apothecary here.

Facial and Skin Saving Oil

Thursday, 20 December 2012

My fourth day of Christmas: lovely festive things to do

Very quick today, as I have unaccustomed social life. This one is not suitable for everyone, but it is for the canine lovers out there. If you are thinking of getting a new dog, not just for Christmas but for life, consider a rescue. I adopted a dog three weeks ago and it's one of the best things I ever did. Of course you can get yourself a delightful expensive new puppy, but there are so many extant dogs out there, longing for a new home, and they are so grateful and loyal if you do decide to take them. You get the double joy of a canine companion, and the warm glow of knowing you did a decent thing. And that is very, very Christmassy indeed.

Here is where I got mine, a most excellent organisation that I cannot recommend highly enough:

They have foster carers all over the country, so you do not have to be in Wales, where they are based, and they are extremely nice people, who do really good work.

And here is the kind of glorious fellow with whom you might end up:

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

My Third Day of Christmas: lovely festive things to do

Buy a funny book for those you love. This is a shameless plug for my friend Fi Cotter Craig, who, with Zebedee Helm, has written a clever and hilarious book about the dear old middle classes. It's worth buying for the names alone. (You'll see what I mean when you read it.)

It's beautifully produced, and apart from being highly amusing, contains some rather penetrating sociological insights.

Also, as the great day draws terrifyingly near, it means you can let Amazon take the strain, and wrap and send the thing for you, so you don't have to queue at the post office. Although I must admit I love nothing more than a trip to the post office at this time of year. But I live in a small Scottish village, with a remarkable postmistress. Less fun if you are in the Tottenham Court Road and have to get in line and take a number and feel your life flashing before you.

You can get it for a special knock down price here. I really do keenly recommend. It made me laugh and smile.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

My Second Day of Christmas: lovely festive things to do.

One of the things that can happen at this time of year is a slight twist of consumerist disgust. Despite the pleasure of choosing the exact lovely item for the exact lovely person, the avalanche of shopping and advertising and spending and buying may, by this stage, seem rather excessive and even oddly wrong. As yet another advertisement comes onto the television, one may cry: where is the true spirit of Christmas? (It is usually at this stage that I decide crossly to give goats to Africa in the name of my godchildren, instead of what they really want, which is iTunes vouchers.)

I have found that an effective and most excellent corrective for this curdled feeling is to donate to a well-chosen charity. Giving at this time of year is wonderfully mutually beneficial. The cause you support has a happy Christmas, and you may rid yourself of any first world, overindulging, materialist guilt, and enjoy your presents in peace.

HorseBack UK is a charity for whom I write. It’s a brilliant organisation which uses horses to help rehabilitate wounded servicemen and women, from double amputees to those with acute post-traumatic stress. The work they do is really interesting, incredibly imaginative, and amazingly effective. They are also very, very nice people. If you go to their website, you will find a Just Donate button, where you may easily contribute using only the miracle of the internet. For a few pounds, you can have the glorious feeling of helping a tremendously good cause. You can make an actual difference in the lives of people you shall never meet, and if that is not the true spirit of Christmas, then I don’t know what is.

You can find them here:

And on Facebook here:

Here are some pictures I have taken of them this year:

18 Dec H118 Dec H2

18 Dec H3

18 Dec H4

18 Dec H5

18 Dec H6

18 Dec H7

18 Dec H10

18 Dec H11

18 Dec H12

18 Dec H14

Monday, 17 December 2012

Lovely Christmas idea of the day: if you are stuck for presents, why not give the gift of poetry?

A long time ago, and very far away, an old friend of mine told me she was embarking on a new venture. She was inventing an app.

Apart from the fact that I think 'app' one of the ugliest neologisms in the English language, I was frantically impressed. I am always very impressed by people who know how to do things that I cannot fathom. It is why I love the dry stone-wallers.

She and another old friend from university days got together and came up with an idea so lovely in its simplicity, so William Morris-ish in its beauty and utility, that I collected together all my hats and took them off.

It was a poetry app, for children. There were many carefully selected, mostly quite short poems, for every age group and every occasion. Some of them were read aloud by good actors, like Bill Nighy and Helena Bonham-Carter, so you could press a button on your device and hear them reading The Charge of the Light Brigade, or The Owl and the Pussycat.

So overcome was I by the cleverness of this that I swore up and down that I should write of nothing else on the blog. 'I don't have very many readers,' I said, 'but they are very, very high quality.' The thing would go viral, and I would have helped, and everything in the garden would be blindingly lovely.

Then, I kept forgetting. Once I had forgotten a few times, the resulting angst was so crushing that I could not write a word about the thing, even though I used it and loved it. It turned out that although it was compiled for children, all the poems were perfectly delightful for grown-ups too.

Very few apps have much pleasing application, apart from a fleeting novelty value. If you go and look at the list of apps in the iStore, you may experience a dull sinking of the heart, they are so specious. This one was so good that it took off with no help from me, and was a roaring success. So much so, that it was followed by a book.

Finally, because it is Christmas, I get around to mentioning it. The book is If: A Treasury of Poems for Almost Every Possibility; a very good title for a very good book. It is a perfect present for someone you love:

You can buy it on Amazon here

Details of the app and some sample readings are on the If website, here.

Not that many people create something which is good and simple and true and not cynical or driven by hype, but just gives pleasure. I'm always really admiring of those who do. 

And as if all this goodness were not enough, they give 10% of their sales to Save the Children. Which, you must admit, is very, very Christmassy indeed.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Absolutely the number one best thing I saw on the internet on 12.12.12.

This is not a cute kitten or a small child doing something comical or any professional body dancing Gangnam style. It is not funny at all. It is serious and interesting and impressive and thought-provoking and lovely and true.

It's seven minutes 39 seconds long, and it's worth your full attention. I hope this young man is one day President. Or, at very least, entirely happy and successful in his life. He is shimmering with goodness and cleverness and authenticity. He is another example of why the grouches are wrong when they complain of the Young People of Today.

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Sunday, 25 November 2012

Voice of the day

Reading books for public consumption is one of the hardest disciplines there is. You might think it was a breeze, just reading words on a page. There are no lines to learn, no stage directions to memorise, no grandstanding actor, chewing the furniture or doing little bits of business to ruin your scene. It's just you, and a page, and a microphone. What could be more of a walk in the park?

In fact, reading well is so remarkably difficult that only about four humans and a dog can do it. The amount of beautifully-written books of the week I have had to turn off, because some exuberant actor is strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage, is beyond count. There is always the terrible danger of breathiness. Then there are the ghastly pauses in all the wrong places, or the misconstrued emphasis.

Worst of all, is the conviction of certain thespian readers that the text must be acted. This is the highest sin. Books, poetry especially, must be read flat. The reader gets out of the way and lets the words shine. Prose is an oddly delicate thing; the wrong tone of voice can slaughter a perfect paragraph.

All of which is a long way of saying really I would like to start a petition to draft Samuel West in to read Everything in The World. It should be a law; it should be inserted into the constitution. He has always read very well, but in this week's Radio Four version of Paddy Leigh-Fermor's memoirs, he has reached his crest and peak. The voice is light and pleasing, the tone even and rhythmic, the pronunciation filled with clarity, the ego entirely absent. He even goes at the exact right speed. It's so good that you may want to listen to each episode twice, for the full beauty to dawn.

It is such a rare talent, and one very much overlooked. Hardly anyone except me bangs on about the beauty of a lovely reading voice. But when one is found, I must hang out more flags.

If you have the iPlayer, you can listen here.

Sadly, it's only on for a couple more days. I wish the dear old BBC would let us have access to their programmes for longer than a week, but I suppose it's something to do with bandwidth or one of those technical things. The iPlayer is such a miracle, and so much better than anything even nearly comparable, that it seems churlish to cavil. But perhaps a fortnight....?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

From the archive for Remembrance Sunday: the story of Lance Corporal Liam Tasker and Theo the dog.

Written on 4th March, 2011.  

A few weeks ago, on one of the many, many news feeds that I follow, I came upon a small article about an incredible bomb sniffer dog called Theo. He and his young handler, Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, were doing sterling work in Afghanistan, and had saved hundreds of lives. It was a lovely piece, but it came from a small news agency, and did not get any play in the national press, which I thought was a pity. I was going to put it up on the blog, and filed it in my Things For the Blog file, but I must have got distracted, and never did. I remember thinking it was a curious coincidence, because the other bomb dog I had been enchanted by was called Treo. Treo and Theo I thought; a perfect pair of heroes.

This is the tragic part. This week, Liam Tasker was shot to death while out on patrol. On the Helmand blog, which I follow religiously, his commanders and comrades and family paid tribute to him. It turns out he was not only an exemplary soldier, cheerful and courageous and dedicated, but a remarkable human being. He was absolutely beloved by everyone who knew him, one of those people who light up a room. He was twenty-six years old.

To add to the sadness, Theo suffered a seizure and died very soon afterwards. No one really knows why. It might have been the shock of the fighting, or just a horrible coincidence.

I wanted to tell you this story because it made me think of two things. One is that, because of the fact that there is so much other news at the moment, Afghanistan is off the front pages. It is almost possible to forget that we are in a shooting war, with no end in sight. For some reason, I think it very important that we do not forget.

The second is on the dog theme. Because of my dear dog's illness I have been meditating this week on the love and delight and joy that canines bring into our hearts. But they do more than this. In the case of Theo and Treo, they also literally save lives. Out in the dust and heat of Helmand Province, serious working dogs are sniffing out lethal improvised explosive devices, set by callous men bent on death. If one can say that dogs are heroes, then they are.

You can read about Liam Tasker and Theo here. I'm afraid it will break your heart, but it is a remarkable tribute to a remarkable pair. This is what they looked like:



This is why no one can ever, ever say: oh, it's only a dog.

To make you smile again, there is a lovely thing on Treo the dog here. I put the little video of him getting his medal up on the blog months ago, and it is still one of the sweetest things on the entire internet.
Here he is, with his award for bravery:


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The most shocking thing on the internet today

I have two reactions to this. Shock that such a thing should be happening in a modern industrialised nation, and awe and wonder for the American people who will not be denied. Some of them are waiting in queues for eight hours to cast their ballots. They chant: 'We want to vote'. I take every hat I own off to them.

I take my hat off too to the magnificent Rachel Maddow, who, as always, manages to temper her outrage with humour. Although in this case, the outrage is almost too much for her.

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Sunday, 21 October 2012

Horse of the day

Is Frankel. Who else? He had to fight for it yesterday, and he showed that along with all that class comes an indomitable spirit. Look at that doughty face. He may have been shin deep in mud; his white socks may have turned brown; but nothing is getting past that fella:

Frankel: Imperious at Ascot

Photograph from

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Most patronising thing on the internet today

Morning Joe is a current affairs programme on MSNBC. I watch it most days, even though it sometimes drives me nuts. If you are obsessed with American politics, as I am, it is very informative, and they often have very good guests, like the wonderful Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post or the excellent Richard Wolffe.

The chemistry between the hosts, Joe Scarborough, a rather bombastic Republican, and Mika Brzezinski, a mild liberal, is supposed to be sparky and even flirty, but I often find it troubling. Scarborough has a habit of literally shouting Brzezinski down, and she, to my intense fury, sometimes lets him. But not today. Today, the binders of women thing has pushed her over the edge, and she holds her own, even though every single man on the set is metaphorically patting her on her pretty blonde head.

For the record, I think her point is valid. Binders full of women is indicative, to many female sensibilities, of a wider malaise in the Romney mind. There was a reason that it was the number one trending hashtag on Twitter. It was compounded by the self-serving story not being true, and also by the unfortunate remark about the ladies having to go home early to cook dinner for their families. Remember, Mitt Romney would like to repeal  Roe vs Wade. In other words, he does not want females to have control over their own bodies. In this context, the binders really do say something.

But the fellas on the set do not want to talk about that. No, Sir. Let's just not talk about the lady stuff. Because, you know, it's for ladies.

It's twenty minutes, so quite long. But it is acutely illustrative and really interesting. I just warn you, the patronising levels are very, very high. You may find that your brain is about to explode. Mine was.

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Thursday, 11 October 2012

Strange political story of the day

Rachel Maddow is on a tear at the moment. I suspect I may be putting quite a lot of these videos up as the presidential race hots up. But I'm not sure I shall find an odder and sadder story than this one.

Part of the reason I like Maddow so much is that she is really passionate about what she believes. With some presenters, that can tip over into bombast, but she manages to avoid that tiger trap, mostly through the use of humour. She is clearly horrified by this, but I think she deals with it with a very deft lightness of touch.

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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

My favourite thing on the internet today; or, never be cast down by a bad school report

I have neglected this blog shamefully for the last few months. I shake it out of mothballs in honour of Sir John Gurdon, a British scientist who just won a Nobel Prize. Here is the lovely Rachel Maddow's take on his triumph, despite what his teachers once said about him:

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Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Olympian of the Day

There is an argument rumbling on about elitism in Olympic sports. Rowing and sailing are castigated as pursuits for toffs; even the Prime Minister says it is shocking that so many of our athletes come from public schools. The toffiest of all is, of course, the equestrian. Horses are often seen as posh by default, the province of the huntin' and shootin' classes, ridden by red-faced imperialists, dreaming of the golden days when people knew their place.

This has enough anecdotal truth in it to harden into stereotype. And horses are a much more expensive article than a bicycle or a pair of boxing gloves. My fear is that, as the show-jumping enters its final, nail-biting phase, this argument, which should be had, risks taking away some of the gloss of achievement. So just to show that not every person who achieves equestrian excellence is born with a perfect canteen of silver spoons, my Olympian of the day is the young Scott Brash.

He is twenty-six years old, and he is a builder's son from Peebles, a small town in the borders of Scotland. As I write this, he has one of only six clear rounds in the Olympic final. He came not from green acres and high privilege. He is where he is through his own marvellous effort. (He is also very funny. When asked what winning the team gold meant to him, by Clare Balding, live on BBC1, he said, drily, that he hoped it might improve his pulling power with women. The quote went viral as the best line of the games so far.)

Wherever he finishes today, he has delighted a whole community. Peebles is currently en fĂȘte, fired with pride in its native son. I know the town well, having friends who live just down the road. I have shopped in its chemist and eaten chips in its chippy. I love the idea of it hanging out more flags.

There is a lovely article about him in the Daily Record here -  It is really worth a read.

So here is to Scott Brash, and his lovely, brave horse, Sanctos:

Scott Brash, of Great Britain, rides his horse Hello Sanctos, during the jump-off in the equestrian show jumping team competition at the 2012 Summer O

Photograph by Markus Schreiber for AP.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

The true Olympic spirit; or Britons find their underdog

Over on the excellent BBC Olympics website, the most watched video is entitled: 'Plucky rower wins hearts of home fans'. If you click on it, you see a rower out on his own. For one second, I thought that perhaps he was winning by a distance, which is why one can see no other boats. In fact, he was losing by a mile. The crowd, who this morning were whooping and cheering for the British men's and women's pairs, who won their heats, were now roaring for a brave loser, from a distant country with which few of them will have had any connection.

Hamadou Djibo Issaka, from Niger, apparently only took up rowing three months ago. He looked so tired that it would not have been a surprise if he had stopped short of the finishing line, but the happy British crowd, who love nothing more in the world than an underdog, had found their new hero, and almost lifted him over the line with their yells of support.

It's lovely to see the champions excel. It's especially lovely if one of them is from your home country. But this little moment was a delightful example of chauvinism literally stopping at the water's edge. Britons adore an underdog, but what they love even more is a trier, and this fellow was trying his heart out, against all the odds. When all the medals are counted, and the world records smashed, and the triumphant pack up their golds and go home, I bet you any money that one of the people who shall be most remembered from these games is the rower from Niger, for whom that most British of adjectives, plucky, could have been invented.

You can watch him here:

I can't guarantee much in life, but I guarantee that it will bring a tear to your eye.

Photograph by Darren Whiteside for Reuters.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Team GB: equestrian

For those of you who are getting excited, as I am, about the Olympic three-day-event, Will Connell of the equestrian team is, rather amazingly, taking the time and trouble to write a blog. Considering the pressures that must be on him as he works with the riders, and the amount of work that it takes to get horses to their crest and peak for a competition of this nature, I think that really is something to be applauded. It's very well written, and gives a candid and fascinating insight to what is happening behind the scenes at Greenwich. If you want to cheer on the British riders, you can leave a comment of support.

You can find it here:

Here is William Fox-Pitt on the absolutely glorious, and wonderfully named Lionheart, who will be going for gold, starting tomorrow:

Photograph uncredited, from the official Team GB website.

Best of British to the entire squad: William Fox-Pitt and Lionheart, Mary King and Imperial Cavalier, Tina Cook and Miners Frolic, Nicola Wilson and Opposition Buzz, and Zara Phillips and High Kingdom. And do not forget the people behind the scenes who make it all possible: the grooms, vets, farriers, coaches, and the families too.

You can find details of the full competition, which starts with dressage over the weekend, goes to cross-country on Monday, and finishes with the show jumping on Tuesday, here:

Thursday, 26 July 2012

A riveting insight into American politics

So sorry I have been neglecting this little blog. I return with a blast. Even if you know nothing of American politics, this episode of the Rachel Maddow show, guest hosted by Ezra Klein, is is fascinating on a pure human level. Plus it has excellent graphs. And two of the loveliest experts I've seen in a long time.

Sixteen minutes of pure fascination:

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Thursday, 19 April 2012

Photograph of the day

Wow. This really is something. President Obama on the Rosa Parks bus, from the White House website, picture by Pete Souza.

Listen of the day

I'm a bit late to this, as I am not particularly fascinated by the Titanic. But Radio Four Extra are running a serialisation of Walter Lord's A Night to Remember. It is quite, quite brilliant, and beautifully read by Martin Jarvis. Because I'm used to him doing comedy, I had no idea he was so good at reading straight pieces. Regular readers will know I get hysterical about people who murder talking books by overdoing it, putting in too much expression, odd pauses, general drama, so getting between the prose and the listener. Jarvis is pitch perfect. I could listen to him all day. Also, the book is very, very well written, which I did not know.

The first three episodes are off the iPlayer, but you can find the rest here. It's really worth it.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Easily the best thing on the internet today

This will really, really cheer you up. I don't know quite why it is so pleasing and cheering, but it is. Except, as Andrea Gillies, through whose link I found it, pointed out, for the horse the hole. (Sorry, that really was a bit of a convoluted sentence, but my blood sugar is crashing, which makes my brain malfunction.)

It is called Thirteen simple steps to get you through a rough day.

Since one of the steps involves adorable or comical dog pictures, I use the excuse to put up a pretty damn good dog of my own:

Friday, 30 March 2012

Most elegant thing of the day

This is absolutely brilliant. It is calm, clean, elegant, and powerful. I love the women in it. I love the sweet, serious reason with which it is presented.

When I say clean, I mean that there is nothing extraneous. It is just women, and some quite extraordinary words. There is  no need for anything else, and the film-maker cleverly knows that less is so much more.

There is also a very clever juxtaposition thing going on, as you shall see.

It's one of those videos where I want to say: tell all your friends.

By the way, if you don't know about the forced ultrasound thing, I do recommend that you look it up. It is one of the most shocking and inexplicable things done by a political party in my lifetime.

Ever since I have been conscious of politics, Republicans have been talking of making government small. Grover Norquist wanted it small enough to drown in a bathtub. This is what makes the whole thing so strange. In this case, government has become so enormous and intrusive that it can go into your vagina. That's wicked big. It's so big it makes your own doctor perform an unnecessary and invasive procedure, against her wishes or advice, because the law tells her to. Government, that thing which should be hardly visible to the naked eye, is making medical professionals stick vaginal probes up your jacksy.

But the good news is: you can always CLOSE YOUR EYES.

I wish I could be ironical and funny about this, but I can't. It makes me too cross. This should not be happening to American women in the 21st century. It's the kind of thing that makes me want to take to the barricades in support of the sisterhood. But what I really wonder is: what is it in women which makes some people on the right hate and fear them so? It's a genuine question. I like to think I'm a bit of a student of human nature, but I have absolutely no idea.

If you want to read more, there is an interesting piece about Governor Bob McDonnell here, and the mighty, mighty Rachel Maddow on the subject here.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Test of the day

Susan Cain's book about introverts is getting more and more attention. As a true introvert, I find this rather gratifying.

Here is an interesting test which accompanied an excerpt from the book in one of the papers today. Remember that it is generally agreed that introversion is graded on a curve. I scored 17 out of 20, which is pretty curvy. Oddly, even though one of the points of the book is that society is geared for extroverts, I have always felt oddly proud of my introversion. (Which should not be confused with shyness.) I have no idea why this is, since it was born in me, and is not my own work.

  1. I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities.
  2. I often prefer to express myself in writing.
  3. I enjoy solitude.
  4. I seem to care less than my peers about wealth, fame and status.
  5. I dislike small talk but I enjoy talking in depth about topics that matter to me.
  6. People tell me that I’m a good listener.
  7. I’m not a big risk taker.
  8. I enjoy work that allows me to dive in with few interruptions.
  9. People describe me as soft-spoken or mellow.
  10. I prefer not to show my work or discuss it with others until it is finished.
  11. I like to celebrate birthdays on a small scale with only one or two close friends or family members.
  12. I dislike conflict.
  13. I do my best work alone.
  14. I tend to think before I speak.
  15. I feel drained after being out and about, even if I’ve enjoyed myself.
  16. I often let calls go to voicemail.
  17. I’d prefer a weekend with nothing to do to one with too many things scheduled.
  18. I don’t enjoy multi-tasking.
  19. I concentrate easily.
  20. In classrooms, I prefer lectures to seminars.

The more true answers you have, the more likely you are to be introverted.


Famous Introverts:<br />Fun Fact: Introverts only make up 30% of the population! Correction! We&#8217;re a small large bunch, we make up 1/2 of the population, as been informed to me by fellow introvert blogger, Susan! Good to know :) <br />Contrary to a common myth about introverts, we are not &#8216;afraid&#8217; to put ourselves out there, nor do we necessarily hate people. We just need time for ourselves; our brains work differently. To build up some of your own pride about being an introvert, here are just a few of the many famous introverts&#8230;some you would even be surprised to learn are introverts<br />Famous &amp; Successful Introverts:Albert Einstein Jackie KennedyMeryl StreepClint EastwoodTom HanksJohnny CarsonSteve MartinJane GoodallDiane SawyerHarrison FordJulia RobertsGwyneth PaltrowAudrey HepburnBill GatesAbraham LincolnMia FarrowMark ZuckerbergSteven Spielberg Mark Twain<br />Have more to add to the list?

Picture found on the Quiet Girl, Loud City blog.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Ducks of the Day

This is funny, and sweet, and really rather surprising.


Song of the day

This is the song I sang to my horse in the woods today.

Don't ask. Really. There's no telling, as my old dad used to say.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Thoughtful man of the day

A few days ago, in the Guardian, Sam Waley-Cohen, who rides the favourite in the Gold Cup today, gave one of the most interesting and humane and thoughtful interviews I have read in a while. I am putting it here in honour of Gold Cup day, but even if you have absolutely no interest in racing or horses, you should still give it a look.

I want Kauto Star to win this more than I can say. But Waley-Cohen is a Corinthian and I salute him.

The interview is here.

Photograph by Getty Images. 

Monday, 12 March 2012

Good News of the Day

Is here. You can guess what it concerns. I shall be thinking of nothing else all week.


Lovely photograph of Kauto Star schooling this morning, with a very serious look on his face, by George Shelton for Racingphotos.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Horse of the day

Today is all about Kauto Star, as his Gold Cup bid hangs in the balance. You can listen to a nice song here. Or read an excellent piece in the Telegraph here.

Lovely old photograph from Getty Images. 

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Attempt to not editorialise of the day

Usually, when I put things up here, it is because I have very strong views about them. But sometimes there are things which are so difficult and complicated and combustible that they don't really need me pontificating. You will know what conclusions you wish to draw. I just want to bring the thing itself to your attention.

Today's story I think is interesting for about eight different reasons. Jenny Tongue, the Liberal Democrat peer, has said some things about Israel. She has form on intemperate and unfortunate and odd remarks.

As always, there is the bashing up of free speech against the yelling of fire in a crowded theatre. How much should politicians be punished for speaking their true mind? Is it just cheap grandstanding for leaders to dismiss members of their party who say the wrong thing?

And yet, the free speech defence can go too far. Humans self-censor all the time, usually from politeness. I wonder, quite apart from anything else, whether this is just an example of really, really bad manners.

Also: I am interested in the role of context. It is context and history, I think, which make some remarks much more inflammatory than others.

Generally, though, I tend to agree with the Chief Rabbi. He is such a thoughtful and moderate man. If he thinks something is beyond the pale, I am inclined to think it is so.

Read it here, and see what you think.

Soothing picture of a Nubian Ilex in the Negev Desert:

Oh dear. After all that, I did seem to pontificate a bit. The more I think of this, the more I think the oddity and wrongness of Tongue's statements were to do with a conflation of two different things. Surely it is possible to question the policies of a government, as people do with many different countries, without questioning whether the state itself should or will exist in the future. It is that, with its horrible echoes of past and current prejudices and hatreds, which strikes one as extreme and sinister.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Horse of the day

This should also be called Apology of the Day. I have been neglecting this blog shamefully. I am in the south, away from my desk, desperately trying to combine an enormous amount of work with family life with my cousins. I am used to living alone, where I have the luxury of great expanses of time. As a result, I get hopelessly behind when I am in a different environment.

Anyway, I do not love the Daily Mail website, but sometimes I have to look at it for my work. As I went there today, I found this rather enchanting equine story. I don't know if it because there are horses here, and I have been riding, but it touched my my heart in a keen way.

Have a look; it really is incredibly moving. And the photographs are astonishing. You can see it here.

Picture is of the three horses I have been spending time with today. They are a little woolly and muddy after being in the field all winter, but very charming, nonetheless:

Friday, 17 February 2012

Jaw-dropping thing of the day

If I had my way, I would put up Rachel Maddow clips every day. She has a particular genius for teasing out the astonishing stories that the rest of the media gloss over. She has been on about the really strange and alarming vaginal probe law that is being passed in Virginia for a few days now. Yesterday, she brought that together with  Bob Dole, Viagra, and Rick Santorum. For anyone interested in politics and morality and hypocrisy, it is a brilliant mix. Also, you get the bonus of watching the very professional Andrea Mitchell actually lost for words, live on air. It's fourteen minutes, which is long in internet terms, but it is worth every moment of your time:

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Funniest thing on the internet of the day

I think I come rather late to this; I have a suspicion it has been flying about for a while. But it is the kind of thing that is so funny it makes tears come out at right angles, as my old Irish godmother used to say. I really would not listen to it in a public place, for fear of embarrassment.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Dog of the day

Sometimes, it is important to have something uncomplicatedly lovely on which to rest your eyes:

Yes yes yes YES of the day

I have long loved Eugene Robinson, most excellent and wise writer for the Washington Post. Interestingly, the spat about religion vs secularism is being played out in America at the moment in a very similar way to here, mostly because of the Republican primaries. (I have written about my bafflement over Rick Santorum on this blog before.)

Robinson nails this nuttiness much, much better than I ever could, and with humour and lightness of touch, where I get grumpy and earnest. I take off all my hats. You can read it here.

Uncredited picture of Mr Robinson:

Odd religious argument of the day

I genuinely do not understand today's broadside against Richard Dawkins by Stephen Pollard. It made me fretful and cross, and I blogged about it at awful length on the other blog.

It's not the specific Dawkins thing; he can look after himself. It's the wider fury at secularism. Have a read here and see what you think.

Because all this religious fighting is making me so grumpy and sad (see Baroness Warsi yesterday), I'm going to put up a beautiful picture of a horse instead of anything germane. Although you could say that equine loveliness is very close to godliness, if you were so inclined. It is transcendent, anyway.

Here you are - my absolute favourite fellow, Kauto Star, whose name I shall be shouting up the hill at Cheltenham in March:

Kauto Star

Absolutely ravishing photograph found on the BBC website; photographer sadly uncredited. But very talented, whoever she or he is.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Dog of the day

My own little canine star:

Awards ceremony of the day

I did not know there were awards for best film dog. I do now. They are called the Golden Collars. Very funny slideshow from The Guardian here.

Golden Collar awards:  Vince along with B-Dawg arrive at first annual Golden Collar Awards
Adorable picture by Gus Ruelas for Reuters.

Inexplicable statement of the day

I try not to get cross about my atheism. I think of it as a quiet, personal thing. My default mode is: each to each is what we teach. (Which of course originally came from from each according to his ability etc etc, but which I have bastardised into everyone must think what they will, as long as it is not cruel and unusual.)

The weedy liberal in me thinks: there is good and ill in the religious and the secular. It really is not four legs good, two legs bad. Religion does horrifying things - child abuse, blowing people up, oppression of women - and marvellous things - charity, solace for the afflicted, needed human ritual. Secularists may be anything from the selfless carer to the homicidal maniac.

Then Baroness Warsi comes along and compares me to a totalitarian regime. (Yes, I damn well am taking this personally.) Militant secularism, she says, is taking over society, and demonstrating traits last seen under totalitarians, by which she must mean Stalin, Mao, the Jong-ils, or similar. At which point, the muscular liberal in me stands up and starts shouting about freedom of expression and thought. The pedant starts yelling about intellectual laziness.

I really do try to avoid ad hominem, but this is such a stupid thing to say. It is simplistic, offensive, and empirically incorrect. Why would anyone in public life think this is an interesting or useful thing to state? Quite apart from being provably wrong, it has no utility.

You can read all about her very odd speech here, and see why it made me quite so grumpy. If anyone says anything else like that, I shall have to start going about invading places and getting the populace to perform daily leader worship. Because that is what we secularists really, really like.

The Guardian also covers it here.

Rather brilliant photograph sadly uncredited.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Dog of the day

Taken in the late afternoon, in a fading, rose pink light that suddenly appeared after an unremittingly black day:

Riveting political hypocrisy of the day

Rick Santorum, who is running for the Republican nomination for president, will soon disappear from public consciousness, as Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney duke it out. But before he does, it is worth contemplating something interesting about his candidacy. He has, from the very beginning, wrapped himself in the cloak of piety, religious belief, and general godliness. Whenever challenged about his policies on homosexuality and abortion, he always states that he stands where he stands because his bible tells him so. Christianity, in this case, is automatically conflated with goodness and kindness. His policies might sound harsh, but they cannot be, by definition, because of the milk and honey of his devout belief.

The little-observed oddity about Rick Santorum is that he does not seem to be a very nice man. I very rarely do ad hominem in politics, because I think it is often cheap and unfair. If you present yourself as good and kind and faithful though, you must expect those claims to be examined. There are numerous video clips from the campaign trail where Rick Santorum becomes impatient, dismissive and even aggressive when faced with dissent. I noticed this in particular with a group of bright, engaged university students, who were asking him about gay marriage. Instead of debating with them, he hectored and talked over them, in a most unChristian fashion.

Rachel Maddow, who goes where the rest of the press pack do not, has picked up on this, and had a brilliant segment on it in her show this week. She shows two really shocking moments, where Santorum loftily ignores, even mocks, the concerns of a brave little boy who asked him a question (I am always incredibly impressed by children who are bold enough to do this; it must be so nerve-wracking) and a mother with a child suffering from cancer. These are not hardy political opponents or toughened hacks. They are very ordinary members of the public, in some ways the most vulnerable among us: a worried mother, a young child. Santorum acts as if they count for nothing.

I don't know quite what I take from all this. But I was shocked. The Maddow segment is quite long, sixteen minutes, but if you have any interest in politics, morality, and people acting on their beliefs rather than just mouthing them, it's really worth a watch.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Dog of the Day

Slideshow of the day

Is over at The Guardian, and combines the two enchanting traits of good photography and rampant adorableness.

See it here.

One example, by Helen J Arnold:

Unlikely animals friends: The pitbull, siamese cat and chicks

Extremely funny thing of the day

This was not necessarily supposed to be a comical blog. I am traditionally a little suspicious of all those cats/babies/teenagers doing hilarious things on the YouTube. But it turns out that the people on my Twitter stream have most discerning taste. They truffle out the funny like Basset hounds. (Did I just compare the people I follow on Twitter to dogs? Although, coming from me, that is a high compliment.)

Anyway, @liz_buckley found this list of proverbs as completed by students. I think it is a work of genius. My favourite by far: 'The pen is mightier than the pigs'. I don't think you can argue with that.

I always like to put up a picture with each post. Usually I type whatever the subject is into the Google, see what comes up, and hope it is apposite. If you type in proverbs you get an awful lot of faux numinous nonsense, because the bots think you mean the biblical version, rather than the stitch in time saves nine version. But as I waded through, I found this lovely, gentle, uncredited photograph. It has nothing to do with anything proverbial, but I just liked it:

Thursday, 2 February 2012


I'm really sorry about the capital letters, but it is THAT FUNNY. Do not watch whilst in the presence of important people, as there is a very real danger that snot will shoot spontaneously out of your nose.

I've never heard of the Bad Lip Reading people before, but thanks to @archiebland on Twitter, I now know they are comical and technical geniuses. Today, they take on Rick 'man on dog' Santorum. And, oh do they take him.

My favourite line: I just want to practice soft algebra, please.

Interesting Scottish analysis of the day

Is from Alex Massie in The Speccie. I am still struggling with the arguments for and against independence. He brings up an element of the debate I had not yet thought about. . Read it here.

Oh, and the takeaway, as the political bloggers say, is that Mr Salmond is not persuading the ladies. Interesting.

Any excuse to put up a picture of a highland coo. This one is from Wikipedia:

PS. I was going to say that Massie gets bonus points for using the word 'trumed'. I assumed this was from some marvellous Scottish dialect, and carried a subtle meaning that only those north of the border would truly understand. Having not found it in any dictionary, I went back and looked at the context, and realised it was just a plain old typing error. It should have read 'trumped'. Still, I think trumed sounds beautiful and am going to attempt to make up a meaning for it, and get it into common parlance.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Letter of the Day

There is a lovely and fascinating blog which I follow called Letters of Note. Yesterday, it put up a letter which has had more responses than any other in the blog's history. It is being tweeted and re-tweeted, linked to and passed on all over the internet. When you read it, you will see why. You can find it here.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Victory of the day

The lovely Big Buck's, powering up the hill to win the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham. Read about it here.

And a touching back story here.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Dog of the day

Oh, the nobility:

Picture of the day

This is where we all live. It is the latest picture of the earth from the wizards at NASA.

This astounding image was not just achieved by flying up into space and taking a snapshot. It was a long, composite process, very well described here. Despite my awe at the cleverness of NASA and their brilliant use of technology, what I mostly think when I look at this photograph is: oh, how beautiful that planet is.