Category Archives: eclectic shocks

Hobnob’s choice

There is altogether too much choice in this world and it induces stress. Stress is bad. Limited choice is good. Let me show and tell.

The first thing to acknowledge is if you’ve made a choice and aren’t allowed to have it, then that induces far worse stress. But that’s limited freedom, not limited choice. What I am complaining about is being forced to make a choice when I don’t have, want or need to.

I am talking about:

  • Supermarkets that have 15 kinds of extra-virgin olive oil.
    • I just want to choose between olive, sunflower, vegetable and lard, thanks. Oh, fuckkit, I’ll go to Morrisons, ta.
  • Doctors making me choose between a dozen indistinguisable triptanes to treat migraine.
    • You’re the one with the medical degree, pal, you choose.
  • The restaurant that says “oh, you want a vegetarian meal, tell us what you’d like and the chef will make it”.
    • Yeah, but how do I know what veg you’ve got in fresh today?

Consumer choice

There is a difference between variety and product range. Variety is something new once in a while. A wide product range is a whole aisle of shampoo. That is one of the many reasons I like Aldi – they maintain a limited core product base and introduce wierd shit every now and again. (The other three reasons are antipasti for a quid, their chocolate brioche which is dangerous, and their tribute brands which deserve a post of their own).   The supermarket problem’s easy enough to deal with – I only go to Sainsburys for prescriptions, petrol and clothes. (I go to Tesco local instead, so there is no health in me. Oh, and the veg and cheese stalls in the market, so maybe there is a bit.)

The situation with professionals is harder because the government insists that the people want a fully informed choice. There are three words that are the problem, “choice”, “informed” and “fully”. How often do people suffer from nocebo side-effects? How much better to say “if anything changes that you don’t like, let me know”. You see, you pay a professional NOT to tell you stuff: you don’t pay for an hour of their time. You pay them to shut the fuckup about the 9,999 hours they have spent leading up to your appointment.


Let’s admit it: choice in our consumer society (or what used to be our consumer society) is a ritual. The purpose of the menu is to give you something to talk about in the embarrasing time before the wine kicks in. It’s not there to give you choice. If it were, then there’d be more than one vegetarian option for a start.  These days I let the one I’m with do the choosing for me while I sit back and look at the other diners and the wallpaper.  (Wallpaper in restaurants, now there’s a topic).

Choice is about giving us something to do while we wait for the waiter, or making us feel special when we are just another punter, or persuading us that we’ve had customer service.

So let’s hear it for smaller shops which you can nip in to and nip out of, advisors who give advice rather than explaining options, and doctors who prescribe and proscribe but don’t bloody well describe.

Lorem ipsum quantum ploncum

The tutor that I will be submitting my assignment to prefers data to be plural. 

Now, I am a linguistic liberal: I am not sure if there can ever be such thing as ‘correct’ usage and however you use the language is fine by me so long as I can observe it, I am a linguistic voyeur as well you see.  And on top of that, I’m a linguistic democrat, I tend to go with my peer group if only to improve my chances of being understood.

So, I follow the usage of most people, and regard data as basically indivisible, like fog or rice. Thus: ‘the data is interesting’. Ok, I admit I use media in the plural, but you can still say medium and not be a complete arse-hole.  

You see, I think that only someone whose datum is right up their rectum convolutes the English language like that and just such a datum-rectum-qantum-lorem-ipsum is teaching me this module and he has thrown a linguistic tantrum, and now so am I. How bloody dare he impose his linguistic quirks upon me? Just because he’s the teacher an’ has a doctorate an’ all.

I’m being oppressed by the patriarchy!

The question is, can I write a whole paper on research methods without using data as the subject of a verb?

I am quite tempted to say ‘the results we get datis’ and let him ablate on that.

Or ‘the implications datorum’.


I like that.

Decline on that genitive, datum boy!

Aphra, she say

Charlotte asked me to list ten things I know, and I missed it.  So, rather late, here goes:

  1. Everything’s a trade off – accept the loss as well as the gain
  2. Starbucks is for people who don’t actually like coffee
  3. Cravings do eventually fade
  4. All men are bastards, but that’s ok because all women are bitches.  Know that and be constantly delighted by goodness.
  5. The wiccan admonition to do what you will but do no harm has a sting in the tail.  Knowing what we do, it is impossible to live up to.
  6. A girl can never have too many sapphires.  
  7. There is no meal better than a russet apple and a piece of cheddar.  Good cheddar.
  8. Fois gras is very nearly worth it.  Very nearly, but not quite.  
  9. Lime curd is better than lemon curd, but harder to find.
  10. People with no sense of humour are in fact aliens.  We must be patient with them.  They’ve been cut off from the mother ship.

If you know stuff, post it and link back.

Diana Mosely

Diana Mosley Diana Mosley

I’ve been reading the letters of the Mitford sisters and finding one of them fascinating. So fascinating that when I got to the last letter in 2003, I looped straight back to the 1920s and started again. The unexpected revelation is the development of the character of Lady Diana Mosley. The story of the “six hooligan girls” is notorious: there was the writer (Nancy), the lesbian (Pam), the fascist (Diana), the nazi (Unity), the communist (Jessica), and the Duchess (Deborah).  But it’s a much told tale and I didn’t expect to be surprised.

In her teens, Diana was rich and  socially successful, and then she segued into a politically and sexually glamorous femme fatale before turning into a political activist, imprisioned traitor, troubled mother and – finally – she emerges as someone alert to nuance, kind, subtle and gracious. Her letters of the last 50 years show us a patient and wise woman, accepting the difficulties of the path she’d chosen with stoicism and uncomplaining good grace. She is almost humble, as she absorbs a lifetime’s priggish sanctimoniousness from one sister and decades of spiteful jealousy from another. The impossible thing of course is to square these admirable traits with her politics; she was married to Oswald Mosely, founder of the British Union of Fascists. She never recanted, never appeared to regret her quite literal espousal of Fascism, remaining resolutely un-revisionist of her personal and national history until the day she died. 

Hers is an extraordinary story.  She was an impatient teenager who married a rich man who adored her and by the age of 20 she had borne him two heirs. So far, so conventional. Churchill was a cousin, and Diana Mosley may well have been the only person to know both Churchill and Hitler socially. Hitler was a guest of honour at her small and very private wedding to Oswald Mosley. This is the key to her history. She met Mosley in her early 20s and loved him beyond reason for more than 50 years. Her daughter in law suggests that her loyalty cost her so much that she could not admit the immorality of European Fascism. Her relationship certainly cost her a lot: she was cut off from her younger sisters, her older sister betrayed her, she was imprisoned in Holloway and separated from her children (her youngest son was 11 weeks old and not even weaned when she was arrested).

Judged by his actions, Mosley was a deeply unpleasant man: while his first wife was dying he kept two main mistresses – one was Diana but the other was his wife’s younger sister. He was never faithful to his first wife, and rarely faithful to Diana during the early years. If he was greedy for sexual conquest, he was also greedy for personal power. He was at one time a Labour MP, at another time a Conservative and he founded the British Union of Fascists only when it became obvious that he was not going to achieve office as a Socialist.  A woman as intelligent and sensitive as the Diana who emerges from the later letters would not have loved a man who was merely selfish, brutish and greedy.  There must have been more to Mosley in person than comes through from a mere list of things he did.  There are men who are sexy, charming, clever and deliciously good in bed but so self-directed they simply don’t understand the need for morals or scruples. They used to be called cads or bounders, and the intelligent ones are particularly devastating.   It’s clear that Moseley was one of these, and an intelligent woman will fall for a cad far more quickly than she’ll fall for a bore.

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters

As we read the early letters we find her caught up in her love for Mosley and then in its consequences, in particular the separation from her children. The turning point in her letters seems to be the death of her younger sister Unity in 1948. If Diana was swept into Fascism by sexual and romantic love, Unity became a fascist because she needed an outlet for a passionate and fanatical nature. She wanted a cause and a leader, and Fascism gave her both. It was Unity and not Mosley who provided Diana with her entré to the highest levels of the third Reich. 

Unity’s blind adoration of Hitler rings out shockingly from her letters. She trembled at the very site of him. No-one helped her meet him, she engineered that on her own when she found a café where his group would often dine, and had lunch there alone again and again until he eventually asked her over to his table. She seems to have been no more than an adoring and pretty acolyte, albeit a remarkably well connected one. Certainly she had none of her sister’s intelligence or acuity.  Even so, Hitler paid her medical bills when she attempted suicide on the day the war broke out and he arranged for her to be transferred to neutral Switzerland. She survived another 9 years with the mental capacity of a 12 year old and the emotional stability of a toddler.  All the Mitford sisters loved the pre-war Unity for herself, no matter how much they deplored her politics and Diana of course did not deplore her politics. So who knows what her reaction was when Unity died unexpectedly aged 33 when an infection flared up in the bullet wound.

Compare Diana’s tactful letter to Nancy with Nancy’s insouciant, almost defiant, reply.


… it seems that Muv has got an idea that you think she oughtn’t ever to have taken Boud [Unity] away from Prof Cairns [her neurologist] – of course I knew this had never crossed your mind but if you could write and put something comforting about how wonderful it was that Birdie [Unity] was able to go about … and not be a hospital case all those years – or you will think of something much cleverer than that …


… not only never did such an idea cross my mind, but I couldn’t imagine that anybody could think such a thing. I vaguely remember that under the stress of great emotion & after that dreadful journey (I was really ill with it you know) I said ‘Oh but didn’t you send for Cairns’ which I now see was very tactless – but like that & no more than that.

Perhaps the key to the sensitive, patient, accepting woman who emerges after Unity’s death is summed up in the last line of her letter to Nancy:

… the fact is all deaths bring remorse, isn’t it odd.

But it seems slick to assume that it wass simple and obvious as that, and certainly those traits could not have come to the fore if they’d not been there all along.  So maybe the question is not so much why did they emerge as why were they hidden?  And there is no way of knowing the answer to that one.

Where was my grandmother…

Where was my grandmother… on the night of Sunday 2 April, 1911?  She wasn’t at home with her parents and sisters, which is a surprise because she was only 13.

I know she wasn’t at home because I’ve just looked her up on the 1911 Census. An alluring and expensive way of spending an evening. I’m a huge fan of the National Archives (their podcasts are exceptional) and they have done a superb job with the census site.  I hate to think how long it took and how much it cost to transcribe those millions of lines of scrawly manuscript.  So I really cannot begrudge them their money.  I’d have happily spent an evening cyber-stalking my ancestors if I could have done it for free, and the seven quid I spent has enabled me to turn turn up some mysteries.  I think I may have just discovered an expensive new hobby.

Three things are odd about the census transcript for my great-grandfather’s household.  

  • They weren’t living where I thought they were.   They certainly owned the house on the hill both before and after 1911, so why wasn’t the family there at the time?
  • Then their youngest daughter is shown as being 26 years old in 1911.  I’m almost certain she was two or three years younger than grandma, not 13 years older.  
  • And finally, as I mentioned,  my grandmother and her brother were away from home that night.   

It turns out she was at school, and the jpeg of the entry for the school showed me a couple of other interesting things. 

  • Her 15 and 16 year old classmates had their marital status recorded, which looks decidedly odd in the middle of a list of school-girls.   The choices were “Single, Married, Widower or Widow” which is quaint in itself.  
  • One of her classmates had the same name as my godmother – so I find myself wondering if our grandmothers were school-fellows.

It would be expensively easy to click “buy more credits” again and again and five mysteries for a fiver isn’t bad going really.  But I’ll resist and savour the unknowingness.   Though I might get in touch with siblings and cousins to see what they think.

Green and golden

I am now at the age where I find the loveliness of teenage girls almost unbearable.  I have to look away from  them on trains because if I did look at them, I’d stare and stare and stare and it would all be very creepy indeed.

They are so young, and so beautiful, and they cover up skin that’s clearer than snow with claggy make-up because they have no idea how beautiful they are, or how soon they will stop being young.  And they are still beautiful despite the claggy make-up, and the ill-judged and unbalanced clothes, and their dreadful garish accessories.

Hark at me, as if I know how to choose clothes and accessories.  And I didn’t when I was young, either, but I bet I was beautiful then and I had absolutely no idea.

And you too.

And the old lady sitting across the aisle, fidgeting with her walking stick and her handbag.  So many summers ago, she was sitting on the train with her sisters, comparing the cheap trinkets they’d bought in town on a Saturday as the train sped them all into the here and now.

There are so many layers of poignance right there on the train.


I do love it when people who don’t know about this blog use the word ‘eclectic’ to describe my interests, taste or activities.  Always gives me a frisson of pleasure.  The most recent was in the the marking on last term’s girlie-swot assignment:

Your bibliography contained a substantial and eclectic mix of sources, a number of which were unfamiliar to me.

Hot damn!

I must get out of the habit of citing Lucy Kellaway though.