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The sun was still low in the sky. Looking towards its lazy light, I saw how it coloured the river and the shining mud of the river’s banks a pale golden yellow, leaving only textures to discriminate between the infused water and the shore. Liquid gold flowing past rough nuggets. Turning the other way the bright colours of the yachts tied up along the pontoons were like national flags against the sky-blue water. Bright red. White. Dark blue. Small amounts of yellow.
Seabirds flew across the screen with the same frequency of as easy computer game. One now, flying horizantally from east to west. Another, later, swooping to land on the water, then taking off again. Now a pair of smaller sea birds. Then a heavy oil-black cormorant, like a sooty full stop, becomes long points suspendus as it heaves its heavy body up, its wings batting the surface of the water and punctuating the smoothness.
A small procession of yachts, only a lone man at the helm of each, take advantage of the ebbing tide to carry them out to the mouth of the estuary, letting the pull of the vanished moon multiply the impulsion of their engine, using the free water between the rows of moored boats. A small red fibreglass tender is launched from the wooden ramp and floats away. A man in the boat, facing forwards, pulls on a cord to start the outboard engine clamped to the stern. Nothing happens. He pulls again, and again, and again, as the boat drift further from the shore. I start to watch with more interest, wondering if he has a paddle as well as the motor. The man turns to face the stern and tilts the engine out of the water. He examines it, perhaps regulating the choke, checking that the fuel is turned on, then he lowers the propellor in the water once more. He jerks the cord. Again the engine stays silent. He pulls several more times, then stands up and gives the cord one more almighty pull with all the force of his upright body. The put-put engine jumps into life and the boat makes a more determined progression into the sun.
My dog jumps from tussock to tussock. Vertical takeoff and bouncing on landing. He mis-judges a gap and gets his feet wet and then takes off in a frenzy of excitement, his tail bent oddly at right angles, his hind legs strangely under his body, running round in endless circles until he collapses on the rough sea grass and rubs himself dry. Then, frog-like, he waits to see if I move. I stay still, taking in the glass-like blue beauty of the river and the sky, feeling my cheeks lift with a smile that reaches to my eyes and relaxes my body, slowing me down.
Sarah Brown: a woman we can identify with
“In an age when a right-thinking feminist would shrink from calling any female person an asset to any other sort of person, I have to admit: Sarah Brown is a phenomenal asset to Gordon. She makes him seem human; she makes his smile seem real; she makes you feel there is more to him than meets the eye; she makes you trust him, because she does. If only Cole Porter were alive, he’d write a song about her. She’s the top.
Gordon would probably not, on his own, have had the brio to attempt an echo of Barack Obama’s ease and class by asking his wife to introduce him. In the wrong hands, that could have been tremendous folly; it’s a mark of Sarah’s confidence and judgment that she could persuade him she’d pull it off, and then go on to do so. She clearly does not seek the limelight, and there’s not a sniff of the compulsive stuff-grab that characterised Cherie Blair. So not only does it reflect well on Gordon that his wife has relinquished her valued privacy in support of him, it also brings a favourable and timely reminder of the ways in which he and his household differ from the Blairs. She ain’t in it for the attention, nor the money. Probably he isn’t either. Maybe she’s right, then – maybe he is “motivated to work for the best interests of people all around the country”.
The other counterpoint is with Samantha Cameron. Mrs Cameron does PR for a posh stationers. Mrs Brown did PR, it’s true, but only for decent things, charities, unions … The New Statesman magazine. When she gave up her work because it clashed with her husband’s, it didn’t seem like a surrendered-wife thing, it seemed self-effacing yet perspicacious, since in supporting him, she was supporting the causes of her own conscience.
You feel that you can identify with Brown, or rather, that her admirable aspects are ones we would all hope to have on our gravestones: she’s funny, apparently, warm and generous. Samantha Cameron’s admirable aspects are that she has nice shoes. The respective appearances of these two women make quick, easily grasped statements about the men they’re with, and Gordon emerges as a man of more substance and intelligence than David.
Still, he has a way to go before he’s out of the woods. Sarah Brown is only his wife; she’s not a wizard.”
From The Guardian, 25/9/08, Zoe Williams
Ruth Kelly has been on my hit list for several years now. One of those few women who make me seethe with irritation the moment they open their mouths. The small thing that really got me started was learning that she went to mass every morning at 8am. Given that she has four children, this seemed such a dereliction of her proper place, such a topsy turvy set of priorities, that I could no longer see her as someone who should be listened to. Imagine a household with four young children, clamouring for attention, needing help with dressing, wanting breakfast, worrying about school or nursery. And Mum puts on her hat and coat and goes to a beautiful silent place where she can be alone. Irrational of me, I know, to write somebody off because of something so inconsquential in the grand scheme of national politics, but I subscribe to the belief that politicians’ private lives are important for what they tell us about the morality, the trustworthiness, the kindness of the politician.
Later on, she started to scare me with her fundamental Catholicism, and I particularly worried about the way in which she embraced faith schools when you only had to be as intelligent as me to realise that she was motivated by a need to defend Catholic faith schools, not a desire to extend the privilege to other faiths. I do not like the admissions policies of most faith schools, and can get quite agitated about the exclusion of Jews and Muslims from the comfortable middle-class schools administered under the auspices of the Church of England or the Catholic Church but funded by the state. I was relieved when she was moved away from the Education Department. Surely there was only so much damage she could do in Transport. And so on. The poor women was doomed to never put a foot right as far as I was concerned. Then she started to grow her hair – the feminine side was allowed to escape bit by bit. I thought it was only window-dressing, but I was wrong.
Ruth Kelly has redeemed herself in the last couple of days. Albeit belatedly, she has woken up to the responsibilities of the role she voluntarily assumed, and she has asked to be let go from her position as Minister of Transport so she can devote more time to being a wife and mother. She has said that she is going to start putting her family first. “Going to start” – isn’t that a terrifying admission – that up until now she has not put her husband and children first? What did she put first? God, or the Government, or herself?
This is an extract from an article in the Independent newspaper today which might, however, also give some cause for concern:
“Ruth Kelly is a very good friend of mine but she feels the tension of having four young children and wanting to spend time helping them through these difficult years,” Brown said.
“She’s been an MP all the time her children have been born. She is a very talented individual and I think the public will understand these are the things that happen when you have to juggle work and family life.”
Brown said that “as a father” he understood Kelly’s decision to put her children first. “She has missed several years and she wants to be with them as much as possible.”
Interesting. Gordon Brown “as a father” understands her need to put her children first. Does he mean that he already puts his children first? If so, then how come he is able to take on the super-demanding role of Prime Minister and still put them first, while Ruth Kelly finds her less-demanding role of government minister incompatible with her priorities? Or is Gordon saying that putting the children first is a priority that only mother’s need to recognise? Or that he doesn’t have to bother with because his wonderful wife puts them first?
Much as I am delighted for Ruth Kelly’s children, what message are we women to take away from her sacrifice? What lessons might, for example, Sarah Palin be encouraged to draw from Ruth Kelly’s decision? Ruth Kelly gives us a normative rule: Mothers should put their children first. She also tells us that in order to put our children first, we must devote sufficient time to them, and that it will be impossible to do that if we are working long hours. Seems like a truism, put like that.
Worrying, it’s all very worrying.