All posts by northlondonhousewife

Seville: Cathedral & Views

It’s hot in Seville, rising to 40C we were glad to find shades across the streets.

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In the middle of the day, people would walk from side to side trying to eke out the meagrely shade available.dsc_0204

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We made it through the older streets Las Ramblas, with it’s Jewish quarter, no longer any Jewish population to speak of.

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But the views into small courtyards were lovely, plus the horse carriage rides were very picturesque.dsc_0214

Also lots of small bars, usually decorated with bulls heads from the local arena.dsc_0215 dsc_0216

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The cathedral was astonishingly large, yet surprisingly difficult to find a decent view once inside since the church had made great efforts to break down the church into more workable, human shape.

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Attached to the cathedral is the minaret from the original mosque, which can be climbed (mostly ramp rather than stairs) to give really good views of the smallish city.

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But the first thing you see on the way in is a statue of Joseph holding Jesus, and then you suddenly realise how rare images of Jesus with His earthly father really are.


The gruesome art included a severed head of John the Baptist, which neatly introduced us to the Spanish gothic gore and drama.

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Amongst the grandeur of the arches are innumerable altars, some modest, some covered in gilt.dsc_0222

Some open and some closed away.dsc_0223 dsc_0224 dsc_0227

The glass was rather plain compared to the internal decoration.dsc_0228 dsc_0230

A display of church memorabilia was positioned at th beginning of the nave, interfering with the longest view thought the choir stalls to the main altar.dsc_0231 dsc_0232 dsc_0233

Picturesque in it’s way, but it made it difficult to gain a sense of the grandeur of the church when built, when it would have been gloriously unfurnished.dsc_0234 dsc_0235

Amongst everything else, one of the many tombs of Christopher Columbus could be found.dsc_0236 dsc_0237

And in the midst of the hurly burly of visitors, the reminder that for some this remains at heart a religious place.dsc_0238 dsc_0239 dsc_0240 dsc_0241

A short climb up the tower led to excellent views down towards the Alcazar palace and gardens.dsc_0243 dsc_0244

Across the city towards the bullring.dsc_0245 dsc_0247

Down last the square, Las Rambles to the right…dsc_0248

And down towards the river.

dsc_0249 dsc_0253 dsc_0254 dsc_0255Back down to ground, and we found ourselves in the courtyard with the orange trees, the original mosque’s site of ablutions prior to prayer. The cathedral is an astonishing place, not quite a pleasure, more of an experience.

Poor III (Solutions)

JRF research has looked at the causes of – and solutions to – poverty in childhood, working age, later life, and among those with complex needs. It has also covered how the high costs of essential goods and services to low-income consumers – particularly housing and childcare – can be tackled. It came up with some suggested answers.

Poverty in childhood

For most of us, our family provides our most important relationship and defence against material and emotional hardship. Family stability and parental support are the bedrock of children’s lives. Those raised in secure families have more chance to flourish and better future prospects, and very many parents in poverty provide stability and security in spite of the overwhelming challenges they face.

Poverty puts considerable strain on family budgets and relationships. Children who grow up in low-income households have poorer mental and physical health, on average, than those who grow up in better-off families. Families of children with disabilities face additional challenges of both cost and income, and policy and practice does not always account for this. From an early age, children in poverty are more likely to score worse in tests of cognitive, social and behavioural development. At age five, children who have had high-quality childcare for two to three years are nearly eight months ahead in their literacy development than children who have not been in pre-school. Living in a low-income family greatly increases the likelihood of children leaving school with lower educational attainment.

Great progress has been made on improving performance in many schools, but children from more disadvantaged areas are still much less likely to be taught by teachers who are described as ‘outstanding’. High-quality teaching is the most important school-level factor affecting the attainment of children from low income backgrounds, so governments should continue to evaluate and expand successful initiatives to attract high-quality teachers and leaders to schools where they are most needed. Governments should also boost careers advice and quality apprenticeships for young people so that they leave school to start their working life well.

We could solve poverty in childhood by:

  • Supporting people to be good parents, helping parents share care and stay in work, minimising the adverse impacts of separation on children, and supporting children and parents’ mental health;
  • Giving access to high-quality, flexible and affordable childcare to parents on low incomes, allowing them to work and improving children’s pre-school development;
  • Ensuring all children from low-income backgrounds can succeed in school;
  • Ensuring all young people leave school with the support, advice, skills and confidence to move successfully into education, training or the labour market and towards independence; and
  • Raising and protecting family incomes so they an afford essentials, reduce stress and give children the opportunity to participate socially and educationally.

You should be able to go to work and say that I can feed my children. At the moment that isn’t the case.

Man, Manchester, JRF workshop

Poverty during working age

Paid employment, caring responsibilities and the social security system are key determinants of poverty. Work should offer a route out, but a combination of low wages, not enough hours, insecurity, the high cost of housing and childcare, poor health, discrimination and low-level skills all present considerable barriers. The lack of well-paid jobs is a particular problem for those trying to balance working and caring. There has been a significant rise in the number of working households in poverty over the past decade, with many low-paid workers in insecure jobs where they are less likely to receive the training needed to progress on to higher earnings. An estimated five million adults in the UK lack core literacy or numeracy skills; 12.6 million lack basic digital skills.

Our social security system is also failing to adequately support people on low incomes. People are almost always better off in work, but sometimes incentives are weak or wiped out by high housing and childcare costs. The nature of today’s labour market, with more, flexible jobs and rising self-employment – together with extra costs associated with childcare, caring responsibilities or living with a disability – has resulted in a highly complex system which is difficult to navigate. For those with health problems or with caring responsibilities that mean they are unable to work full time, the system is failing to provide an adequate safety net, and spending is poorly targeted. Welfare-to-work services need to be more focused on reducing poverty through high employment and high earnings.

Raising pay, such as through the introduction of the National Living Wage, is crucial to creating an economy with less in-work poverty. But reducing poverty also requires higher skills combined with higher productivity, particularly in the sectors with the largest proportions of low pay, to create more jobs that offer better pay, greater security, more hours, and more opportunities to progress. This is a long-term undertaking, but there are promising policy foundations and initiatives upon which to build. The challenge is for business and industry leaders – above all, in low-wage sectors like retail, care and hospitality – to explore how this might be achieved.

We also need to focus on creating a social security system that meets the challenges of a 21st century labour market, technological change, and a changing and ageing population, along with health and fluctuating conditions. A sustainable approach needs to tackle the underlying causes of poverty.

We could solve poverty by:

  • Supporting people to gain the skills and capabilities to find a job and progress once in work;
  • Creating more jobs offering at least a Living Wage, with greater job security and opportunities for progression; and
  • A social security system that incentivises work and increasing hours, and supports people in and out of work to escape poverty.

I am always open to opportunity… but it is very difficult because the job I am in, there is no training I can do to get any higher up the scale. There is no job there. There was one job that came up but that was a full-time job, the part-timers couldn’t even apply. We just have to accept it… We did feel we missed out because we were part-time.

Woman, Sheffield, Working below potential: Women and part-time work

My partner only knew one skill, labouring, for him to find something when he was made redundant, it was devastating. He wasn’t well educated, he can’t find another job easily. After 23 years with the same company, the struggle since has been hard.

Participant, Walsall, JRF workshop

Poverty in later life

Pensioner income poverty has reduced considerably in recent years, yet a substantial number of pensioners still have a low standard of living, especially if they are disabled or in ill health.

Poor access to public transport restricts some older people from getting around, reducing their autonomy and increasing exclusion from social networks, sometimes leading to loneliness and isolation. Disabled older people face additional challenges, since the extra costs associated with disability are currently not fully taken into account in benefit levels. Furthermore, stigma and lack of awareness mean that take-up of state support is often low. At the other end of the spectrum, the low level of pension savings and National Insurance contributions by some people of working age, especially among the growing number of self-employed, has worrying implications for the security of current younger generations in later life.

As more of us are living longer, targeted action will need to be taken to maintain progress in reducing pensioner poverty. We need a combined approach which increases the cash in the pockets of older people at most risk of poverty, improves the prospects of future generations by bolstering the assets of those of working age, and prevents people from falling into poverty as they grow older. It is also important that policies that have delivered lower pensioner poverty are not undone in the longer term, and are balanced against the needs of younger generations.

We could solve poverty by:

  • Encouraging more older people to take up the financial support for which they are eligible;
  • Ensuring more working-age people contribute to savings schemes and pension funds; and
  • Providing benefits for older disabled people that are tailored to meet additional costs of disability and care needs.

They don’t tell you what you’re entitled to, not unless you ask, they won’t come forward, they’ll keep to themselves. Why don’t they tell you in the first place?

Older man, Hartlepool, JRF workshop

Containing the effects of rising costs

The important impact of high costs on poverty has too often been ignored. Reducing poverty through action on costs involves harnessing market power but also recognising and compensating for its limits. The high cost of housing and childcare in many parts of the UK creates the biggest squeeze on people in poverty. High rents and evictions from private tenancies are a major driver of homelessness in some areas. Increasing the supply of genuinely affordable housing to bring down costs across tenures has become central to solving poverty in much of the UK.

Another important challenge is to end the iniquity of poverty premiums, where people in poverty pay more for the same goods and services. For example, many on low incomes use pre-payment meters for gas and electricity, at greater cost, and are less likely to switch their energy supplier to get a better deal. Households in poverty are four times more likely to be behind with at least one household bill, and they are more exposed when the price of essentials rises rapidly. Many people in debt struggle to get by, choosing what they and their families are going to go without, having to turn to family, friends or charity to help them out.

Businesses providing essential goods and services can play a key role by proactively identifying consumers at risk of debt, offering advice and support. Alongside the voluntary sector, state agencies and regulators, they can help to empower consumers to search for and negotiate better deals.

In some industries, such as energy and water, consumer bills carry part of the burden for additional costs arising from public policy choices or investments in new infrastructure. There is a strong case for firms to design, in conjunction with government, fairer ways of sharing these additional policy costs.

Regulators have an important role in increasing competition and innovation, attending to the impact on vulnerable people and sometimes setting prices. These are all functions within their existing mandates which have a direct impact on the lives and prospects of poorer households.

We could solve poverty by:

  • Ending the poverty premium through responsible business practices, better customer service, regulatory intervention and product innovation;
  • Enabling low-income and at-risk consumers to get the best deals from providers;
  • Boosting the supply of genuinely affordable housing; and
  • Reducing energy demand through efficiency programmes.

Yeah, it gets you down, days that you, you know I’m working for nothing, nothing left, you know but it’s life you know. But I don’t let it get me down, just got to get on with it. To be honest, it’s a case of you have to isn’t it? Nowhere to turn, can’t keep turning to family members all the time for money – have to pay them back you see, so it’s hard. So I just try to avoid it if I can, you know, getting into debt. I try to budget, but it’s not easy.

Mary, ‘Getting By’, A year in the life of 30 working families in Liverpool

People facing additional challenges

Almost anyone can experience poverty, but some groups face higher risks. This is because they face greater barriers to increasing their income, or have higher costs, or both. Racism and discrimination can hold back ethnic minority groups from progressing in work, and illness or fluctuating health conditions can make training and work difficult to manage in the absence of flexibility and good support from employers. Lone parents, and parents of children with disabilities, may struggle to find quality part-time work and affordable childcare. Disabled people often face extra disability-related costs, which are only partly compensated through benefits. They also face barriers in employment. Almost half (48%) of people in poverty in the UK are either themselves disabled or living in a household with a disabled person.

A relatively small group of people in poverty face additional, complex challenges. This includes people with experience of mental health conditions, homelessness, experiences of violence, substance misuse or involvement in the criminal justice system. When these are long-lasting or overlap, they can present significant barriers to escaping poverty.

The prospects for young people leaving local authority care should be an overarching priority for government. Despite positive policy and legal developments, they continue to face unacceptably high risks of destitution and poverty, homelessness, offending and substance misuse.

We need to see flexible and co-ordinated support that builds on people’s assets, strengths and relationships, that roots them in ordinary housing, jobs and communities and is tailored around the ‘whole person’ and the ‘whole family’. These make it easier to improve their long-term prospects.

We could solve poverty by:

  • Enabling young people leaving care to maximise their potential, with proper support around housing, employment and training;
  • Providing good quality holistic approaches to family support services, which address a variety of issues, including material poverty and behaviour;
  • Providing homeless people with secure, long-term homes; and
  • Significantly increasing access to and funding for mental health services.

For women with complex needs, there is a huge lack of appropriate housing. The traditional women’s refuge won’t take women like this. There are very few that will house a woman with substance abuse issues, because they’re also housing children. So she’ll go into a hostel, they’ll go through that pathway and cycle in and out. A Housing First model to break that revolving door, that would be very interesting.

Practitioner, JRF workshop

Red Pepper & Feta Tart

Any kinds or colour of peppers works for this. Just make sure the total net weight of peppers is the same. If you find yourself short, you can make up the weight with black olives and tiny tomatoes – it won’t be the same tart, but it will taste good.


Use a large serrated knife to slice this tart, because otherwise things get messy. Serves six.

2 yellow peppers (350g)
2 red peppers (350g)
4 romano peppers (500g)
10 mixed sweet mini peppers (aka chiquiño; 250g)
4 unpeeled garlic cloves
2 large red chillies
2 tbsp olive oil
15g oregano leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Plain flour, for dusting
320g puff-pastry (ready-rolled is fine)
150ml double cream
1 egg, lightly whisked
½ tsp smoked paprika
100g feta, crumbled into 2cm pieces

Heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Put all the peppers, garlic and chillies on a large oven tray lined with baking paper. Roast for 15 minutes, then lift the baby peppers, garlic and chilli from the tray. Pull off and discard the stalks from the baby peppers, but otherwise leave them whole and set aside. Put the garlic and chilli in a large bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave the larger peppers to roast for 15 minutes more, until the skins are blackened, then add to the garlic and chilli bowl. Re-cover with the clingfilm and leave to steam for 10 minutes.

Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel the larger peppers and discard the skin and seeds. Cut the flesh into long, 2cm-wide strips and put in a colander to drain off any liquid. Peel the garlic and chillies, discarding the seeds of the latter, then finely slice both. Put in a bowl with the drained pepper strips, stir in the oil, 10g oregano, half a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper and set aside.

Turn down the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Dust a work surface with only a tiny amount of flour, then roll the pastry into a circle 31cm in diameter and 3mm thick. Press the pastry into a 25cm tart tin, pushing it all the way into the edges (use excess pastry to patch up any gaps). Prick all over with a fork, then line with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Blind bake for 25 minutes, until the sides are golden-brown, then lift out the paper and beans, and bake for eight to 10 minutes, until the base is golden-brown. Remove and leave to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk the cream, egg, paprika, a quarter-teaspoon of salt and a grind of pepper. Spoon the pepper mixture into the tart shell, then pour the cream mix over the top. Put the whole baby peppers randomly into the mix, then dot the top with feta and the remaining oregano leaves. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the filling is set, puffed up and golden-brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Corbyn supporters, like Luke Savage (writing here in Jacobin), argue that Corbyn’s mass support restores the popular links between Labour’s leadership and a mass base. Labour, Savage argues, has been conquered by a largely middle-class professional elite, which has foreclosed opportunities for representative Labour voters to obtain office, and has made it difficult for Labour voters to see themselves represented in their own party.

“The decline of Labour’s internal democracy, in other words, coincided with a growing severance from a significant chunk of its social base. The party’s increasingly professional composition has had very real consequences for its policy agenda and overall ideological outlook.”

It’s a common theme this idea that politics has somehow been captured by a minority elite and the majority “common man” is now rising up. The irony of having Nigel Farage or Donald Trump, two wealthy, privileged white men at the head of that uprising seems lost. It’s all about fair representation.

It is argued that restoring and reviving internal democracy will only make the Labour party more representative and appealing. The problem with this analysis is that it rests on the supposition that Labour’s base is sufficiently representative of the wider voting public to bridge that gap between “the people” and “the elite”. Savage discounts the idea that “Labour’s increasingly mass membership is essentially narrow and sectarian, representing the parochial flourishing of a minority political view in one of Britain’s two major parties.”

“Narrow and sectarian” may be too harsh a judgment on Labour’s members, but it is clear that they are not especially representative. Surveys done in 2015 and 2016 found that three-quarters of Labour members were upper- or middle-class, compared to 55 per cent of the population, while only 40 per cent of Britons self-identify as middle class. Fifty-seven per cent of Labour members are graduates; according to a 2013 ONS survey, roughly 38 per cent of British working-age adults are (among “women aged between 21 and 59 and men aged between 21 and 64” who were not currently in education).


Savage’s essay describes Labour’s divorce from “the people” by lamenting how people from working-class backgrounds, like Herbert Morrison or Aneurin Bevan, are no longer represented among Labour’s office-holders, who instead come from a narrow band of middle-class backgrounds. If that is his measure of authenticity, then Corbyn’s Labour cannot meet it; nor, indeed, can most of Europe’s social democratic parties, whose voters are now primarily middle class.

And Labour members are not even particularly representative of the middle classes. More than four-fifths(83.6 per cent) favoured remaining in the European Union; according to Ipsos MORI, 59 per cent of ABvoters  and 52 per cent of C1 voters actually voted Remain. Labour members are strongly pro-immigration, another area where they differ both with the parliamentary party and with voters – the 2014 British Social Attitudes survey found that 47 per cent of respondents considered immigration to have a “negative” impact on the country, including majorities of all classes except “professionals and managers”.

Writing about his law of disparity, May notes that party activists have always been more likely to be middle-class, regardless of party. Furthermore, those “middle-class activists” staffing leftist parties “deviate sharply from the political norms of their class. Indeed, the ‘militant’, ‘radical’ wings of parties rooted in the working class have been populated largely by bourgeois intellectuals” (p. 146-47). Ralph Miliband complained of Labour’s moderation and parliamentary focus, and this was in large part because of the centrism of the working-class trade unions, not the middle classes – Richard Seymour points out that the unions’ support for Corbyn is historically aberrant.

The post-1968 period in Western politics has been marked by growing fragmentation. Old class identities have declined; for example, Lynsey Hanley recounts how council house sales split the working classes in the Thatcher era, as some assimilated to middle-class capitalist values. The middle classes are divided now on economic, environmental, occupational and other grounds. Immigration has made whole societies more diverse and created new cleavages and new constituencies. Labour’s problem may be that neither its parliamentary elite nor its mass membership can easily pick a candidate who represents a broad coalition of “the people.” As Eunice Goes points out elsewhere on this blog, “electoral strategies that focus on the so difficult to pin down ‘centre-ground’ are better suited for two-party systems. It turns out that Britain stopped having a two-party system some time ago.”

So how to solve Labour’s dilemma? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. Savage is correct about the elitism and disconnectedness of Labour’s parliamentary classes; the last two leadership elections have also demonstrated their impotence.

Nor is such expertise necessarily a sure-fire road to victory: it was the parliamentary party that picked Michael Foot, not the members.

But open primaries, a la américain (or français) do not necessarily produce less extreme candidates for presidential or prime ministerial office. Whatever the solution, Labour’s feuding institutions and membership must work it out together through some sort of internal constitutional settlement. Members, classes, and Corbyn aside, a party at war with itself cannot fight a war with the Conservatives or anyone else.


Everyone tells me that the secret to a good relationship is to do things together, to grow together rather than apart. Possibly.

The roses are now planted in a row, behind the lavender. It was supposed to be one of those joint enterprises that brought us together, something we could look at over the years as they grew and think well of our shared endeavour. Hmm.

My gardening is a bit slipshod. I’m inclined to buy on a whim, lie the plants out wilily nilly, and once I’m happy with the look of things, dig them in and hope for the best. Knowing that he was going to involved required some compromise on my part. The earth was prepared (with a chiseller, basically a small pneumatic drill, hired from HSS – thanks Mo!). I had soaked the roses overnight. On our way out, I dug out the planting instructions that came along with the bare root roses for him to read carefully, slowly, in the cold. I even brought along a measuring tape for goodness sake. I had done my bit for the compromising part of togetherness. And some.

First we had the discussion about best way forward. Not only were there 8 roses to plant, but there were tonnes of bulbs, daffodils, tulips newly bought and bagged from last year, plus some anemones that had been hanging around forever. The I sat and waited for him to read carefully, twice, the instructions from David Austin roses. Then we talked methods again. And again.

If it was down to me, I’d probably have dug one long trench, chucked everything in and covered it all up with manure.

No chance.

So we agreed that he would dig the holes for the roses and I’d plant the bulbs one by one.

He carefully measured out the holes, laid down the rose bushes and began.

I chucked the bulbs around the new bed, roughly making sure that there were some of each type all the way along, but really not worrying too much about it. My randomness was not well received.

There was a gap in his measurements. I suggested that we plug it with a helpful pink salvia a friend had donated, right at the end, the least favoured position nearest the hedge. This was grumpily accepted as “okay”

Whilst he dug out the first hole, I started planting bulbs under the wisteria. Then I moved onto the fritelaria bed and dug in some allium bulbs.Having finished the first hole, I was able to start with the bulbs around the roses but about half way in, looking for a second trowel, I found a spare rose plant left lying on the lawn. Oh dear!

A quick shimmy and the plants were all moved around 5cm and a space was created. Crisis more or less averted, grumps and groans aside.

Another few roses were planted and the job was almost finished when a ninth plant was discovered lying up against the lavender hedge. Bugger. This time the roses could not be fudged about. The salvia had to be dug back up and slotted in somewhere else, in order to fit in the final (bonus) rose.

I have never spent such grumpy “quality” time in my life, certainly not my relationships yet within the hour the story was being retold with laughter.

The roses will last longer than the Trump presidency and will certainly bring me considerably more joy. They will be beautifully, joyfully pink for a large swather of the year, and I plan on loving them.


The perfect polenta chips

Perfect polenta chips

Serves 4
650ml vegetable stock
125g polenta
50g finely grated parmesan or other hard, strong cheese
3tbsp finely chopped chives
50g polenta, to coat
Extra virgin olive oil, to fry

Line a small baking dish with baking paper. Pour the stock into a medium pan, add 125g of polenta, bring to a simmer and then whisk until smooth. Simmer, stirring all the time, until it thickens and starts to come away from the side of the pan.

Stir in the cheese until melted, then add the chives and pour into the baking dish, smoothing it into a flat layer – it should be about 1.5cm thick. Allow to cool completely, and then chill until solid.

Cut the polenta into chips of your desired size. Put the remaining 50g of polenta into a shallow dish, then turn each chip in it to lightly coat. Put the oven on low.

Cover the bottom of a frying pan with oil, and put it over a medium-high heat. Fry the chips in batches until golden brown on all sides, then drain on kitchen paper and keep warm in the oven until all the polenta is used up. Serve hot.

Quick saffron polenta bake 

Warming, saffron-scented polenta is double-cooked here – once in the pan and then finished under the grill with a scattering of squash, kale and feta. The feta crispens and the squash burnishes as the polenta finishes cooking. I love the warming sunny flavour of saffron, but it can be pricey. If you don’t have any at home, you can make this without it, or use another herb, such as thyme or oregano. It won’t taste the same, but it will add another dimension to your polenta.

Quick saffron polenta bake: double-cooked – once in the pan and then finished under the grill with a scattering of squash, kale and feta.

Serves 4
A pinch of saffron strands
750ml hot vegetable stock
150g coarse polenta or cornmeal
50ml olive oil, plus a little extra for sautéing veg
Salt and black pepper
250g piece of butternut squash, skin removed
1 head of kale (about 180g) or other winter greens
A small bunch of fresh thyme, leaves picked
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely sliced
100g feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
1 unwaxed lemon, zested
A handful of toasted pine nuts
A small handful of rocket

1 Dissolve the saffron threads in the hot stock. Put the stock into a heavy bottomed pan over a medium heat and slowly pour in the polenta or cornmeal, stirring as you go. Keep beating until the mixture thickens and starts to bubble, which will take about 5–6 minutes. Stir in the olive oil, season to taste with salt and black pepper, then pour into an ovenproof dish.

Creamy polenta with charred mushrooms

2 Use a speed peeler to slice the squash into thin ribbons. Separate the kale leaves from their woody stalks (discard the stalks) and finely shred the leaves. Heat a little olive oil in a pan and sauté the squash, kale leaves, garlic and thyme leaves until wilted and crisp at the edges. Season to taste, then set aside. Preheat the grill to high.

3 Scatter the kale and squash mixture over the polenta, then top with the feta and lemon zest.

4 Put the dish under the hot grill for 10‑12 minutes, or until the squash has begun to brown and the feta has browned and crisped with the heat. Allow the polenta to cool for a few minutes before dressing with pine nuts and rocket. Serve in the middle of the table so that everyone can dig in and help themselves.

Creamy polenta with charred mushrooms (main picture)

The earthiness of the mushrooms and bitter notes of the radicchio make this recipe the perfect thing to eat with naturally sweet polenta.

Serves 4
2 heads of radicchio
6 large portobello mushrooms or other wild mushrooms
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 garlic cloves
Small bunch of marjoram or oregano, leaves picked
6 tbsp olive oil

For the polenta
150g (about a mugful) of polenta or cornmeal
25g good butter
50g freshly grated parmesan (I use a vegetarian one)
A big handful of watercress
Salt and black pepper

1 Fill the kettle with water and bring it to the boil. Cut the radicchio into quarters, then put the pieces into a large, shallow dish. Add your mushrooms. If you’re using large mushrooms, cut them in half before adding these to the dish.

2 In a small bowl, combine the red wine vinegar, garlic, marjoram or oregano, olive oil and a big pinch of salt. Mix well, then pour over the radicchio and mushrooms.

3 Get on with your polenta. Pour 1 litre of boiled water from the kettle into a large pan over a medium heat. Slowly add the polenta in a steady stream, whisking as you go. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the polenta thickens a little, then turn the heat down and simmer for 10 minutes until cooked, stirring frequently (at least every 5 minutes) to make sure that it doesn’t stick or go lumpy. The polenta is cooked when it has lost its grainy texture and feels smooth.

4 Add the butter and parmesan to the cooked polenta, then season to taste with salt and black pepper. Set aside.

5 Heat a griddle pan over a medium heat. Remove the mushrooms and radicchio from the marinade, allowing any excess to drip off back into the shallow dish. Reserve the marinade. Griddle the mushrooms and radicchio until they have become charred and soft throughout – about 3-4 minutes on each side. Once cooked, chop them very roughly and put them back into the marinade.

6 When everything is ready, ladle the polenta into bowls and top with the radicchio and mushrooms, another grating of parmesan and a small pile of watercress.

Fear and Nostalgia

So Trump has won the presidential election, though narrowly losing the popular vote, and the media is full of stories about the poor, alienated downtrodden white working class. It feels very familiar to the brexit narrative being told.

It isn’t true.

There is an excellent article in the Guardian by Hadley Freeman. Grab ’em by the pussy” was the line that was supposed to have ended Donald Trump’s campaign for presidency. Instead it turned out to be one of the most astonishing and successful strategies for the highest office.

In a campaign based on racism, misogyny and bullying, Trump proved that boasting about sexually assaulting women, far from ruining a man’s career, can boost it; and white women voted for him in droves. Who knew that Americans despised women so very much.

The first black American president will now be succeeded by a man endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan. This, according to Trump and his supporters, male and female, is what the American dream actually looks like.

The narrative being written and probably accepted is about how Trump’s victory represents a backlash of rage from the white working classes. The election of Trump, this narrative goes, proves how these people feel ignored by the elite politicians and metropolitan media. We need to hear more from these people, the argument continues, and how they have suffered because of globalisation, the demise of industry, the opioid crisis, the death of the American dream.

But far from being a “working-class revolt”, 48% of those who earn more than $250,000 (these people only made up 46% of Clinton’s supporters) and 49% of white college graduate voters chose Trump. But to say that no one took notice of the angry white vote in this US election is very reminiscent of British politicians saying “no one talks about immigration”, when actually – you know what? America had that base well and truly covered.

Far from ignoring the white working class during this election, they were written about so extensively by nervously placatory liberal journalists that these articles became a genre unto themselves, satirised perfectly by Benjamin Hart last week(“I couldn’t help but notice that people in Bleaksville are angry … I wanted to hear more but Ed explained that David Brooks had scheduled an interview with him to discuss whether he ate dinner with his family every night, and what it means for America.”)

So here’s an alternative view: we’ve heard enough of white rage now. We need to listen to the grievances of enraged voters but understanding them is different from indulging them, and the media and politicians – in the US and UK – have for too long conflated the two, encouraging the white victim narrative and stoking precisely the kind of nasty, race-baiting campaigns that led to Brexit and Trump (as the voter demographics have proved, the linking factor in Trump voters is not class but race).

Both campaigns promised to turn the clock back to a time when white men were in the ascendence, and both were fronted by privately educated false prophets such as Nigel Farage and Trump, absurdly privileged buccaneers who style themselves as friends of the working classes while pushing policies that work against them. They have bleached language of meaning, boasting that they aren’t “career politicians” (now a negative thing as opposed to someone who has devoted their life to public service), and they scorn “experts” (who are now apparently the biggest threat to democracy).

Trump’s supporters, like Brexit supporters before them, will say that these are merely the bleatings of the sore losers – the Remoaners, the Grimtons, or whatever portmanteau is conceived next. This objection always misses the obvious point that these people aren’t mourning for themselves. Whereas those who voted for Trump and Brexit did so to turn time back for their personal benefit, those who voted for remain or Hillary Clinton did so because they know time only moves forward, and this benefits society. To try to force it back hurts everyone.

To call out voters for falling for such damagingly racist and sexist messages is viewed by politicians as a vote-killer and dangerously snobby, as though working-class people are toddlers who must be humoured and can’t possibly be held responsible for any flawed thinking. There is no doubt the white working classes in the west have suffered in recent decades, yet no other demographic that has endured similarly straitened circumstances is indulged in this way.

For decades, American politicians have demonised the black working classes who suffered far worse structural inequalities and for far longer – and Trump continues to do so today.

And yet, as Stacey Pattoon wrote, only the white working classes are accorded this handwringing and insistent media empathy. No one is telling these voters to pull up their boot straps. The much-discussed American Dream is only considered “broken” when it’s the white working classes who are suffering. When it’s African-Americans, they are simply lazy and morally flawed. But Clinton, according to the politicians and journalists who indulge inverted narratives, was seen as simply too corrupt and establishment by these voters.

“Trump’s election is an unmistakable rejection of a political establishment and an economic system that simply isn’t working for most people,” Jeremy Corbyn said, as though the election of a racist property billionaire who inherited his wealth was the class warrior triumph we’ve all been waiting for. But if anyone thinks that, it is because the media promoted false equivalencies throughout this campaign to a degree never before seen.

On Tuesday, the Times headlined its editorial about the election “Tough Choice”, as if the decision between a woman who used the wrong email server and a racist, sexist, tax-dodging bully wasn’t, in fact, the easiest choice in the world. Clinton’s private email server was covered more ferociously than Trump’s misogyny. That Clinton had talked at Goldman Sachs was reported as a financial flaw somehow analogous to his non-payment of tax. However much people want to blame the Democrats, their voters or Clinton herself, the result of this election is due at least as much to anyone who pushed the narrative that Clinton and Trump were equally or even similarly “bad”.

Shame on them. The most qualified candidate in a generation was defeated by the least qualified of all time. That is what misogyny looks like, and, like all bigotries, it will end up dragging us all down.

Royal Academy: Abstract Expressionism

Exploring an unparalleled period in American art, the latest exhibition at the Royal Academy looks at the full breadth of a movement that will forever be associated with the boundless creative energy of 1950s New York.


In the “age of anxiety” surrounding the Second World War and the years of free jazz and Beat poetry, artists like Pollock, Rothko and de Kooning broke from accepted conventions to unleash a new confidence in painting.Helen FrankenthalerHelen Frankenthaler

Clifford Still
Clifford Still

Given our own “age of anxiety” post-brexit, post-President Trump, maybe the pictures are more relevant than ever.

Sam Francis
Sam Francis

Often monumental in scale, the works shown can be intense, spontaneous and deeply expressive. Others feel more contemplative, presenting large fields of colour. These were radical creations at the time, redefining the nature of painting, and were intended not simply to be admired from a distance but as two-way encounters between artist and viewer.



Barbara MorganBarbara Morgan

It was a watershed moment in the evolution of 20th-century art, yet, remarkably, there has been no major survey of the movement since 1959.

Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning

The exhibition offers the chance to view the powerful collective impact of Pollock, Rothko, Still, de Kooning, Newman, Kline, Smith, Guston and Gorky as their works dominate our galleries with their scale and vitality.



The exhibition has been curated by the independent art historian Dr David Anfam, alongside Edith Devaney, Contemporary Curator at the Royal Academy of Arts. Dr Anfam is the preeminent authority on Abstract Expressionism, the author of the catalogue raisonné of Mark Rothko’s paintings and Senior Consulting Curator at the Clyfford Still Museum, Denver.


Sam Francis
Sam Francis
David Smith
David Smith
Clifford Still
Clifford Still


Joan Miro
Joan Miro
Archie Gorky
Archie Gorky

A plan

It’s difficult to get people who voted “leave” in the recent EU referendum to say what they want to happen next. I’ve tried.

Mostly they refuse to answer. Sometimes they just become rude and/or profane really quickly. It’s difficult to work out whether it’s just because they don’t know what they want to happen next, or whether they’re too embarrassed to say.

One outlier was clear that for him it was all about “taking back control” political control, and he was uneasy by the suggestion that   the government might use the Royal Prerogative to force through Article 50, informing the EU that we were leaving. Parliament has to be heard for him to regard brexit as a success… ” it was a vote for the UK to regain its parliamentary sovereignty from the EU and to restore the power of the individual’s franchise within our electoral system. 

In terms of push factors, I disapprove of the EU’s system of law making, in that only the unelected commission, composed of EU political cronies, can propose legislation. The parliament isn’t a proper parliament, with even less power than the House of Lords without a mechanism to repeal legislation. Similarly the ECJ and things like the European arrest warrant terrify me, as continental law is a significant departure to the rights evolved from as far back as Magna Carta within our own legal system. 

We have also been repeatedly overruled and marginalised within each organ of the EU political body, so our influence is marginal. Our only bargaining chip has been the threat to leave, which a remain vote at the referendum would have destroyed and relegated our interests even further down the EU agenda.

For this outlier, immigration was a good thing, not to be worried about at all.

But most “leave” voters are significantly more worried by immigration than by sovereignty, especially when they live in areas with very few immigrants.

My basic questions build down to a simple ticklist”

What does your simple brexit look like and how confident are you that the government agrees with you?

Do you want to stay within the single market, the customs union, the European Arrest Warrant? Do you think we should consider to share security information relating to terrorist threats? What about our membership of shared scientific and educational forums in Europe? Should we be looking to withdraw from other supra national bodies such as NATO?

Do you think we should allow free movement of people, across the board or within certain sectors, say education, research, or business sectors such as car manufacturing or financial services?

If you think we should limit immigration, does that involve cutting real numbers i.e. sending people back to their country of origin, or just cutting the increase in numbers? If you want immigration controls, but live in an area of low immigration, how would you know whether the borders have been controlled? Would you trust the government?

Do you believe that the government knows the answers to any of these questions?

It is outrageous that the management team of Renault-Nissan have a better idea of our government’s brexit strategy than my (Tory) MP. However people voted, and whatever their version of successful brexit looks like, don’t we all want to know where we’re heading?

Some people have just said they want out of the EU at any cost and we should just move straight to WTO rules, as if that were a simple straightforward default option.

But WTO rules is not the straightforward route out of the EU people seem to assume. The UK would have to detach itself from it’s current EU membership and regularise it’s position within WTO. There’s no precedent for such a change in membership.The process would not be easy and would likely take years before the UK’s WTO position was settled, not least because all other member states would have to agree.

Each WTO member has a “schedule” of commitments for each of the agreements — including agriculture, industrial goods and services — setting out the terms on which it trades. Each country has it’s own priorities, it’s own requirements from the UK and each has an effective veto.

While the schedules are being agreed, the UK’s legal status as a trading nation will be undetermined, with all that implies for uncertainty and business decisions.

It took five years to integrate Bulgaria and Romania into the EU services WTO schedule after they joined the bloc. While some trade officials say it may be easier to create a schedule for a leaving member than one arriving, they seem to agree the process can be measured in years rather than months.

The speed of the UK being able to trade on WTO terms in its own right will partly depend on political will. Yet even if other governments co-operate and accept the UK’s proposals, the legal processes and paperwork are likely to take years. And it always seems to go wrong somewhere doesn’t it? Whether Argentina decides to play political games looking for concessions on the Falkland Islands, or might Spain decide it would like to grab back Gibraltar, or maybe Russia, emboldened by the Trump election decides to demonstrate it’s weight, it seems likely that someone will have a delaying game to play.

Many brexiters want to turn the UK into a global trading powerhouse. But until the country has sorted out its legal standing, it could just end up sitting on the sidelines.

What, then, is the UK’s position in future trade negotiations? To evaluate the alternative to any proposed deal, we need to remember that although the UK as a member of the EU is already a member of the World Trade Organization, with all the rights and responsibilities this entails it will need primarily to define it’s own schedule of trade tariffs etc. These will need to be agreed with each WTO member.

Having left the EU, what duties would the UK levy on imports from other WTO members? With little precedent, it probably makes most sense to just adopt the existing tariffs of the EU. Raising tariffs would open the UK to legal challenges in the WTO, and would contradict the government’s stated aims of free trade and deregulation.

The British government could also immediately cut tariffs, but it would have to apply these reduced duties to all WTO members equally – including the EU itself. The essence of WTO membership is that countries are not allowed to discriminate against individual countries, and to only grant better access to partners in the form of a trade agreement. This holds for goods as for services, and establishes a baseline for any proposed negotiation.

All of this implies that the UK is only likely to get better market access than it currently enjoys if it gives up more of its own trade barriers.

Countries like Chile and Singapore can negotiate deals quickly because they demand little from their partners and are largely unencumbered by any barriers of their own. This would be politically difficult for the UK government, so we’re left with following the EU trade negotiations from the outside rather than influencing them from within. So much for taking back control.


Today is a day for cat gifs if ever there was a day…


It turns out that America really does dislike women that much.

Today is not the day for too much talking or thinking. First brexit and now a world where Trump holds the nuclear codes – I’m going to play some tennis, read an old favourite book and ignore the media for a good 24 hours