No Complaints #1: Mad cows, gregarious octogenarians, and the Hanseatic League

Hello there. I’ve never made a newsletter before, but I have a very large stash of things I want to share and an insatiable need to make everything about Dorothy Parker, so here I am. Let’s get on with this, shall we?

Things to read

“Time seems to slow down. I wonder if the white cow would follow me if I ran into the river. I wonder how deep the mud is and whether I would get stuck. I wonder if anyone would ever find me. Is it preferable to drown in deep mud or be trampled to death by a mad cow?”

Ruth Livingstone is walking around the coastline of the British mainland. I’m an avid reader of her blog anyway, but this story of her troubled journey from Kewstoke to Clevedon is a particular gem.


“‘Wooooooof!’ The man lunges at my hands like a dog going for a bone, baring his dentures and snarling. I snatch my hand back and let out a tiny yelp, as the man collapses into a fit of laughter.”

Such a joyful piece, this. Sarah Baird reports from an old people’s dance night at a casino in Louisiana. The tagline says it all, really: “When you’re 70, you always dance like no one is watching.”


“The most charming of all gifts is that of being able to express one’s thoughts with elegance; it will often supply the place of wit even for those who have none...”

A letter from Harriet Preble to Anica Preble Barlow, 30 September 1824, on the subject of how to educate girls.


“Today has been a hard day. I feel hopeless. I feel like they are never going to let me out of here. The medical staff here is really excellent but they are not good communicators. I am a throbbing mass of neediness and it scares me to feel this needy, to feel so out of control, to have all my trigger points being pressed at the exact same time. I miss clothes.”

Roxane Gay, still dealing with the aftermath of an accident which put her in hospital, writes with such clarity about what it’s like to be in hospital and feel alone, even though the people who love you are doing their very best.


“There’s something old-fashioned about the way a public version of Clooney’s private life has kept his actual privacy intact. He is incessantly winning but not confessional: the media gets its wine and cheese, and Clooney – without taking visible offense at any question, without ever taking the conversation off the record – holds on to his soul. A pet pig that, at times, slept in Clooney’s bed was, for many years, a substitute for details about other domestic partners. (The pig died in 2006, and has its own Wikipedia page.)”

From 2008, Ian Parker’s New Yorker profile of George Clooney. My boss suggested I read this when I was trying to improve my profile-writing a while ago, and she still references it so regularly that we can now quote bits of it to each other at some length. It’s a rare celebrity interview that can go beyond the standard format and make intrusions into what celebrity actually is. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the pig’s Wikipedia page anymore, but I think it has been archived here.


“Isn’t true feminism the love of oneself, amidst your body that isn’t always right – the thighs that grease together during warm summer heat; the brain that forgets words so idly – but isn’t it also an acknowledgment that we, as women, are all complicated human beings that flaw, and fault, and hurt, and aren’t the same. We contain multitudes.”

Fariha Rosin at the Hairpin, deconstructing female jealousy and all the ways it is twisted to make women feel like less than themselves.

Things to listen to

If I know you in real life and I’ve seen you in the past couple of weeks, chances are I’ve already lectured you at great length about the brilliance of the BBC Radio 4 series Germany: Memories of a Nation. It’s the brainchild of Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum. Conoisseurs of multi-part BBC radio documentaries will recognise him as the man behind The History of the World in 100 Objects from 2010. In 15-minute bursts, MacGregor ranges across 600 years of German history, using objects and buildings to build up an incredibly detailed picture of a nation. Great topics include: how Martin Luther invented the German language, why forests feature so heavily in German fairy tales, whether Charlemagne is a French hero or a German one, Bavaria’s strange “Walhalla” of statues – it has everything. I actually wept a little during the episode about all the desperate escape attempts from East Berlin and the way the city now memorialises them. If you only have time to listen to one episode, make it this one about Hans Holbein and the Hanseatic League, which features Hilary Mantel describing a painting of a merchant as “like a mugshot, but painted by a genius”. And in case you needed any further persuasion, the series also has a recurring guest star/academic called something like “Horse Bradycamp”, a name I can’t hear without laughing uncontrollably.

Things to watch

Emma Thompson explaining her correspondence with the actual real-life Peter Rabbit.

John Betjeman’s Metroland documentary about London’s suburbs.

Cary Grant making faces while his girlfriend dances with some other guy.


Compulsory medieval thingamabob

A knight fighting a snail, c1300.


The guest gif

Nominated by my friend Alex Hern, who was kind enough to be my first-ever subscriber.


THE END. See you next time*!

*Next time will probably be next Friday. If you want to suggest things I should include in the next one of these, hit reply and send me links. Also, if you like, I could be persuaded to make the guest gif a regular thing.