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Nose for the simple quote will make it all very clear.

Byline: Peter Collins

THE silver spoon laden with milk-soaked Special K and red berries was just an inch from my open mouth when James Naughtie began his newspaper review on Radio 4's Today programme.

Quoting from one newspaper, the deadpan Mr Naughtie said: "If this is the new politics, then it stinks like a prop forward's jockstrap."

The milk on my spoon began to curdle as I fought desperately to resist the temptation to imagine just what a such jockstrap might smell like.

"Oh, ugh," exclaimed Mr Naughtie, reflecting my feelings exactly. This was not the most edifying of breakfast listening.

In my youth, some friends and I might have described other youths with whom we had some sort of disagreement as smelling like a Turkish wrestler's jockstrap.

The difference in pungent fragrance between the jockstraps of Welsh prop forwards and Turkish wrestlers is clearly not a fit subject for detailed discussion in these pages. But the use of this sort of pithy, not to say rather crude, language does merit some debate, particularly at the dawn of a new political era.

If men (and women) on the street like me are to properly understand this brave new world, then it needs to be set out in simple, clear and unambiguous terms.

The post-election reporting and discussion has produced much banality and a surfeit of cliche-ridden observations.

But for those who have questions about the new politics, the description of it as smelling like a prop forward's jockstrap says it all. Everyone has a clear idea of what is being said.

It is far better than, for example, hearing people talking or writing about a "progressive alliance" or, in a slightly different context, "meaningful discussions". What do these phrases mean? Is there such a thing as a regressive alliance, and would anyone wish to engage in meaningless discussion? That said, the veteran political journalist Anthony Howard said that Tory politician Malcolm Rifkind had attacked the Lib Dems "bell, book and candle", which is a wonderful phrase dating from the 9th-century Catholic church. When he said it, it sounded like poetry.

So, having sufficiently recovered my composure and ate my breakfast, I did indeed turn to poetry, or more precisely Les Murray who happened to turn up on the radio.

To my shame, I've always had some trouble with Les Murray. It's all to do with appearances and perceptions.

Mr Murray will, I hope, forgive me if I report that he is just a little bit fat and bald. He is also an Australian of humble origins and sounds like one. In short, he does not look or sound like what some might think a great poet should. Yet, by common consent, he is one of the best poets writing in English today.

Murray knows all there is to know about the importance of simple, clear language. In 2002 he wrote: "Everything except language knows the meaning of existence. Trees, planets, rivers, time know nothing else. They express it moment by moment as the universe.

Even this fool of a body lives it in part, and would have full dignity within it but for the ignorant freedom of my talking mind."

The ignorant freedom of the talking minds of roundthe-clock television news reporters with endless hours of air time to fill has done little to inform us, if truth be told. And as we set out on a difficult path of cuts and tax rises, Murray has a warning should we ever think that any battle in life has ever been truly won: "As usual after any triumph, I was of course, inconsolable."
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 15, 2010
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