The Tolpuddle Martyrs and Marie Antoinette

A couple of sublime moments plus a trip to rural West Dorset

Amid all the disappointments and upsets that life has to offer there are fleeting moments when things can feel pretty perfect.

For example in 2002, on holiday in a remote town in the Masurian lakes, I came across a European Union roadshow touring Poland in a bid to persuade people of the merits of EU membership. The lyric blaring out of its loudspeaker system was ‘Oh I’m wicked and I’m lazy’. It may have been the language barrier, but the vote was a resounding 'yes'.

Food for thought for David Cameron if being cuddly doesn’t pay off…

Then there was the man so enraged, because I honked my horn after he cut me up, that he spat at me from three lanes away coating the inside of his passenger window. Wound up? He most certainly was!

I imagine the people of Fair Isle get a similar lift from the disappearance of the darkness of winter and arrival of Spring. And it’s that topic that Malachy Tallack turns to in his latest blog. Living that far north a bit of sunshine does wonders for the spirits – even if the joy is shortlived…

Simon Munnery meanwhile gives his tips for a perfect holiday. For example he suggests getting your house burgled in advance because it saves the worry of it happening when you’re away.

And Victoria Brignell explains why she doesn’t want to become a daredevil plus we’ve got our agony aunt Marina Pepper on the chocolate Jesus.

Talking of which I hope you all had a happy Easter. Personally I headed to an idyllic corner of Dorset with my spouse for a bit of much needed country air and some pretty decent pub dinners.

It strikes me that this county offers pretty much all you could wish for in terms of scenery, eye-catching coastline and pleasant diversions.

It was also the setting for much of Thomas Hardy's writing and home, of course, to the Tolpuddle Martyrs – framed and transported for starting a union in reaction to the appalling wages they and other agricultural workers earned in the 1830s.

Nowadays Dorset is home to Poundbury – Prince Charles’s fantasy of a village, Hugh Fearnley-Whatsisface founder of the River Cottage dynasty plus a bunch of wealthy weekenders from the capital.

You know the balance has tipped in the wrong direction when more or less every nice house in the prettier villages has a BMW or Mercedes on its drive bought at a London garage. How can local people now afford homes?

For some reason I was reminded of Marie-Antoinette. She had a fake village in the grounds of Versaille where she could divert herself by playing at rural life for a few hours at a time.

Still, must have done her good because, as we all know, she lived to a ripe old age dying secure in the knowledge that she had contributed greatly to the rural economy…

Or did she?

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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The Tinder dating app isn't just about sex – it's about friendship, too. And sex

The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, as I found out quickly while using the app.

The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success. I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.

My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”

Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).

According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.

Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.

When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.

Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the stack of books).

Worse still, you will see people you know on Tinder – that includes colleagues, neighbours and exes – and they will see you. Far more people swipe out of boredom or curiosity than are ever likely to want to meet up, in part because swiping is so brain-corrosively addictive.

While the company is cagey about its user data, we know that Tinder has been downloaded over 100 million times and has produced upwards of 11 billion matches – though the number of people who have made contact will be far lower. It may sound like a lot but the Tinder user-base remains stuck at around the 50 million mark: a self-selecting coterie of mainly urban, reasonably affluent, generally white men and women, mostly aged between 18 and 34.

A new generation of apps – such as Hey! Vina and Skout – is seeking to capitalise on Tinder’s reputation as a portal for sleaze, a charge Sean Rad was keen to deny at the London event. Tinder is working on a new iteration, Tinder Social, for groups of friends who want to hang out with other groups on a night out, rather than dating. This makes sense for a relatively fresh business determined to keep on growing: more people are in relationships than out of them, after all.

After two years of using Tinder, off and on, last weekend I deleted the app. I had been visiting a friend in Sweden, and took it pretty badly when a Tinder date invited me to a terrible nightclub, only to take a few looks at me and bolt without even bothering to fabricate an excuse. But on the plane back to London the next day, a strange thing happened. Before takeoff, the woman sitting beside me started crying. I assumed something bad had happened but she explained that she was terrified of flying. Almost as terrified, it turned out, as I am. We wound up holding hands through a horrific patch of mid-air turbulence, exchanged anecdotes to distract ourselves and even, when we were safely in sight of the ground, a kiss.

She’s in my phone, but as a contact on Facebook rather than an avatar on a dating app. I’ll probably never see her again but who knows. People connect in strange new ways all the time. The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, but you can be sure that if you look closely at the lines, you’ll almost certainly notice the pixels.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad