Thursday, 7 May 2009

When the blows come down

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

It is with a heavy heart that I bid a fond, sad farewell to the lovely Cassandra Castle, who is leaving the blogosphere for a while. As she says, on the brilliant Jacob Wrestling blog, she has had some 'dogshite' news. Sometimes life gets too real for blogging, I suspect.

Simon Sherwood, the great, talented jockey who rode the great, talented Desert Orchid to nine straight victories in a row, once said of the old grey horse: 'All the fun I've had in racing, I owe it to him.' I feel that all the fun in blogging, I owe to Cassandra. When I came to this medium, the blogosphere was an unmapped desert to me, a metaphorical Qattara Depression. Backwards In High Heels had just come out, and I was determined to give it some kind of interweb presence. Must go viral, I said to myself, ten times a day, with no idea how, or even what that really meant (I had heard someone say it once and thought it sounded good). I had frantic Google alerts out on the book, my name, Sarah's name, not wanting to miss a single mention. And so, one day, into my inbox came a newsflash: someone called Cassandra Castle had bought the book and was talking about it on her blog.

Thus I found my way to Jacob Wrestling. There, I saw what a blog could be - charming, funny, whimsical, entertaining, soothing. Oh, I thought: this is how you do it. My terrors lessened; I decided that I could do this thing. It was also through that first visit that I found the wonderful LibertyLondonGirl, So Lovely, Belgian Waffle, Mrs Trefusis, Miss Whistle, Lucy Fishwife, Titian Red and many other delights. Through them, I learnt that the blogosphere is not an arid desert, but a blooming garden.

Cassandra's dogshite news has got me thinking about what you do when the bad news arrives. There has a little bit of it about lately in my own life. My oldest and dearest friend has a mother who has a hideous illness which there is nothing any of us can do a thing about; meanwhile, her husband has a mystery disease which the doctors cannot fathom, and leaves him in constant pain. My own dear mum has galloping osteoporosis (please, please eat your calcium daily to avoid this in later life) and bravely puts up with frequent fractures and difficulty breathing. When I call my friend, I say: 'Oh, how I wish there was something I could do.' She bashes on, stoical, brave, getting the children to school, keeping the family together. 'This is how it is, at our age, when the parents get old,' she says. I have a furious desire for a magic wand, to wave it all away. Someone else I adore had a bit of a medical emergency not long ago, and reacted to it with a raging determination to look on the bright side. 'You know,' he said, 'people are very good and kind. There is an awful lot of love out there.'

When Sarah and I wrote the chapter on grief in Backwards, we struggled more with it than any other subject. You risk falling into platitude or helplessness or Leonard Cohen gloom. After all, what is there really to say about sorrow? It is where words can lose their meaning. I did a first draft and sent it to her for approval. She rang up at once: 'Do you want the ladies to jump out of a high building?' she said, roaring with laughter. The line between Pollyanna and Eeyore is a fatally fine one.

There are some practical things that I have learnt, when faced with someone who is suffering. I believe in chicken soup, practical help, and never, ever using The Pity Voice. I believe, almost more than anything, in listening. My friend with the medical emergency said that he could not bear the drama queens, who wanted to make it their own three act play. 'I want to say: it's not all about you,' he said, quite crossly. He also craved authenticity above all things. 'I just want people to be their real selves,' he said.

But in the end, this is one area where I embrace platitude, head on. I spend my entire waking life attempting to avoid banality, running from cookie fortune slogans or cheap self-help jargon, but I do think that the only antidote to the bad news is Love. There, I said it. I know it's not very British; I know we are supposed to be living in cynical, selfish times; I know we really are not supposed to act as if we are on a confessional television show. But damn it, in extremis, love is the only answer. You can't wipe away the sorrows when they come, you can't even make them much better; you can't change the facts of the thing, but you can hurl the Love around. That's my theory, and I am sticking to it. I think it is what the human heart is for.


  1. You are generous of spirit and dear and kind and this post made me cry. Something about hurling the love very James Taylor...shower the people and all that. Thank you.

    -- MissW

  2. You are absolutely right about Love, with a great big capital letter. Not least because Love, instinctively, always seems to know exactly what is needed. Which, as you say, is often just listening.

  3. Tania, I was incapable of commenting yesterday but THANK YOU for this, I will print it out and keep it forever. I feel like I've got my very own comforting poet laureate in beautiful Scotland. Thanks again xxxxx

  4. Great post. So many truths. Got a few bits of dogshite flying around here at the moment, so much empathy for everyone else just trying to live a good life when nasties get in the way. And thank you for writing so well that in the very process of putting the words together (no pity voice, no platitudes), that you do literally HURL THE LOVE AROUND.

  5. So so true. Came home today wishing someone would throw a bit of Love my way and my amazing husband stepped unto the breach, listened to my rantings and brought me wine... To quote' Love is all you need' (despite - shock horror - loathing the Beatles). It's not our famous stiff upper lip, but I think you've gotta let it out to let it in, as no-one famous said.

  6. I cried floods of tears when I read your chapter on Grief in Backwards. So, so true, all of it! And this here about Love as the cure. Oh yes. I'm also on the receiving end of dogshite news at the moment (have yet-to-be-identified auto immune illness and am not at all at my best) and my husband just showers me with Love. Not flowers and shallow stuff, but hugs, kisses, holding of hand, comforting words, little things that mean the world. Am I glad I married him?

  7. Miss W - yes, yes, of course it is James Taylor. That perfect song must have been running subliminally through my head. Incredibly kind compliments from you so very much appreciated by me.

    60goingon16 - so glad you agree with me about the listening thing. I know some people see it as a passive thing, but I think it is a tremendous active gift to a person in need.

    Cassandra - I go on thinking of you and shall keep your seat warm until you come back to us.

    Sarah - thank you, thank you. In some ways it is the utter loveliness of all you readers that make it possible - it is easy to hurl the love when you know that it is going to be received by such open arms and open minds.

    Jo - I too am a Stones rather than a Beatles girl, but in that one song they might have got it right. Love the sound of your dear other half.

    Nene - so sorry to hear about your illness. Yet to be identified is always the worst because there is the hideous uncertainty. Although I have an enduring admiration for a good doctor, I sometimes have found that if the medical people cannot make a firm diagnosis they become dismissive. So hope that things improve for you. But hurrah for the silver lining of your wonderful husband. Back in platitude territory for a moment - I sometimes think a good man is hard to find. But oh, oh, the good ones are like DIAMONDS. So pleased you have your own Koh-i-Noor for the tough times.

  8. I really appreciate your kind words, I am very definately an amateur writer, so to have affirmation from others in the blogosphere is very heartening as I,too,am new to blogging. More importantly the support we give each other on a day to day basis is wonderful. There are many people thinking of Cassandra at the moment, of Gibbzer and her father, KatyBoo and the trials her family have been through. It is a community with wisdom and a heart.

  9. Titian - I so agree. I was expecting the blogosphere to be a cold place with solar winds, and instead there is an astonishing community of sympathy. Does affirm one's faith in human nature.


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