Monday, 30 November 2009



Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I must sincerely apologise for the fact that there have been three versions of my friends of Dorothy post up all day.  I did it in a slight rush this morning and then waltzed off to Bath, not noticing the terrible error.  I know all about the shoddy workman and his tools, or in this case the workwoman (workperson?), but I'm afraid I am going to grumble about Posterous again.  It took me three goes to get my post there the way I wanted it, and there is an autopost feature which puts up Posterous items to this blog, and I cannot find a way to make it discretionary.  I have been fiddling around with the options so much that I could not remember whether it was on or off.  When autopost is on, everything goes up here whether I like it or not, in this case THREE TIMES.  I just wish it would ask, that's all, so I could decide what I wanted to do with each post on its merits, rather than having a blanket decision made for me.  Oh, oh, oh I am grinding my teeth. 

I have a horrible feeling that the fault is mine, and I am being fabulously, excessively, embarrassingly stupid, because the whole point about Posterous is that a child of six is supposed to be able to use it, and the fact that I cannot make it do anything I want is just a blatant sign that I am thick as forty-seven planks, which is a slightly demoralising conclusion to come to.

Anyway, whilst I sit in the corner with a big D for Dunce hat on, I offer you a nice little picture of where my cousin and I were today, to distract you from the entire muddle -

Bath railway poster

A charming old travel poster.

Bath by Adrian Pingstone

A lovely shot of the Circus by Adrian Pingstone.

Bath by unknown

A pretty street scene, author unknown.

Roman Baths

And of course, the famous baths, by Andrew Dunn.

(Next time I shall take my own camera.)

And talking of Bath, every year my cousin and I swear we must go to the Christmas market, and every year we never quite make it.  But people say it is perfect heaven and the mulled wine is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Or very good, at least.

Bath Christmas market better

Oh, and I should report that the city is still reverberating with excitement after Nicholas Cage came and turned on the Christmas lights last week.  Apparently, Nicholas Cage adores Bath. The lovely thing is, it loves him right back. The very mention of his name was the only thing that persuaded our rather stern waitress at lunch to smile, and when we brought up the subject in Molton Brown, all the ladies started laughing and smiling.  I don't know why, but I found this rather touching.

Oh, all right, since I seem to be on an entirely whimsical jag at the moment (too much special green soup and child life), here is a parting picture of the lovely Mr Cage turning on the lights -


And making the people of Bath very happy -

People of Bath

(Snaps by Matt Cardy at Getty Images.)

This is what I love about the internet; or, my fact for the day

This morning on The Today Programme, the racing tip at 8.30am was Dorothy's Friend in the 3.30 at Fakenham. I thought it was quite funny, because the racing world is possibly the most heterosexual environment in modern Britain, where many of the protagonists prove their heterosexuality day in, day out, by sleeping with each other's wives. So I was wondering if I could do a little friend of Dorothy riff for the blog, or just a line on Twitter, and I thought I might find out something more about the horse, so I went onto the Google, and that was when I got the good stuff.

I vaguely knew that 'friend of Dorothy' started out of homage to Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. I did not know that it is also connected with my most beloved Mrs Parker and some of the camp fellows she ran around with in the Algonquin. I also did not know that it came into use most commonly in the post Second World War American navy, as a protective code against rabid homosexualist witch hunts. Churchill might have insisted that he, and the British people, KBO (keep buggering on) throughout the war, but those US naval top brass were not having anyone buggering anyone, if it was the last thing they did. The Naval Investigative Service was put on the case, and were so determined to hunt down every single bugger that when they heard of these friends of Dorothy's, they seized on it as the central clue they needed. I shall let Randy Shultz tell the full story, from his book Conduct Unbecoming:

In the course of their investigation, NIS agents made a startling discovery - that homosexuals sometimes referred to themselves as "friends of Dorothy." This code term had originated in the 1940s and 1950s and referred to Judy Garland's character in the film The Wizard Of Oz. Ever since, gay men had identified themselves as "Friends of Dorothy." The NIS, however, did not know the phrase's history and so believed that a woman named Dorothy was the hub of an enormous ring of military homosexuals in the Chicago area. The NIS prepared to hunt Dorothy down and convince her to give them the names of homosexuals.

In gay bars known to attract military personnel. NIS agents were asking pointed questions about someone named Dorothy. When one unfortunate sailor acknowledged he was gay in order to get out of the Navy, NIS agents sat him down and told him that they knew all about Dorothy. What they wanted to know from him was how to find her. The sailor, who was too young to know the code, was baffled.

I love the picture of earnest Naval agents searching gay bars for a female named Dorothy. But what is truly amazing about this little anecdote is that it took place not in 1951, but 1981.

Anyway, it is my thing of interest for the day. For some reason it pleases me very much that I learnt all this because of hearing one little racing tip on the radiophonic device.

Oh, and a little bonus fact for you: Judy Garland was born Frances Ethel Gumm. You really do see why she changed her name.

Posted via email from taniakindersley's posterous

Saturday, 28 November 2009

A lovely room

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I came upon this beauty via the excellent blog The Aesthete's Lament. It was once the country house of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, happily redecorated by someone called Patrick Deedes-Vincke. (A truly tremendous name.) The photograph is by Jan Verlinde.

It is my dream room, really. I know I shall never in my life achieve a room like this, partly because I live in the north of Scotland and partly because I am just too muddly. But I do like very much looking at this one.

beautiful room

Excessively dull technical note: this is exactly the kind of little visual note that I should like to post on my new Posterous page, but I discover that Posterous has several shocking drawbacks for a site that advertises itself as so simple that falling off a log looks labyrinthine by comparison.

For a starter, it takes your pictures and arranges them as it, not you, see fit. Then when you politely write and ask a question about this, it IGNORES you. It has no facility for resizing pictures, which I find vital. The genius Windows Live Writer does this beautifully, but of course Posterous is not compatible with it. (Oh are you falling asleep from dullness now? I am even boring myself. But this stuff is driving me nuts and I have to share with the group to save myself from running mad.)

There are several other plaintive objections I could make, but I shall save you from death by a thousand cuts, and just say that when I am getting all cross and baffled and confused, and I turn helplessly to the assistance section of Posterous, I find that all there is is a pathetic page of exceptionally limited frequently asked questions, none of which are frequently asked by me.

So, you Posterous people, I am almost at the point of giving up. And I so liked your promising idea. But the execution is frankly sending me up the wall. Should I stay or should I go? Can't decide yet. But the skies are dark with ominous clouds. Very lucky I have such a pretty picture of such a pretty room to look at.

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The Possible Nine in Ten

I found this article via a little piece in Slate Magazine:

Breaking News on Food & Beverage Development - Europe

Fad diets are making Brits fat, claims gastro expert
By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 27-Nov-2009

Fad diets are contributing to Britain's obesity crisis, the president of the British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG) said at the Gastro 2009 conference in London this week.

There has been ongoing debate about which diets have the greatest impact on weight loss, and for the food industry this has had an impact on products, particularly in the aftermath of the low-carb Atkins diet phenomenon. Many diets have emphasised the importance of various proportions of fat, protein and carbohydrate.

But BSG president Professor Chris Hawkey told an audience of digestive specialists that if Britons continue to follow unhealthy diets and favour certain foods over others, nine in ten are likely to be overweight or obese by 2050. Currently that proportion stands at six in ten, according to the Department of Health, although a new BSG/YouGov poll found that only 49 per cent of British people consider themselves to be overweight.

"Food has been shrouded in myths and fairytales since time immemorial as people argue over what is good for you, what should be avoided or eaten to your heart's content," Hawkey said. "But what's important is to recognise that despite the popularity of fad diets, we are losing a grip on the fight with obesity.We need to do away with quirky diets and get people to realise what will keep them healthy in the long run."

Hawkey also highlighted BSG/YouGov findings about attitudes toward food and various diets. In particular, he said that one in 20 women would try the Atkins diet if trying to lose weight, although only two per cent of British people think it is healthy; 21 per cent of Londoners would try weight loss pills in order to lose weight; and nine per cent of Brits think that a diet high in fish is bad for their health.

Hawkey said: "The problem facing society is not the content of our diet but it's the quantity we are consuming and the consequential impact of obesity."

He also suggested some fad diets that he thinks are worth avoiding, including rawism, which involves only eating uncooked food; the Hallelujah diet, which only allows consumption of fruits and seeds on the basis of Genesis 1.29; the Hollywood Grapefruit diet, which claims that grapefruit contains an enzyme that burns fat; and the low-carb Atkins diet.


My co-writer and I have been bashing on for ever about the paradox of the worship of thin actually leading people to be fat. There is a whole section on it in Backwards in High Heels. It seems to me to be psychology 101: if the ideal is of Victoria Beckham, every Hollywood starlet who ever faced a paparazzi, all the women styled by the crazy Rachel Zoe, and the general insanity of size zero, this ideal can never be attained by normal women. To get and stay that thin you require constant hunger, private chefs, no fat EVER, laxatives, three hours or more of exercise a day, a lot of cocaine, and freakish diets (raw food, white food, nothing after 6pm food), in varying combinations. So when the normal woman tries and fails to fit into a pair of size six skinny jeans, she punishes herself by eating all the pies. And on top of that, all that stupid dieting screws with your metabolism, and your sense of self, and your perspective, so it gets harder and harder to know what normal is any more.

Finally it is not just Sarah and I shouting into the wind, but a lovely empirical professor, with scientific facts and figures shooting out of his fingertips. I am pleased he sticks it to the diet industry, which makes me crosser than possibly any other, but I am terrified that no one will much listen. This will be news today and forgotten tomorrow. Professor Hawkey might have right on his side, but he does not have a great big fuck-off advertising budget to spread his message.

In the meantime, the scariest figure in that short piece is the prediction that by 2050, nine in ten Britons will be obese. If that does come true, there is a very real danger that I shall start becoming as grumpy and shouty as Quentin Letts and start talking about the people who have buggered up Britain. So do let's hope, for all our sakes, that the predictive modelling is off.

Oh, and can I just say: fruits and seeds based on the Bible? And ??? And ?

There, all better now.

Posted via email from taniakindersley's posterous

Friday, 27 November 2009

There is absolutely no excuse for this at all

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Having had a perfectly heavenly lunch with three properly experienced bloggers, I have been thinking about my own blogging credo. I take this thing oddly seriously. I think I have said to you before that I believe it is a profound contract: you give me your time, and I give you the most polished prose I can achieve.

And yet, and yet. There are moments when I feel entirely whimsical, when I think this is a space into which I can throw any damn thing and sod the consequences. So it seems that the notion of the blog is one great big fat paradox. And in this spirit, for the time being, I offer you...oh no, oh yes...another enchanting dog picture -

And for those of you out there who are cat people, I sincerely apologise.

The carpets of Beni Ouarain

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Today I learned something new, a sensation I always adore. A very glamorous interior
designer called Camilla Guinness arrived at my cousin's house, trailing fabrics and trimmings and intricate sketches. She also had a large, monochrome bundle.
'What is that beautiful thing?' I said.
'Ah,' she said. 'That is a Berber rug.'
I suddenly realised I had absolutely no idea what a Berber rug looked like.
This one was a very pale stone colour, with a slightly thicker pile than one might
imagine, and a delightful geometrical pattern. I wanted at once to lie down on it.
'And where do you get the special Berber rugs?' I said. 'Do you have a Berber man?'
She nodded. 'Yes,' she said. 'I have a Berber man.'
(By which I inferred that there is a helpful fellow who sources these gorgeous objects for her, rather than an actual gentleman of Berber extraction over whom she has some kind of sinister hold.)

If you look about on the internet, you can see that the Berber rugs come in many different flavours. There are slightly dull bog standard kilim types, hideous Persian-gone-crazy types, and then the glorious Beni Ouarain variety like the one I saw today, sometimes known as white giants, made by the nomadic tribes of the Middle Atlas. What could be more romantic than that?

As I am always in pursuit of facts, I am now very happy that I know who the Beni Ouarain are, and what their beautiful carpets look like.

For more information, follow these links:

Posted via email from taniakindersley's posterous

Thursday, 26 November 2009

A charming place to have lunch

Very tired after a day on the train. But there was a charming lunch at Polpo in Beak Street, with delightful and glamorous company; all round the sort of sophistication I do not encounter in the wilds of Aberdeenshire.

Posted via web from taniakindersley's posterous

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

A small foray

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Inspired by India Knight's brilliant page, I have set up a Posterous account. Oddly, although Posterous is supposedly this glitteringly simple, falling off a log type of website, I find myself a little confused by it. I am not at all certain what it is for. It feels different from this kind of a blog, although I see that some people use it just as I use Blogger. But India has done a genius thing with her site, which is to turn it into a magpie treasure chest of her own objects of desire, whether actual or virtual. I am shamelessly following in her footsteps. I like the idea of having a place on the internet where I can post brief snapshot items, and not have to worry about the prose that goes with. Here, the writing is important to me, even though as you know I sometimes let things go without the usual mandatory polish. And despite the pictures of the dogs, and the occasional photo essay about walks in the woods or visits from Virginia the Pig, I think of the Backwards Blog as a literary rather than a visual endeavour. I think Posterous is going to be where I put the pictures I like, the things I like; it will be a way of pointing a finger and saying: See, see, look at that, over there. It will not be about the actual writing, or political arguments, or letting off steam, or general ranting, or discussing vital matters of the day. I think it will be pure pleasure. That is my very early inchoate sense.

At the moment, I am linking my Posterous site to this one, until the poor unsteady thing finds its feet. Then I may separate them. Or I may decide that one blog is quite enough for one girl. We shall see. I do have sudden imperative enthusiasms which peter out and are never seen again. For now, you will see short posts with the words Posted via email from TaniaKindersley's Posterous. If you want to go directly to the site, follow this link:

And in the meantime: a bonus picture of a very muddy dog, happy and exhausted after coming on a ride with my cousin and me this morning in the first bit of sunshine we have seen for days.

A new discovery

Sometimes I get a little smug and like to think I know about things. I have a Cartier Bresson on my wall, so I like to think I know a little bit about photography. I realise today I know NOTHING. I just found this staggering picture whilst wandering about on the internet, and I had never even HEARD of Roy De Carava, who took it. Sometimes the spaces of my ignorance astonish me.

Posted via email from taniakindersley's posterous

Monday, 23 November 2009

Object of Desire

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

There is a sad day tomorrow: a memorial service for a fine and good old gentleman, who shall be missed by all those who had the pleasure to know him. So today, in defiance of all our mortality, I am going to focus on the entirely frivolous.

I don't often write about actual physical things on this blog, although not out of any finger-shaking principle. I am not one of those people who is radically anti Stuff. I have a house full of it. I have been a rabid consumer of books, photographs, Burmese betel boxes, and entirely unnecessary decorative objects (a large perspex cube filled with moss might win the prize of most pretty and most useless). I once bought myself a jewel because I knew I would never be given one, inherit one, or be sent a free one: I had sold a book, and instead of putting the advance away for a rainy day, I took some of it to the charming Mr John Joseph in Grey's Antique Market, and chose a beautiful sparkling Art Deco brooch, and managed to convince myself that this was a tremendous feminist act.

But lately, as the credit crunch snapped me in its slavering jaws, and money was revealed inexorably to be both as ephemeral and as vulgar as I had secretly feared, I stopped acquiring objects. It seemed wrong, somehow, to be shopping, when jobs were being lost and houses reclaimed, and financial titans tottered to the brink and stared into the abyss. It was time for tightening of belts and good old British stoicism. I had bills to pay and standing orders to keep and all those old extravagant chickens were suddenly coming home to roost. 'At least you didn't spend it all on drugs,' said my friend the political operative, comfortingly.

So I stopped shopping, about a year ago. It ached for a little while. But the odd thing is that not gathering objects soon becomes as much as habit as the old getting of them. Occasionally, I would get some cash for a piece of work and think perhaps it was time for a treat, and go into Aberdeen and stare at the vitrines filled with tempting baubles and bibelots and not want one single one. The best I could do was to buy a beautiful soft aquamarine blanket for the dogs. The days of jewels were far behind me, but I felt no sense of deprivation. I looked instead at the things I was so insanely lucky to have bought, when the going was good. I keenly appreciated the Lartigue photograph I found in a little gallery in Great Newport Street, before his prices went stratospheric. I looked anew at my first edition of Don't Tell Alfred with its Cecil Beaton cover, a steal at £20, back in the nineties. I felt a surge of enchantment for the purple velvet jacket that I bought fifteen years ago, even though I could not quite afford it; I wear it still, although the sleeves are about to fall off. My shopping sabbatical proved the quickest way to fall back in love with all the things I already had.

Which is a long and winding explanation of why I don't write much about stuff. But I am not a puritan. Once the new book deal is signed, and I have made the last never never payment on the jewel, do not fear, I shall shop again. The recession though has thrown the question of value into shining relief. I always found it quite strange that people should pay hundreds of pounds for shoes that will clearly hurt, or very ugly coats, or those perfectly hideous bags with fat buckles all over them. I thought there was a combination of Emperor's New Clothes, and lemming/sheep/other small herding mammal of your choice about it all. I assumed that once the entire capitalist system almost went off a cliff, people really would no longer spend stupid amounts of cash on fleeting things. I understand investment; I understand something that will give pleasure for a lifetime. I do not understand a pair of shoes going for over £17,000, even if the heel is actual gold -

Horrid shoe

Nor, come to think of it, do I understand any earthly reason why anyone should want to totter about in heels made of gold in the first place, whatever the price tag.

But there is currently one glorious object of desire out there which is making me a little yearny. There is strictly no call for it; it is all folly. I know that I should turn away and go and ponder proper subjects like what the hell is Sarah Palin going to say next, and why it is that Quentin Letts is so threatened by the atheists, and what the Hadron Collider will reveal now it is chugging along again. I'm just saying that if I did have £395, and if I was feeling so frivolous that my ears were about to fall off, and if I did not already have several perfectly respectable bags, THIS is the one thing in the shops that I would currently buy:

Lulu Bag red Hillary

There. Observe the lovely red patent Hillary bag from Lulu Guinness. It is also devastatingly chic in black. Santa baby…..

Friday, 20 November 2009

In which there turns out to be a little rant, after all

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I know I have gone all Little Women on you just lately, but I suppose it was inevitable that I should have to have a small rant sooner or later. When I was a girl of eight, I used to use my hands to sketch extravagant shapes in the air as I spoke. My rather stern school did not approve of such Continental practices: at lunch one day, my headmistress insisted that I SIT on my hands to still them. Without my hands, I could not speak. I stared and wiggled and shifted back and forth, and eventually the hands, as if they had a life of their own, freed themselves, waved about in the air, and I could talk again. I feel rather like that now. However much I sit on my hands, they are inevitably going to escape.

So that was a long, throat-clearing way of saying I have a tiny something to add about Kate Moss. I really wasn't going to. I have the children's tea to think about. We have been out riding and the dogs came and are now covered in plough (there was also some very worrying rolling) so there may have to be bathing. At some stage, I should attempt to do some work. You are all discerning adults; you know what you think about patently wrong statements. I'm not sure I really have anything to add.

But oh, oh, OH, the idiocy. It makes me cross because I have always rather admired Kate Moss. I liked that she smoked and drank and went out with unsuitable men. I liked that she did not seem to subscribe to the airbrush school of beauty. I saw her in life once, and she was oddly unremarkable; not plain, or with bad skin or a crooked nose, but she did not stop a room; she just sat in the corner giggling and cadging cigarettes and you would not have looked at her twice. (On the other hand, I once saw Carla Bruni at a party and she is a showstopper in life, much more than in pictures.) I liked that fact that little Kate Moss from Croydon could become a global brand and still seem to have fun. And then she goes and says possibly the stupidest thing I have heard this year, only slightly less stupid than all those crazy right wingers in America who insist that Obama is just exactly like Hitler except without the moustache. She said, and I am so, so hoping she was misconstrued, and misquoted, and misheard: 'Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.'

My first reaction was to make a list:

Rare fillet of beef with potatoes dauphinoise.

Vichyssoise, hot or cold.

Quails' eggs with celery salt.

Chilled avocado soup at the height of summer.

Prawn and squid risotto with saffron and a dash of Vermouth.

A really juicy roast chicken with bread sauce.

Cavalo nero, dressed with olive oil and lemon.

My lovely little polenta chips that I cooked the other day in the manner of Jamie Oliver.

My mother's scones, the best in the world. I remember her always saying you must just crumble the butter and flour delicately, delicately, with your fingertips, and STOP the moment it is done, because an overworked scone is a sad thing. And you know, she was right. I went to the amazingly fashionable and expensive Daylesford Organic caff in the amazingly fashionable and expensive Westbourne Grove not that long ago, and a scone was ordered and it was not only flat and heavy and made not with delicacy and care but with hob-nailed boots and indifference, but it was so dry I thought it might have been stale. How very different from my old mum's light as air, hot from the oven, melting little circles of delight. We would eat them with whipped cream and the special tomato jam that she made in great vats with tomatoes from the greenhouse. And it's funny remembering all that, because there were bits of my childhood that were nuts, but there were also bits when there were homemade scones, and crumpets with Gentleman's Relish, and Chocolate Olivers for a very special treat, and getting up at dawn to go and pick mushrooms in the valley, and really moments of idyll.

Cockles with salt and vinegar, preferably from a polystyrene pot bought from a stall by a pier, with the smell of the sea in one's nostrils and the wind coming up off the water.

A pint of prawns, with mayonnaise.

And if you're getting fancy pants, throw in a lobster as well.

A really proper spaghetti vongole, preferably a white one, with fat clams and lots of parsley.

Soupe de Poisson, with its rouille. This of course can be a grey and slightly gritty thing, if made wrong, and I don't want to sound like a food snob, but I do start to think that really it is only worth eating in France, and preferably in Tetou, a little blue restaurant that sits on a beach at Golfe Juan. I have not been there for twenty-five years, but I once knew it well, and it did, in my youth, have the best soupe de poisson in the world.

A dark delightful sticky oxtail stew.

Watercress soup with croutons.

Scotch pancakes for tea. Or potato cakes (remembering of course to use floury and not waxy potatoes).

The beef carpaccio at La Famiglia, tender and full of flavour and the most outrageous colour so it looks like art on your plate, with its secret sauce.

The Hainanese chicken rice that you get in wet markets in Singapore, made by flinty old ladies who would rather kill you than give you the recipe.

Vietnamese spring rolls, with mint and coriander and that mysterious sweet and sour dipping sauce, and which, for all my culinary pretensions, I shall never be able to make authentically.

Sourdough bread.

Those little steamed dim sum prawn dumplings that you get in Chinatown.

Salmon sashimi, with enough wasabi to make your eyes water.

King prawn tempura.

Irish stew.

Toast with Marmite.

You know I could go on, and on, and on. And I really shan't, because I know you all have things to be doing. Even in that incomplete list, which I pulled from the top of my head, there is not just gastronomic delight, but memories of childhood, great holidays, places visited, moments in time, little secret habits (the first thing I do when I come to London after months in Scotland is to go straight to Gerrard Street and eat as much Chinese as I can, just me and a newspaper and a Moleskine notebook, because I want to savour the moment of sheer, raging greed all by myself, to distill it to its most potent point). Food, whilst providing so much pleasure in itself, is often not just food: there are all those associations.

To deny all this for the sake of skinny is blatantly bonkers. I'm not going to go all po-faced about the moral question that must hang over affluent Western women purposefully making themselves look like poor women in third world countries who actually do not have enough to eat, because of drought or corruption or the harvest failing or just blunt lack of money. But I do want to know what skinny gets you. I admit that maybe your clothes hang a little better. I do sometimes wonder what it would be like to be one of the Elegant Women, and there can be a keen aesthetic pleasure in someone who can really work a little outfit. But to refuse food simply because you want the admiring glances of fashionistas seems to me a paltry bargain. And anyway, you can be stylish and curvaceous, it just takes a little more imagination.

So again, what does skinny get you? Does it make people love you more? Does it add to the sum total of human happiness? Can it console your friend whose heart has just been broken by a cad? Will it stop your lover leaving? Will it make your husband happy when he has just been laid off? Will it make your wife smile when her mother has been taken ill? I mean, seriously: what does it achieve? Food gives pleasure, comfort, delight. It can console. It is an expression of love. Does skinny do any of those things? I am going to be vulgar now, but this kind of thing makes me so cross I get vulgar: but if someone is having sex with a skinny person, isn't it rather disconcerting to be able to see the ribs and feel the hipbones digging into soft tissue and count every single vertebrae? I'm just asking.

What I know for sure is that no one will ever miss your skinniness. I've said it in Backwards and I shall bloody well go on saying it again until every last woman stops hating her body, which means of course I shall turn into the most roaring bore: at your funeral, no one is going to mourn you because you were a size eight. There are many things in life I do not know, but I know this: no single person will weep at your loss because they will never again see your skinniness. At your wake, no sentient human will speak this sentence in regret and nostalgia: 'Oh, and do you remember how skinny she was? How I shall miss that.'

We have such a short time. I can't bear the thought that anyone would waste a single second of it wanting to be such an utterly pointless thing as skinny. I can't bear that anyone who is not in need of strong medication would think that being unnaturally thin is better than delicious food. It's so fabulously, exuberantly stupid. (At which point the writer is removed, still ranting.)

Thursday, 19 November 2009

In brief

A curious tension: I hate to leave you all without a blog, but of course I want to give you something meaty and proper and well-written, with all my semi-colons in a row, and possibly a side order of controversy.  Or at least a little frisson of not the most received wisdom.  But at the moment I do not quite have the time for the proper thought-out blog, and I cannot bear the blank space.  So there are going to have to be many days of imperfection; little impressionistic sketches; two or three sentences here and there; a tiny something for the weekend.  And I risk - oh, I don't know: blahness, mediocrity, sentences that fall flat on the screen like clumping old boots.  You may laugh and point. 

Actually, of course, in my rational mind I know none of this matters.  But I have to tell it all to you anyway.

Today was an enchanting family day.  There were errands to run, but here, when you go out to buy paint, you pass by Malmesbury Abbey and just drop in for ten minutes, and find a nice gentleman in a tweed coat who tells you all about the Burgundian influence, and the Abbey of Cluny, and Odo the poet, and how the story of the old and new testament is incorporated into the great carved stone archway over the main door.  I am not much for God, but, oh, a 12th century abbey on the way to the paint shop is a tonic to all the senses.

In the paint shop, my cousin had to try and explain the exact shade of pale grey she wanted while a mottled cat climbed determinedly up the back of her coat.  The lady in charge seemed to find this inordinately funny. 

Then we went to the pet shop to buy beds for my cousin's two black puppies.  I brought one of my own dogs in as a tester (she was most helpful and discerning) and the pet shop man made a great fuss of her and gave her special treats, which of course won my heart.  In the old days, I used to fancy myself a bit of a sophisticate.  I once shopped in Mayfair and SoHo and the Via Condotti; now I am more thrilled by a visit to the pet shop in Malmesbury than anything else.  There is no earthly hope for me.

And then I cooked a new recipe for the children's tea: a sausage casserole, which I have never tried before, because it always sounded so disgusting.  Even the two words together sound ugly.  But we were trying to think of something more interesting than sausage and mash, and I had bought some lovely green lentils, so I noodled about on the internet and found a few recipes, and then went away and made my own version, which involved - lentils, bacon, garlic, onion, carrots, thyme, sausages, a bay leaf, celery, and a dark green scattering of Savoy cabbage to finish the whole thing off.  It was the first time I had made it and I was aware I was courting disaster, because I won't just follow a recipe like a normal person, but must, in my own bolshie way, improvise in my particular manner. 

I was also prepared for the children to hate it.  I did not like lentils until I was about thirty-six, after all.  The deal was they had to try it, but I would not be offended if it was not their bag.  'I think it looks very nice,' said my ten year old godson, kindly, and even sincerely. I was touched by this, since the whole thing might most kindly have been termed rustico, which is a euphemism for brown and soupy, although the orange of the carrots and the green of the cabbage did help a bit.  I sat at the end of the table, braced for failure.  But, dear readers, they LOVED it.  The baby, who is possibly my best eater, demanded some of her own, despite having already had her own tea.  So it was deemed a success and I live to fight another day.

This all seems very little and domestic.  I wonder if that is a good thing or not.  My life at home is also little and domestic, as almost all lives are, but because I live alone I spend most of my day thinking about things that are large and not domestic at all, and sometimes I write about those for you.  Now my mind is filled with the needs and quirks and delights of three small children, the running of a house, my dear cousin;  we make menu plans, run errands, walk the dogs, talk constantly, consult our diaries about the many things we  must do.  And so I write about that. You will either love it or hate it.  I feel rather naked as I do it, because I am too tired to discourse about geo-politics.  (Although I will make a bet with you that the next place in the world to blow up as a centre of extremism and instability and a threat in what is no longer called the War on Terror will be Yemen.)  So we shall see.  But thank you so much for bearing with me.  And forgive the lack of pictures. 

Monday, 16 November 2009


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Today there were sudden gales, squalls of rain, moments of glittering sunshine. My cousin and I went for a ride along fields of incongruously high corn (in November?) and through a hidden green valley. We saw four deer loping solemnly along in single file as if they had an appointment to keep, and a high buzzard looking for its prey. The dogs swam in a thin brook and dug for moles and made havoc in the hedgerows.

For dinner, I made sausages with onion gravy, olive oil mash, and a little mixture of carrots, celery and mange tout. My godson felt ill, so I made him some tomato soup, for its curative value. The baby made jokes about the dogs. (She is only twenty months old, but she already has a keen sense of humour.)

Oh, and I did a piece of work. My friend C called, for love and business. 'I'm up against a HARD deadline,' I shouted. 'Yes, yes, yes,' he shouted back. Then we talked for twenty minutes, because five is never enough, and sod the hard deadline.

And now the house is asleep, and there is only the sound of the wind sucking and blowing against the window panes, and the low yip of one of the dogs chasing rabbits in her sleep, and the slight ship-at-sea creak that comes with old houses and wooden floorboards. I adore this family life. It is entirely exotic to me. I choose to live alone, and soon I shall crave solitude again, and go back north. But for now, I would not be anywhere else in the world.

Saturday, 14 November 2009


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Very happily lying on my bed, having an old lady rest with two dozing dogs, while an eighty-mile-an-hour gale howls and rattles outside the house. Downstairs, two small girls are sticking sequins onto pink and turquoise gauze butterflies. The baby is having a little sleep after eating all my pea soup for lunch. I am feeling slightly smug because I attempted to reproduce Jamie Oliver's polenta chips without the recipe (just working it out in my head after eating them) and managed to nail it. The children loved them.

So, very quickly, two recipes:

The special green soup, as requested:

This is the most terrible cheat, so you must not tell a soul, because I do no sweating of the onions, which is almost illegal in some parts of the country. But still, it seems to come out perfectly well.

The special green soup comes in all shapes and sizes, and I recommend that you play around with it as much as you want. I sometimes do courgettes and watercress, or lettuce and leeks, or rocket and garlic. This particular version was asparagus and spinach. I know asparagus is not in season, and I am usually rather puritan about that, but there it was, in my lovely cousin's fridge, needing eating up, so I decided to use it.

I roughly chopped an onion, a bunch of asparagus and a couple of garlic cloves, just covered them in chicken stock, and simmered for about ten to fifteen minutes. Everything needs to be soft but not boiled to death. If you have no chicken stock just use water and a tablespoon of Marigold bouillon powder. Then throw in half a bag of spinach, squish it down, and cook for a couple more minutes. Put it all in the blender, add a gloop of good extra virgin olive oil, and a handful of parsley if you feel like it, and blend it until smooth. If it is a little thick, add some more water. Check for seasoning, and that is it. It is the healthiest, most delicious thing, and in this house on Friday it was enjoyed by humans ranging from twenty months to forty two years. (The baby loved it so much she actually drank it through a straw.)

And for the polenta:

I'm sure this is not Jamie Oliver's correct recipe, but I had these chips at his restaurant in Bath on Tuesday and they were so good I tried to reproduce them. I made up some instant polenta, adding lots of butter and olive oil to get flavour and texture, and scattering over a little Marigold because I use it in practically everything. Then I put it in a wide flat dish and let it set. Then I chopped it into fat squares, smooshed them about in some olive oil, dredged them in instant polenta to get an extra crispy outside, and fried them for about ten minutes, turning often, in very hot sunflower and olive oil mixed. You can scatter them with a bit of sea salt and some fried rosemary leaves, or just serve them plain. Again: enjoyed by all the ages, which made me very happy.

Meanwhile, as I indulge in happy family life, Sarah has been out there on the coal face, because someone has to keep writing The Newspaper of Record. This week, she has done a perfectly inspired article on pants, which made me laugh out loud.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

A slight change of direction

As I am away from home, not at my desk, and suffering manifold troubles with technology, the blog has fallen off the radar.  I thought maybe I could let it rest for a while, allow it to have a fallow time to go with the season, but I discover that a lack of posts bothers me, like a tiny mental mouse scratching behind the skirting of my mind.  I miss the comments, the lovely readers, the sense of being part of a community.  (How the old media would sneer and snarl at this, but I say: sod 'em.) 

So, instead of the usual proper blogs, I am going to experiment with little postcards.  There will be brevity instead of rants, suggestions instead of recipes, and a possible lack of the big political arguments that I so love to wade into. Who knows?  This may come as a relief to some of you.

To keep you up to date: I am staying with my beloved cousin and her three enchanting children.  The dogs are settling in nicely, and behaving exceptionally well.  I am making fruitless attempts to settle down to serious work, but mostly seem to spend my time cooking a great deal of special green soup.  The children, who are nine and six and twenty months, actually DEMAND the green soup.  The baby tried some last night and shouted 'More, more', waving her little arms and banging her spoon, which gave me almost more pleasure than getting a book deal.  Tonight there shall be risotto cakes fried in polenta, and possibly a lamb chop or two, if I am feeling bold. 

I have fallen behind on the news, have absolutely no idea what is happening in The Archers, and have brought far too much luggage, which I have still not unpacked.  There has been a lovely trip to Bath, and a great deal of exceptionally delicious red wine.  (There is a proper cellar here, packed with glorious claret.)  If the rain stops for a single second, I am hoping to visit the arboretum at Westonbirt, to catch the last of the autumn colours before the acers are stripped of all their leaves.  If I make it, there may even be photographs.

In the meantime, I apologise for the slight piecemeal nature of the blog for the moment.  I shall be home again at the end of the month, and normal service shall resume.

Friday, 6 November 2009

On the road again

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

On the road south, so no proper blog today, but you will be glad to know that I saw a rosy dawn rising over the hills near Stonehaven (had to go the long way round since Cairn O'Mount, the high but direct road, has been closed ever since the long rains), and managed to get to Shap before more torrential rain set in.

I am halfway, and shall finish my journey tomorrow. Shall be back on the blog next week.

Until I return I leave you with Sarah's latest blast in The Times:

And some pictures of the dogs, relaxing in their hotel room (notice that I brought their special elegant blankets with them, so they would feel at home):





You know, when people talk about bloggers being self-indulgent, I have absolutely NO idea what they could possibly mean. Ah well, I am tired from the road, and I got up at six so I could make tomato soup in a thermos for my picnic, so I don't have to buy disgusting sandwiches at inflated prices and then feel cross, so you will forgive me one too many dog pictures. Also I hope you will forgive that last extremely inelegant sentence; my brain has gone to mush. Shall stop now before I start committing serious grammatical horrors.

PS. Someone pointed out today that people on Twitter and blogs are very cavalier about revealing their movements, which could be read by any bright burglar. So to all you felons out there I would like to say: my niece is house-sitting while I am in the south, and her boyfriend is six foot FOUR. And trained in tree surgery. And they have a very fierce dog. I'm just saying.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Consider the birds

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I woke this morning to a tremendous rattling sound. It took me a moment to work out what the racket was. It turned out to be a bird, flapping madly against the Venetian blinds.

I am afraid of birds in the house. I catch their panic. They are so unfrightening outside, in the air, but so alarming in a confined space. But the poor thing was going crazy, so I bravely got up, put on my dressing gown, and set about a rescue. The dogs, oddly calm, settled themselves on the bed to watch.

Of course, I could not get close to the little creature. Each time I approached it, it flew away in panic. I opened all the windows, but it was now blind with terror, and could not find its way out. I stepped back, not wanting to frighten it more, and then it suddenly took off across the room, in full flight, and crashed head first into the window pane. I thought it must have broken its neck. It fell down onto the shelf below, amazingly still alive, and sat stunned and panting (I did not know birds could pant, but this one was), next to one of my treasured Lulu Guinness bags and a copy of The Perfect Storm, by Sebastian Junger.

It was a Great Tit, its breast vivid yellow, with a dusty green back and a neat black cap. There was nothing great about it now, as it sat, diminished and shocked from fear and collision. It seemed unable to move, so I could finally get close enough to pick it up. Its tiny little body was so fragile it seemed hardly to exist. I carried it gently downstairs and set it down outside my front door. There was a hard glittering frost on the grass and the sun was dazzling out of the first blue sky we have seen for days. (The rain has been so bad here that half the roads are closed from floods and mudslides; half a hill has collapsed near Stonehaven.)

I was afraid that the bird was mortally wounded and would never fly again, but just die quietly in front of me. I had a forlorn hope that it had just dizzied itself, and might recover. The dogs and I settled down on the step to see what it would do. It sat, very still, fluffing up its feathers against the cold, occasionally turning to look at me with a plaintive stare, its beak open in silent entreaty. I was uncertain what to do next. If it was too badly hurt I should have to do that brutish country thing of finishing it off with a stone or a tree branch, as we sometimes have to do if we find wounded rabbits in the woods. Despite being brought up on a farm, and having a tremendous appetite for ratting when young, I have never had much stomach for mercy killings, even though it is by far the kindest thing to do. I wondered if I should have to call my friend Matt, who can do anything, and is always rescuing me from errant pigs and mechanical problems.

And then, just as I was losing hope, and the morning cold was seeping into my bones, the bird shook itself, gave me a parting look, and took to the sky. It felt like a present. It felt like a portent. I shouted out loud in delight.

I don't generally think much about birds. I get very excited every year when my pair of swallows comes back from Africa to nest in my shed, and I once almost fainted in delight when I saw a kingfisher flying low over the burn, so iridescent that I could not believe it was quite real. Down the road, at my sister's house, a gang of swifts arrives each spring; they spend all the summer quarrelling and flirting and mustering as if for some important event. Someone told me once that they do everything on the wing: sleep, eat, have sex. It must be exhausting. But apart from these momentary glimpses of glory, I do not consider the birds. It turns out, I discover, that they really are descended from dinosaurs. I always thought that was an urban myth. (Must, must, must brush up on my evolutionary biology.) It also turns out that no one can agree on how flight evolved, which I did not know. It is thirty years since we put a man on the moon; a device the size of a pack of cards can store 100,000 books; satellites can pluck words and pictures from the very air; and yet we still do not know how birds learnt to fly. There are four theories apparently, and even the very best scientists cannot choose between them. One day, some clever person will work it out. In the meantime, my little startled Great Tit is a miraculous mystery, as it flies off into the blue.

The bird, recovering:

bird 003

bird 014

And a bonus shot of the burn, in today's lovely misty morning, with vivid dogwood in the foreground:

bird 026

Sunday, 1 November 2009


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

If you do one thing today, go to the BBC iplayer and find Broadcasting House. Forward to minute 51. There you will hear Samuel West reading the last letter of the 19 year old soldier Cyrus Thatcher (pictured). It is one of the most moving things I have ever heard. It is the modern equivalent of 'if I die think only this of me'. The young man's words are beautifully read by West, and there is also an astonishing interview with his mother, who is brave and articulate and amazingly free of bitterness, even in deep sorrow.

Follow this link to get there:

You can also read more about Cyrus here:

I think a great deal about the soldiers in Afghanistan. When I was young and stupid I had a one-dimensional view of the army. I thought it was made up of raw squaddies, barking sergeants and honking hoorahs. It was only when the Bosnian war started, and a few of the fighting men talked eloquently and thoughtfully about the horrors they saw there that I started to realise how profoundly wrong I was. In the last few years, two of the most interesting men I have ever met have been soldiers. One, whose name I do not remember, I met only once, at a lunch given by mutual friends. He had been a military liaison in Washington in the run-up to the Iraq war. Since American politics and the rise of the neo-cons is my specialist subject, I was so fascinated my ears practically fell off. I forgot all about the good manners my mother taught me, and talked to no one else for the entire lunch.

We discussed the unfolding disaster of the war. One of the things I could never quite understand was how the post-invasion plan went so disastrously wrong. However much you disagree with the policies of the Bush administration, and I disagree with pretty much every single one, it was not packed with drooling idiots. At State, in the Pentagon, among the military top brass, there were clever, experienced men and women. I did not understand how educated people could make such stupid decisions. I asked my army man. 'Well,' he said. 'I have a theory. Everything was done in powerpoint presentations. There is no room for nuance in powerpoint.'

The second riveting man is a disillusioned ex-soldier called Leo Docherty. To hear him talk of Afghanistan produces a potent combination of utter interest and absolute despair. He wrote a book about it called Desert of Death, which I highly recommend.

There is a good article about him here:

What is tragic about this piece is that it was written in 2006. People are having the same arguments about the war now. In three years, not very much has changed, and no one, not even the brilliant President Obama, seems to know how this thing will end, or even what is being fought for. Even if, by some miracle, Afghanistan should stabilise, the terrorists and fundamentalists and militants are still running amok in the badlands of Waziristan. Currently, in those dusty hidden valleys, the Pakistani army is fighting a largely overlooked war against fierce Uzbeks and Taliban devotees. Like Afghanistan, no one is quite sure how that battle will end.

For further reading, I also recommend James Fergusson's book, A Million Bullets:

In the meantime, if anyone ever tells you that the young people of today are worth nothing, as some of the crosser newspapers like to do each day, just think of the extraordinary young person that was Cyrus Thatcher, who faced his own death with such courage, and whose overwhelming thought was that his mother should not grieve for him, but celebrate a life well lived.


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