Thursday, 31 December 2009

In Memoriam

Posted by Tania Kindersley.


I heard a fragment of In Memoriam by Tennyson this morning on The Today Programme.  I do not know Tennyson; I am ashamed to admit I am only familiar with the twentieth century poets.  But I think this is beautiful, and apt.

I reproduce it here most especially for my friend Miss Whistle, who is writing heartbreaking posts from California. I wish you all a very happy New Year's Eve.

A section of In Memoriam, by Alfred Tennyson:

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Post-Christmas report; or, in praise of Kauto Star

Posted by Tania Kindersley.


Well, in the end it all went quite well.  Having blithely offered to cook all parts of the lunch except the bird, I only shouted at my poor mother three times. Worst moment: her swish new oven would not cook the bloody potatoes. It was the kind of fancy contraption that you needed to have trained at NASA to operate. As all seemed lost, I yelled: 'Is it too much to ask to have an oven, with a KNOB, that you can turn to 190, and when it reaches the temperature the little red light goes off so you know how hot it is? Is that really too much for some people?'  (You see that when I get angry I am absolutely terrifying.)

But the bread sauce was sublime, and the gravy contained an entire bottle of red wine, and all the trimmings were there (TWO kinds of stuffing, my darlings), and my sister was quite beside herself with joy that she could just roll up and eat. My niece cooked the most succulent turkey, and my stepfather rather quietly produced a couple of bottles of Chateau Latour.  And the sun shone on the glittering snow all day long.

There were lovely presents this year too, beautiful and useful in the William Morris tradition.  Perhaps the most beautiful and useful of all was the glorious Kauto Star, (pictured at the top), galloping all over his rivals in the King George Steeplechase at Kempton on Boxing Day.  Boxing Day at Kempton is one of the great traditions in the racing calendar, and the King George is second only to the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in terms of prestige.  It is run over three miles and eighteen fences. To get some idea of how gruelling that is, you have to imagine half a ton of horse galloping at about thirty miles an hour over obstacles that are roughly five foot high and three feet wide, made of stiff brush, some with a four foot open ditch in front of them.  The horses themselves are not tough old hunters, but fine-boned thoroughbreds, with delicate legs and hot blood and aristocratic temperaments.  The jockeys, many of whom have to sweat and waste to make the weight, perch on tiny scraps of saddles, their feet supported by irons that are so light you can hardly feel them in your hand.  Any number of things may go wrong - a broken blood vessel, a loose horse, a simple stumble, what jockeys call a traffic jam, where they get boxed in by the horses around them.  One stride too few or too many can lead to a crashing fall at high speed.  It is a sport that sorts out goats from sheep and boys from men.

Take all that, and add into it that Kauto Star was bidding to win his fourth King George in a row.  No other horse has ever done such a thing.  The mighty Desert Orchid did win the race four times, but not in consecutive years.  So there was the weight of history, on top of everything else.  I rang up my mother just before the race.  'I don't think I can bear to watch,' I said.  'No,' she said. 'I can't either.'  There are very few great champions in racing, the ones that you really remember, the ones who run into a a dimension all their own.  They come along maybe once or twice in a generation.  Kauto Star has won two Gold Cups and three King Georges; at the age of nine, he is cantering into the same pantheon as the incomparable Arkle.  The thought that, at his zenith, he might fall or fail or be brought down was too much to contemplate. 

You have to understand at this point the slightly obsessive nature of the racing fan, the actual love that is felt for a truly magnificent horse.  (Ruby Walsh, Kauto Star's jockey, a tough professional of many years' standing, said of the horse, on national television, after winning the Gold Cup: 'Ah, I love him anyway.') I think it is something to do with the purity of the animals themselves.  Unlike other sporting stars, they do not get caught with hookers or drink too much or swear at their fans or find themselves in brawls; they do not even get paid.  Unlike us mortals, they do not know or care about politics or the credit crunch or the mundane matters of daily life.  They operate on a parallel plane, touching human lives, but removed from them.  They run on sheer instinct, the ancient half-tamed will to lead the herd.  There is something about that lifts the heart in a glorious, uncomplicated way.

It turns out my mother and I need not have worried.  Kauto Star skipped down to the start with his ears pricked, galloped round the first circuit, jumping as neatly as a cat, and then, despite the flat-out pace of the front runners, picked off each horse before him without even changing gear.  Ruby Walsh did not, as they say in racing, even have to ask him the question. This beautiful horse accelerated as smoothly as a Rolls Royce, jumped the last three fences with as much nonchalance as if he were out for a mild training gallop on a Tuesday morning, and beat the best chasers in the country literally out of sight.  The official winning margin was 'a distance', which means it was so far that the stewards could not be bothered to count.  Someone later calculated it was thirty-six lengths. 

I cried. The crowd at Kempton went crazy. The horse lifted his head in victory, as if all this cheering was merely his due. Hardened handicappers said they had never seen such a thing in their lifetime. The television pundits ran out of superlatives.  It was absolutely, utterly, completely lovely.

Kauto jumping

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Eve

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

It has suddenly, against quite a lot of the odds, got rather Christmassy in this house.  There has been playing of carols and wrapping of presents.  I made a special Christmas ham (ran out of honey, so glazed it with hoi sin sauce, which turned out to be a triumph), and some brandy truffles.  The snow is falling again, in big fat fairy-tale flakes.  I am only getting myself very slightly stressy about the fact that I am COOKING THE LUNCH.  (How exactly do you make stuffing again?) 

I want to wish you all the most joyous and peaceful and happy Christmas, and to thank you all for your magnificent kindness and generosity as this tiny blog found its feet.  I can't tell you how much all your lovely comments have meant.

And as a little PS, here are today's Christmas photographs:

My favourite Christmas decorations:

Christmas Eve 011

The wrapping table:

Christmas Eve 016

Christmas cards:

Christmas Eve 022

Gussied-up drawing room, complete with dozing dogs:

Christmas Eve 032

Special tiny Christmas trees:

Christmas Eve 023

Another view of the room and the dogs:

Christmas Eve 043

And then, when the carols from King's were finished, we went outside and this is what we found, in the gloaming - excellent new snow to eat:

Christmas Eve 046

This is what happens when you take a picture of falling snow with a flash:

Christmas Eve 049

It's not Cartier-Bresson, but it is festive as you please:

Christmas Eve 050

Have a lovely Christmas.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

I'm afraid to have to tell you it is a winter wonderland

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

snow 017

I know, I know.  But Christmas would not be Christmas without a few slightly sentimental snow pictures.  Although of course usually we have to import these from Norway, since even up here in the North-East of Scotland snow is oddly rare in December. (The usual pattern is one fall in November, one in January, and then a big Easter surprise. Only thirty years ago people would be snowed in for three months every winter without fail, so there's a little piece of local climate chance for you.)

It is not quite deep, but crisp and even and just enough to look pretty without disrupting too much traffic, although the famous Cockbridge to Tomintoul road is closed, as is traditional the moment there is even a hint of weather.

So here are some snaps for you.  I send them with especial love to my friends in California, whom I know occasionally miss the great British winter.

The garden:

snow 001

snow 002

The burn:

snow 013

An enchanting little Christmas tree:

snow 028

The beech hedge:

snow 014

The exceptionally festive rosehips:

snow 044

The dogs eating the snow as if it were ice-cream:

snow 006

snow 008


And then, just as I thought it could not get any better, I heard a distant noise, coming from the north west.  It grew louder and louder and I looked up to see the sky filled with geese.  They were flying incredibly fast, singing as they went, heading due south, their skeins stretched out like scribbles on the white sky.  I wanted to give them a round of applause.

snow 029

snow 031

I'm sorry they are rotten pictures, but I wanted to give you a sense of what the incredible creatures looked like. It is such an extraordinary sight that it is almost impossible to describe in words.  What amazes me about them is how certain they are; there is a tremendous sense of purpose to the whole thing, as if there is some vital deadline to meet.  I love the way the configuration shifts constantly, as if someone has given an order. I want to know who decides who the chief navigator will be, what criterion dictates who takes the lead.  I want to know how they can skate along so quickly, when they have miles and miles to go before they sleep. I want to know what it is about them that gives me a purely childlike sense of wanting to jump and clap.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Wrapping presents

Posted by Tania Kindersley.


presents 041

A very quick post as I have been wrapping all day and dashing to the post office with last-minute parcels for the godchildren. 

I always find those magazine features about how to achieve an elegant Christmas faintly patronising.  Sometimes they are helpful and even inspiring, but sometimes they seem like people just saying Look over here, no here, at my perfect life, and my astounding ability to do twenty-seven chic things with tinsel.  Also, you know they were all shot in August.  The pieces about how to wrap your presents are even worse, because A) they assume you have got to the age of forty-two without learning how to use wrapping paper, and B) sometimes you wonder if they are not right. 

But just in case, like me, you are feeling a bit credit-crunched, and do not like cheap bits of gaudy wrapping with pictures of elves, here is what I consider the perfect solution: lovely old-fashioned brown parcel paper.  You can buy huge rolls of it at your local post office for a pound.  Get yards of haberdashery ribbon (so much cheaper and nicer than horrid shiny present ribbon) in any variation of satin or velvet or silk, stick on a pretty postcard instead of an over-priced gift card, and there you are.  I also sometimes use tissue paper in plain colours. 

presents 004

presents 013

presents 038

It's not quite Martha Stewart, no sprigs of holly or artfully placed pine cones, but it makes me happy.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Manufactured outrage of the day

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

John McCain

Some of you may have seen the press conference John McCain gave after Senator Al Franken stopped Senator Joe Lieberman from finishing a speech on the floor.  (It was to do with intricate Senate rules, and quite legitimate.)  McCain was puffed up with indignation so righteous that it practically needed its own motorcade.  He'd never seen the like, no not in all his years of service.  You would have thought that the Dems were going out and strangling puppies rather than trying to get a healthcare bill passed. 

Anyway, it turns out, interestingly, that Senator McCain actually had seen the like, at rather close quarters.  Have a little read of this, from Taegen Goddard's Political Wire blog -

When Sen. Al Franken objected to Sen. Joe Lieberman's request for additional time, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said that in his 20-plus years in the Senate he had never heard a senator do that before.
However, a Political Wire reader sends this excerpt from the Congressional Record from October 10, 2002:
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator's time has expired.
Mr. DAYTON. I ask for unanimous consent that I have 30 seconds more to finish my remarks.
Mr. McCAIN. I object.

The lovely Rachel Maddow also has a lot of fun with it here.

Conclusion: either John McCain was having a worrying senior moment, or he was, and I apologise for using unparliamentary language, lying.  You decide.

Picture of the day

Posted by Tania Kindersley

I know it's the biggest hoariest cheesiest old cliché, but the natural world really does astonish and awe me. It's not just the beauty and the millions of species and the absolute curiosity of certain creatures (the chameleon, those crazy little bright red tree frogs, the giant squid); it's also the extraordinarily intricate mysteries of natural selection. I mean, why select for those utterly surprising quiffs? And who knew that cranes actually danced? (Well, obviously quite a lot of people, but not, until today, me.)

On a related note, in this year of Darwin, I witnessed an even odder and much sadder sight yesterday on MSNBC, the television channel that I use to sate my obsession with American politics. They have a commentator called Pat Buchanan, an amazingly shouty fellow who used to work for Nixon. The anchors all treat him as a slightly dotty old uncle, even though he has some quite startling opinions. He thinks global warming is a hoax, perpetuated by politicians as part of a ruthless government take-over of the people. He said, on the Chris Matthews show, without prevarication or embarrassment, when asked if he believed in evolution, that in his opinion God made the earth, and humans are certainly not descended from monkeys. It was like the Scopes trial all over again. It was like watching someone living in a fact-free universe. I wonder: does he know we share 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees? Or, for that matter, 50% of our DNA with bananas? Or that the mudworm is the human being's closest invertebrate relative? Does he know ANYTHING?

That's better. Thank you for letting me get that little piece of outrage off my chest. And now I am going to soothe myself by gazing again at those enchanting dancing cranes.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

This may be the best thing I have ever seen on the internet

If you want to do one thing to cheer yourselves up in this recession-wracked Christmas season, then watch this. It's four minutes of heaven.

Posted via email from taniakindersley's posterous

Friday, 18 December 2009

This is fabulous

The only sadness is that apparently it is at a plastic surgeon's office.

Posted via web from taniakindersley's posterous

The curative power of chicken soup

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

chicken soup in a bowl

As you may have gathered by now, I yield to no one in my faith in the healing power of chicken soup.  (My cousin says I must stop citing Italian and Jewish mothers as my witnesses in this regard, since it is just playing to stereotype, and if there is anything I hate more than a dangling modifier, it is an idle stereotype; so from now on, I mend my ways, and apologise unreservedly for past transgressions.) Anyway, there I was, all filled with Christmas gloom, which was not helped by the news this morning that last month Britain borrowed more money in one single 30 day period than at any time since RECORDS BEGAN, when I got the news that my poor niece was suffering with a hacking cough and a filthy cold.  'Should I make soup?' I ventured.  Soup, it seemed, would be the very thing.

At once I was galvanised.  The grumpiness melted away like snow on a sunny day.  I had a mission.  I would cure the patient with soup.  I had no time to rake over the catastrophic financial news and the inexplicable fact that everyone has had two years to prepare for the Copenhagen meeting, and yet no one can agree on anything, the radio reports that the talks are in 'chaos', and it looks like all those carbon emissions from private jets and presidential motorcades will have been emitted in vain.  I had a job to do.

There are as many recipes for chicken soup as there are mulish cooks who insist their version is the best.  I like the old English one with carrots and potatoes and onions.  I also adore the spicy citressy noodly ones of the East, which I make with chillies, the juice of a lime, coriander, mint, and glass noodles, in a sort of Thai/Vietnamese melange.  Sometimes I make a thick creamy one with mascarpone.  In a perfect world, one should start from scratch, simmering a whole chicken for a couple of hours with bay leaves and onions to cook the meat and produce the stock at the same time, but I had no bird in the fridge, and there was no time to go to the shop.  So I cheated, I do not mind admitting.  And because I wanted as many vitamins and minerals in the mix for the poor patient, I went with my green version.

Should you need to banish the winter blues, and only have half an hour to do so, here is the rough recipe.  Play around with it as you please.

Take two chicken breasts and poach them gently in simmering water with a tablespoon of Marigold bouillon powder.  Meanwhile, very finely chop an onion, two or three sticks of celery, and a couple of fat cloves of garlic.  Sweat them in extra virgin olive oil for five minutes or so.  I like to use olive oil in this recipe, because it gives a clean flavour to the broth.  I think butter would be too rich.  Then add about a litre of chicken stock if you have it, or water with a tablespoon of Marigold if you do not.  I do strongly recommend that you use no other stock cube or powder; all the others I have ever tried are too salty or too greasy. You can get Marigold now in almost every supermarket, and it really is the closest thing to proper stock I have ever tasted that comes out of a pot. 


Cook for fifteen minutes at a low boil.  Then add one finely sliced leek and simmer for another five minutes.  The fine chopping of all the ingredients is important, because you do not want great chunks of stuff floating around; it takes a little more time and concentration, but it really does make a tremendous difference.  It's a texture thing.

By now the chicken breasts will be ready.  Tear them or chop them into smallish pieces and add them to the soup.  And finally take a handful of watercress, chop roughly, and throw it in.  Cook for another couple of minutes, just so the leaves are wilted but still a vivid green.  Check for seasoning.  A good screw of black pepper is an excellent addition, although sometimes I like a little scatter of finely sliced dried chilli for a real kick.  If you feel strong enough, you can finish the whole thing off with a sprinkling of chopped parsley.

And there you are.

chicken soup in a pot

It is not as perfect a thing as the proper version with the stock from scratch, but it is quick and easy and still very delicious.  And if you are anything like me, the very making of it will make you feel suddenly as Christmassy as all get out.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Not very Christmassy

Posted by Tania Kindersley.


A lovely fellow I know called Henry, once, aged about five, turned around to his father at this time of year and said: 'Daddy, you are really not a very Christmassy boy.'  Like all those comic things that children say, it went  into the family lexicon, and, regardless of what season it was, any excessively grumpy or curmudgeonly person was observed with a raised eyebrow, and a solemn: 'he's not a very Christmassy boy.'  It was particularly satisfying when applied to stern politicians or other people of great importance. 

All of which is a good old throat-cleary way of saying that I am not Christmassy at all.  My schtick is that I love this time of year.  I'm not so keen on the actual day itself, because of all the pressure to be jolly (and I really do hate those bloody paper hats) but I love the season.  I like the decorating and bringing in of trees and choosing of presents and the sense of holiday in the air.  I like watching sentimental Christmas films.  I have dutifully decked the halls; I have even defied the credit crunch and ordered some wonderfully cheap champagne.  And this morning, in true festive spirit, the weather gods sent snow: there is a very real possibility that by the end of the day we might have a winter wonderland.

And yet, I am clumpy and grumpy.  I'd love to go all Pollyanna on your ass and talk about the blessings of the season, but instead I just feel mildly cross.  There is nothing for me to be cross about.  I have a new book deal and all my fingers and toes.  The perspective police are bashing down the door and reading me the riot act about how I am not living in the Congo.  I know they are damn well right.  But I am still mired in anomie. 

Personally, I blame the bankers.  I know; you weren't necessarily expecting that.  I'm not sure I was necessarily expecting that.  I know that blaming the bankers has become a national sport, so much so that there is actually a backlash against it, people coming slithering out of the woodwork saying oh come on, those old financial chaps aren't really so bad at all, they are just trying to get value for their shareholders.  It may seem excessively solipsistic to blame bankers for my own slight grumpiness.  But one of the things I have been doing since I got home is catching up on all the political programmes and podcasts that I missed while I was in the south.  Normally, it's my little secret geekish pleasure, but this time I indulged too much in one go, and now I am suffering the hangover. 

When I hear about the big banks awarding themselves record bonuses, and going straight back to all their terrifying habits, and not lending to small businesses despite having billions of government money, I despair.  In America, the banking lobby is spending millions and millions of dollars to fight any attempt at regulation while ordinary people are losing their homes and their jobs and their pensions.  Over here, serious people come onto The Daily Politics with Andrew Neil and explain that if pay is capped or bonuses taxed then the financial titans will just pick up and go to Lichtenstein.  Reform would just drive away all the talent, apparently.  Oh, oh, oh, I yell in frustration, it was that exact same talent which drove the entire capitalist system off the cliff in the first place.  It's not only bad policy, but it's an egregious abuse of the English language.  Talent, schmalent.

The people who know about these things are talking about a double dip recession, and a jobless recovery, and how nothing much has really changed.  They mutter darkly that all it would take is China to stop lending or another Dubai and everything goes crash all over again.  The politicians appear oddly toothless; no two economists can agree; the special interests flex their muscles in defiance of logic or social obligation. And I sit here and try my hardest to be jolly, but in the face of all that crazed stupidity I feel as if I am pushing a very heavy rock uphill in a headwind. I know that I should concentrate very hard on thinking beautiful thoughts, but I am starting to think that the only answer may be strong liquor. 

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Things I do not understand #47

Barack Obama
Posted by Tania Kindersley.

After all that, today turns out to be politics.  (Of course as a good feminist I believe the personal is political, so maybe every day is politics, but that's a whole other question.) 

Here is what I do not get: every year, in the richest, most powerful nation on earth, perhaps the only country on earth that was founded on an idea, 45,000 people die because they do not have health insurance.  This is not some crackpot figure plucked from the air by a crazed conspiracy theorist.  The number was arrived at after a rigorous study by the American Journal of Public Health, which doesn't sound to me like a Commie rabble-rousing publication.

When the twin towers fell, almost 3,000 people died.  In response to that tragedy, millions of dollars were spent, new agencies were created, America threw itself into a state of national emergency.  But when it loses 45,000 citizens annually, this great nation does…nothing.

It's not quite nothing.  A healthcare bill is winding its tortuous way through Congress.  Committees have sat and caucuses have been held.  A bill has been written, all 2,000 pages of it.  Endless clauses and provisions have been inserted, removed, rewritten, haggled over.  But even with possibly the most cerebral and talented president in three generations, America still has not got a law to reform its shockingly flawed healthcare system.  Even with a majority in both houses, the Dems cannot get what they want.  Even with the brilliant and aggressive Rahm Emanuel cracking heads up on the Hill, nine months have gone by, and the legislation is still tangled in the long grass.  The Republicans, whom the cynical believe are bought and paid for by the insurance companies, all say no.  (No, no, no, they say, getting crosser and crosser and redder and redder in the face, as if they never heard of such abomination.) The blue dog Democrats are digging in their doggy heels.  The inexplicable Joe Lieberman has just thrown the latest spanner deep into the works, causing the pundits to wonder if the whole thing may just roll over and die. 

I don't understand a word of it.  I don't understand why the most powerful man in the world cannot pass a damn bill.  I don't understand why health insurance companies can make profits in the billions while people are actually dying.  I don't understand why the right wing is shouting about communism and killing grandma.  I don't understand how the thousands of lobbyists who are fighting reform can look at themselves in the looking glass in the morning.  I do not understand what is going on in the curious mind of Joe Lieberman.

Tomorrow: what the hell is going on at Copenhagen.  Or maybe just a nice picture of the dogs.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

In which I start a new experiment

Posted by Tania Kindersley.


I have a slight fantasy about this blog, which is that really it is all about the abstract.  I am writing for you about politics, the war in Afghanistan, the very core of cooking, the fast evolving nature of Twitter, the complexity of being female in a post-feminist world.  See how plausible and important it all sounds.  It is one of those things about which people say: good on paper.  Which is an irony in itself, because of course none of this comes anywhere near paper.  It is merely words on a screen, flying out onto other screens, whose locations I cannot know.

The curious thing about having a blog which is not anonymous is that, in order to maintain some sense of privacy, I choose my subjects very carefully.  I don't want to give everything away.  I never wanted to do a diary kind of deal, partly because I did not think my life interesting enough - I am not a high class call girl or a politician or a climate change scientist - and partly because I wanted to hold something back.  Also, almost my biggest terror in life is boring people.  I sometimes think, in my more amoral moments, that I can forgive almost anything except wanton dullness, and one of the core beliefs of bores is that everyone wants to know about them.  Besides, the whole point of this blog was that it was to be an extension of Backwards in High Heels, which was expressly not about Sarah and me, but about the complex, fascinating, almost impossible to trace female experience in the early days of the 21st century.

And it's all very well, but of course I have given you endless pictures of the dogs, talked of my cousin, my godchildren, my lovely old mum; I have given you childhood memories and lists of favourite foods, all of which you have put up with with the most astonishing good humour.  Still, I have not quite done the one day at a time diary kind of thing.  I am starting to think there might be some more of that, for many reasons.  One is that I think a good blog gives something almost every day, and I cannot come up with a strongly expressed opinion each day of the week, however much I might shout at the Today Programme.  The other is partly due to you, my dear readers.  I know I do not always get it together to reply to all your incredibly kind and funny and supportive comments, but do not think for a moment that does not mean I do not appreciate every single one.  And I do get the sense that this is a form of conversation, which is what I always wanted it to be. 

So my new idea is that I am going to try and give you a little dash of prose each day, and it might be short, and it might not be highflown or even that polished, and it will certainly not be up to my own stupidly perfectionist standards, but maybe that is the point.  One of the most vivid reasons that Sarah and I wrote Backwards was that we thought there was a terrible crushing perfectionist imperative out there in the media, in the zeitgeist, in the very air, that said to The Women - if you are not doing it immaculately, you are failing.  We wanted to say, to shout: you can be your own flaky, quirky, absolutely less than perfect selves, and that is ALL RIGHT.  Much as we sometimes love reading magazines, we wanted to say: you do not have to be like the women in the magazines. 

Maybe it's something too about Christmas.  Christmas is the women's festival.  We are the ones who are supposed to get the perfect presents, cook the perfect turkey, decorate the perfect house, dress the perfect tree.  We are the ones who make the parents-in-law happy, and pull out the best linen, and make the bloody lists.  We are expected to be mythically organised.  At this time of year, whether we have children or not, we are expected to conform to every stereotypical mamma; we must deck the halls and not take too many nips at the sherry.   You know that I love the men, and categorically do not blame them individually for ten thousand years of patriarchy, but I must say that there is no equivalent masculine trope, at this time of year, of the harried lady, in her apron, making sure that every single thing is done.

So, in a celebratory sod the perfection spirit, I am going to see if I can give you a less than perfect but more frequent blog from now on.  We shall see what happens.  You are lovely honest people and if you hate it, you shall tell me soon enough. If you, like me, are feeling slightly less than Christmassy, a little grumpy, faintly baffled by the daily news, then you know where you can come.  I warn you now: I have entirely lost my inner Pollyanna.  But perhaps that is not the worst thing in the world.  We are living in a mad, mad world, my masters, and it may just be time for me to throw off my traditional idealistic cloak and brace myself for the cold water of reality.  Or not. 

Monday, 14 December 2009


Oh, at last I am home.  There are all the familiar elements of re-entry: the piles of post (junk, junk, junk, a CHEQUE! from AMERICA! in sexy DOLLARS!), the slight smell of must, the empty fridge which feels like a reproach, and must be filled as soon as possible.  I wander about, acquainting myself again with the house.  I get in piles of food and make soup.  I go a little fey, and squirt Ken Turner's lovely Christmas room spray all about, to drive out the scent of neglect.  I catch up on missed episodes of The Archers. (Don't ever let anyone tell you a writer's life is not wild and glamorous.) 

When I drive over the border, I always go a little teary when I see the Welcome to Scotland sign.  Sometimes I actually shout out loud, waking the dogs.  Always I get a physical shiver, the goosebumps of return.  It is for many complicated reasons, but perhaps the most obvious is the beauty.  Because this is what I see on my drive back:

London and driving home 047

On a clear day, you can see for miles, as if the whole country opens up before you like a book.  On Saturday, it was minus three with glittering sun and an evocative fog effect, as if a passing group of clouds had fallen onto the hills.

And I get to see this:

London and driving home 055

And this:

London and driving home 056

I'm not going out of my way, or taking the scenic route.  This is what the road back to my house passes through.  It's one of the great drives of the world.  And it just happens to be the way to my front door.  I don't take that for granted.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Small hiatus

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Please forgive a small pause while I let you all get on with your Christmas shopping.  There are forty-four things I would like to write about, including why the Today Programme allows men from large supermarkets to use the venerable BBC airways to spout self-promoting jargon, but there is no time.  I also appear to have acquired an iphone, which of course is currently baffling me, but which, I am assured, shall transform my life into a thing of bluebirds and butterflies.  Or at least always knowing what the weather is.

I shall return in a few days when there is time to sit down and type.  In the meantime, as is now becoming traditional, I leave you with a picture:

shirt and dogs 018

Or two:

shirt and dogs 038

Sunday, 6 December 2009

My father

Dad and Grampy wtih the drag

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I went to see my dad today.  He is almost eighty and his body is bashed all to hell from years of riding, and falling.  He broke his back and his neck twice, and the doctors said he would never ride again, but he did, in the Grand National, after months in a steel brace.  So everything hurts now.  He was never going to be the kind of man who might welcome age, see it as an excuse to retire into his study and read Pliny. (I once heard a thing on Radio Four about a retired clergyman teaching himself Ancient Greek at the age of 91 and have never quite forgotten it.)  My father's cerebral contortions these days consist of trying to win the Saturday accumulator.

It was sad to see him so thrashed by time, and when I got back to my cousin's house I wanted suddenly to remember him as he was, in his pomp.  He was incredibly strong and marvellously handsome when he was young (also very naughty and not at all safe in taxis).  And, wandering about on the internet, I found this photograph, taken by a gentleman called Edward Cazalet, of my father and grandfather when they were joint masters of the Mid-Surrey Farmers' Drag.  (For those of you unfamiliar with horses, drag in this context does not mean men in frocks, but hunting a laid scent instead of an actual fox.)  My dad is on the right, and my grandfather in the middle, and the man on the left is Ian Patullo, the whipper-in.

I adore this picture.  Not only does it show my old fa in his glittering youth, but also it gives us all a tremendous reminder of what a really good pair of britches should look like.  See how stern my tall grandfather looks (he had a voice that could carry for three fields), and how my father looks very slightly sheepish, almost certainly because he has a hangover and was up to no good the night before.  And my God, look at the polish on those boots. 

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Read of the day

This is slightly demoralising, but awfully true:
The most shocking number: the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan in shame and disarray after ten years. America and her allies have been there for eight.

Friday, 4 December 2009

A view from the sickbed

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Andrew Sullivan over at The Daily Dish has a lovely feature called A View from Your Window.  I am still in bed, not now ill ill so much as weak as a kitten.  I know I am not ready to charge back into action because even the most glorious blue winter's day cannot tempt me.  I am grumpy about this because of course I never get ill.  This is my fantasy and I am sticking to it.  I think it developed because one year everyone got whatever virus it was and I escaped; this crystallised my immunity in my mind, and no amount of empirical evidence will shift my underlying belief.  Which is curious in itself, because most of the rest of the time I am a devoted empiricist and go around boring people by telling them what a damn child of the Enlightenment I am, as if they needed to know.

Anyway, just to divert you, here is the view from my sickbed, in a lovely east-facing room in my cousin's house:

view from sickbed with dogs 006

I can also see this:

view from sickbed with dogs 008

And this:

view from sickbed with dogs 017

(I freely admit the whole dog thing is getting entirely out of control.)

Do you notice the amazingly chic dog blanket?  I got it from the marvellous Black-Faced Sheep in the village of Aboyne, which also makes excellent lattes and delicious cheesecake, so if you are ever motoring through Deeside, do stop and pay them a visit.

I am taking some chicken soup, so you will be glad to know that this weakness and whimsy shall soon pass and you shall have a proper blog again.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

No excuses

My mother says: 'I do like your blog.  I get very cross when there is a day without anything on it.'
I say: 'Mum, I did projectile vomiting in the night. Everything hurts. Even my fingers hurt.'
She says: 'Yes, well, drink a lot of water.' I can tell she would quite like to say, but does not: 'But a blog would be nice.'
First the baby got sick, and then the little Dancing Queen, aged seven, threw a fever, and finally, yesterday, the Random One (my godson, aged ten, who tells me proudly of his randomness, which I greatly encourage) developed a chest infection. Never mind,  I thought, I shall sail through it.  Then came the projectile vomiting in the night.
But as my mother implies, I cannot just leave you with nothing, so I type this from my bed with arthritic fingers, feeling like a very cross, very old lady.  All I can give you are some pictures, until I feel like a human again.
The sweet fellow I have been riding, a little scruffy from the field.  He is the most tremendous gentleman.
All the puppies together
All the dogs, together.  Those are my cousin's puppies on the left, and my old ladies on the right.  Quite amazing how much they look as if they are related, even though my girls came from Fort William, and the puppies were born near Stroud.
Olly and purdey
My lovely godson, the Emperor of Random, all curled up with one of my old girls.
Baby and Mango
The baby, reading her favourite toy catalogue (she loves a catalogue) while my other dog sits guard.
Ella and dogs
The little Dancing Queen, named for her extraordinary sense of rhythm, with both my dogs.
more puppies
And one more of the dogs, because you know I can't resist.  Mine in the middle, puppies flanking.
And now I am going to have a little rest.


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