Sunday, 28 February 2010

The dullness of received opinion

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I am so staggeringly bored by people saying how boring Henry Moore's art is. It is such a shallow, glib criticism. Sing another song, boys and girls, because this one has grown old and bitter.

I am not an art expert. I think Henry Moore created many objects of beauty. So sue me.

Here is the picture of the day, in honour of Hank:

Henry Moore reclining

And one more, just in case you are not bored enough:

Henry Moore thumb

Saturday, 27 February 2010

The oxtail, the oxtail

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I am in a slight state of hysteria after performing what I can only call an oxtail triumph. (There is no call for false modesty on such a banner day.)

I decided today was the day for the oxtails. As usual, I searched through my recipe books and the online cookery sites for the perfect recipe. As usual, I could not find quite what I wanted (although I was rather tempted by the idea of basil dumplings). As usual, I ended up making it up as I went along.

There appear to be as many oxtail recipes as there are cows. Interestingly, it is a big thing in Jamaica and China, which I would not have expected at all. I had always thought it confined to these rainy British islands, and hardly even here any more. It is one of the great dishes of my childhood, but now quite out of fashion. I was also quite surprised that Escoffier gives a recipe for it. I would have thought it far too humble for his refined sensibilities. So those were some cheap assumptions shattered.

The common thread appears to be a good long browning of the meat to start the thing, although then everyone degenerates into arguments over whether to use red wine or Guinness, to cook in the oven or on top of the stove, and how best to thicken the sauce. There are also differences over which vegetables are best.

My top priorities were flavour (obviously), but, above all, texture (I wanted it soft and melting and sticky).

Here is what I did:

First, I caught my oxtails. (Sorry; I can never resist my little Mrs Beeton joke.) I dredged them in flour and cooked them in a big frying pan with olive oil, until they were nice and brown all over. Sadly I had no chicken or beef stock, which would have been ideal, so instead I brought to the boil a big heavy pot of water, with some Marigold bouillon added for flavour. Into this I put nice chunks of carrot, celery and red onion. Once it was at a good simmer, I added the oxtails.

Then I went about my day, letting the thing cook and cook and cook. I kept it at 2 on my stove, which produced a perfect steady simmer. As with all stews, the heat must be kept low, or the meat will toughen. All the recipes say three hours, but I let it go for seven. This might seem theatrically excessive, but I found it achieved two vital things: it magically turned the stew beautifully thick and unctuous, and it brought utter tenderness to the oxtail.

In the last hour, I put in some thickly chopped leeks, some white wine for flavour, and two tablespoons of tomato passata. This last was not because I wanted any taste of tomato, but because it softens and very slightly sweetens the stew, which can veer towards the bitter with all that red meat. And then, I can hardly bear to write it, I added my excessively naughty secret ingredient: a tablespoon of Bisto granules. I know. Please do not faint away in horror. I hardly believe I have even admitted that in public. But it performed the excellent function of thickening and darkening, and I am not going to apologise for that.

If I were to be a perfectionist, next time I might remove all the ingredients with a slotted spoon, turn up the heat, and reduce the sauce so that it is thick enough to stand a spoon in, but today I could not wait another moment. A scattering of Maldon Salt and a je ne sais quoi of chopped parsley and the thing was done. It was so delicious I exclaimed out loud. It was tender and comforting and reminiscent of another age. I cannot recommend it more for a cold winter's day.

Next time, I might even go mad and try to do the dumplings.

Sadly, I have no photograph, because I can't find my camera, but I must admit it is not exactly a thing of beauty anyway. I leave it to your vivid imaginations.

Instead, the picture of the day is a cautionary tale from the front row of the Burberry show in New York. Whoever said fashion was not fun?

Front row of Burberry show

If ever there was a bunch of women in need of a good oxtail stew, this is it. And, it's the coldest winter in twenty years, should someone not tell them it's all right to put on a pair of tights? Who decided bare legs were a good idea in February? I want to wrap them in blankets and feed them up. I'm not at all certain that the price of fame is worth paying if it involves uncomfortable shoes and goosebump thighs, but then I'm a little old-fashioned like that.

Friday, 26 February 2010

In which I declare an interest

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I suddenly realise it is positively perverse that I have not written a word about British politics since May, despite it being the most febrile and fascinating political season since the Old Queen died. And I suddenly realise why. It is that: some of my best friends are Tories.


Actually, it should not make a blind bit of difference. The two I love the most are serious men of conviction who are far too busy trying to work out thorny policy problems to pay attention to flaky blogs. But you see, I am an unreconstructed old lefty liberal bleeding heart. I think I have been hampered by an absurd subliminal desire not to upset my right of centre buddies.

Luckily, the truth will set you free, and now I have worked out this fabulously stupid reluctance to overturn any applecarts, it is going to be psephology a go-go. Obviously with a bit of dog thrown in. I am not abandoning first principles.

Actually, what I want to talk about is in fact slightly related to dogs. It is what political geeks like me call the dog whistle. Dog whistle politics is a right wing phenomenon which some people say was invented by an Australian called Lynton Crosby, who was the Karl Rove to ex-prime minister John Howard. It was a sinister way for the Right to say hard-line things whilst sounding perfectly reasonable. In the last election, the Tory leader Michal Howard (no relation) used it when he asked: 'Are you thinking what we are thinking?' It had a nasty little taint of John Bull to it, an underlying suggestion that maybe all those pesky foreigners were coming over here and taking the jobs and stealing the women. To its great credit, the good British public took not the blindest bit of notice.

The new Tories have, I think, decided to go back to their One Nation roots, and are now talking about things like social inclusion and co-operatives. They have put the Little Englander dog whistle in a drawer. But the irony is that it is still working against them.

The great puzzle of the last month is why the Conservatives are not miles ahead in the polls. The economy is trashed, unemployment is a joke, the prime minister is being accused of bullying, cussing, briefing against his own chancellor and generally going bonkers. It reminds me of what Evelyn Waugh once said about James Joyce: 'You can hear him going mad, sentence by sentence.' The whole administration seems tired and cranky and out of ideas. Even old Labour loyalists like me look at the debt and look at the war and think: what is the party for? And there are the Tories, all clean and respectable and untainted by power. They don't seem to be scared by women and homosexuals and people who are not Anglo-Saxon any more. Why not give them a go?

And just as I am thinking this perfectly reasonable thing, I turn on the television and there is Ann Widdecombe. (For my international readers: she is of the ship in full sail school of politics; old Tory to her fingertips; religious; Manichean; proud to be a battleaxe.) 'Will you cut the size of the state?' Andrew Neil asks her. Cuts are the absolute battleground at the moment, but the usual thing is to hedge and be diplomatic about it, to talk of how the lovely nurses and teachers and soldiers and policeman must be protected, while the evil quangos must go and ghastly bureaucracy be slashed. But Miss Widdecombe did not get the memo. 'Oh yes,' she says, with indecent glee, in her strange querulous voice. And the dog whistle blows. I think: I can't I can't I can't. In a feverish liberal panic I imagine thousands of poor civil servants begging on the streets. I think: the Conservatives have not changed at all; they still hate and loathe government and we shall all be thrown on the mercy of the free market, which is as ruthless and unpredictable as a gangland killer with a pocket full of razor blades. This is what the whistle does: it flings sensible centrist people like me into a frenzy of hyperbole.

I think this is what is doing the Tories in. The old guard is let out, blinking, into the light and, without meaning to at all, blows the whistle, and everyone runs inside and bolts the doors and contemplates sticking with the devil they know.

The most interesting and least known thing about David Cameron is that his hero is Robert Peel. Peel is my hero too. When I was reading history, all young and foolish and idealistic, I worshipped Peel like other people adored pop stars. He might not have won any charm contests, but he stood up, almost alone, to the howling might of the vested interests when he repealed the egregious Corn Laws in 1846. He put the people before politics. He placed the national interest above loyalty to his own class. He split his party rather than do the wrong thing. There should be parades for him. That's a Tory that all good people can believe in. I think the central question of this election is whether Peel will trump Widdecombe. I admit that no one else in the entire political firmament is asking this question. I admit it might be the wrong question altogether. But it is the one to which I would most like the answer.

Picture of the day is in honour of the great Sir Robert:

Sir Robert Peel by Sir Thomas Lawrence

And his magnificent wife Julia, who he adored:

Julia Peel

Bonus facts about Sir Robert Peel:

As well as repealing the Corn Laws, he also passed the Factory Act, which protected women and children from the worst depredations of ruthless industrialists, emancipated the Catholics, and invented the police force, which is why they are called Bobbies to this day.

Thursday, 25 February 2010


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Did not sleep much last night so have no coherent or useful thoughts for you. As always after a night of insomnia, I attempted to restore myself with an indulgent breakfast. In honour of the glory and necessity of breakfast, I present to you what I, with utter lack of any kind of humility, think is the perfect Egg Bread. (I think that some people call this French Toast, although I should say that no French person would be seen dead eating it.)

Take two slices of thick brown bread. White is too mere for this, and will disintegrate under the weight of the egg. Whisk up two eggs with a pinch of salt. The eggs should be as fresh and free range as you can manage. Some people will tell you to add milk; ignore them. Leave the bread to soak for five minutes; it is very important that it is absolutely saturated, or there will be a dull bready dryness at their heart, which is most demoralising. Put a large frying pan on a medium to high heat; add a dollop of olive oil.  Some people like to use butter, but I find it burns. Carefully put the slices of bread in and fry for about four minutes each side, until crisp and golden brown. Anoint with butter. This is no time for half measures. You can have yoghurt and berries tomorrow. Eat. (You may need a pinch of Malden Salt and a screw of black pepper for perfection. I leave that to you.)

Egg bread 004

PS Through my brain haze I have a sudden horrible feeling that the majestic LibertyLondonGirl did a recipe for this exact thing a few weeks ago; so if you follow both of us, I do apologise for the redundancy.

Tomorrow I promise I shall be sharp and rested.

PPS I have bought some oxtail in honour of the excessively wintry weather; have not cooked it in a hundred years so if any of you have a delightful oxtail recipe, I should be most grateful. I like it sticky and unctuous and falling off the bone, so I am thinking a very long gentle stewing would be the thing.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Now completely obsessed with Treo the dog

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

If you have the capacity, do watch glorious Treo the army sniffer dog get his medal for gallantry here:

It may be the sweetest thing currently on the internets. Someone should make it a massive You Tube hit.

Picture from the Press Association, via the BBC news website.

And since we are on the subject

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

It's a dog day, what can I tell you?

The tremendous Treo the army Labrador is getting a medal, for sniffing out explosives and saving many soldiers' lives. There is nothing I love more than a proper working dog, and this fellow is doing some serious work.

Treo the dog

Report in The Guardian here:

And more from Major Paul Smyth's excellent Helmand blog here:

Lovely quote from Treo's handler, Sergeant Dave Heyhoe: 'He is also a very good friend of mine. We look after each other.'

I try, without a vast amount of success, not to get too sentimental about dogs. I remind myself they are animals, not humans, and to anthropomorphise them does no good for their dignity, or ours. But, as anyone knows who has a canine, they do bring a very particular and heart-expanding kind of love. And in the case of this marvellous creature, they can actually save your life.

Dogs and snow, dogs and snow, dogs and snow

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Title of post to be sung to the tune of 'Here We Go'.  Of course.

I should be writing about freedom of the press, which seems to be today's hot topic. I could do you a little essay about the price we pay for liberty, because nothing comes without a price, although there is some odd magical thinking going on at the moment which seems to imagine that this is not the case. My theory:  if you want a free press, you have to read some things which make your stomach churn. It's the exact same philosophy as freedom of expression: if you really want it, you must put up with people saying things that make you want to throw heavy objects. So really there is not much of an essay there after all, more a haiku. It seems that the answer to the question 'Do you want a free press?' must be 'Yes'. Or, you can go and live in Russia, where journalists get shot with guns.

Turns out I was slightly crosser about that than I thought.

Instead of tangled arguments about liberty and constraint, I am instead going back to my true and tried theme of weather and canines. The snow has come again, and I can't help but be oddly excited. The woods are gloriously still, making me think of Narnia and Mr Tumnus (odd how some of that childhood reading dies so hard), and the dogs are beside themselves with excitement.  There is something about the white stuff that turns them at once into romping puppies instead of stately old ladies. Also, it gives my friend Sophie who lives in Santa Monica a little taste of old Blighty, and she has had a horrid time lately and needs all the cheering up she can get. So these are for Soph, and all of you who occasionally miss a bit of good British weather:

This is a slightly absurd attempt at an artistic shot from under my umbrella. There is an old idea that only vicars are allowed to use umbrellas in the countryside (some crazy class thing) which I very much enjoy subverting:

snow February 24th 002

Lights, camera, ACTION:

snow February 24th 008

Go, go, go:

snow February 24th 009

That's quite enough of that racing about, thank you so very much:

snow February 24th 011

C. S. Lewis magical woods:

snow February 24th 019

snow February 24th 006

snow February 24th 022

And one more dog, because I can't resist:

snow February 24th 032

Whoever said blogging was a massive exercise in self-indulgence? It's practically a public service.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

A tiny harbinger of spring

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

The first snowdrops are here. I am quite beside myself with excitement. It was MINUS ELEVEN yesterday, and yet these minute delicate little creatures are somehow defying the arctic temperature and getting ready to unfold themselves. Nature is a bloody miracle, I don't care how many times I say it.

So no prizes for guessing the picture of the day:

snowdrops 001

This is just by my back door, on a patch of rough ground that runs away from a dry stone wall. No one planted them there, they just grew, for the hell of it.

As you can see, the excitement was infectious:

snowdrops 015

(Surely an action shot worthy of Kathryn Bigelow.)

The other old lady was more about dignity on the monument:

snowdrops 007

And then, as if all that was not enough, there were some crazy mackerel skies, for a tea-time treat:

snowdrops 027

snowdrops 033

It's enough to bring out the Dr Pangloss in a girl.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Let us now praise famous men.

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Or rather, one famous man.

Colin Firth in A Single Man

I was going to do a meaty political post today, because I have been slight and domestic lately, but then the entirely enchanting Colin Firth went and won an award and gave the finest acceptance speech I have ever heard. It was polite and funny and graceful, which is a rare combination. So today must be salute to him.

I usually find myself bored to catatonia by awards ceremonies; where I used to love the glitz in my feckless youth, I now see dullness and self-congratulation. I can't bear the fact that all the women must do an obligatory beauty parade, because skin tone and fashion sense shall take precedence over any actual acting talent. I find the tears painful. This awards season, I have been even grumpier than usual, on account of someone deciding that a bloated epic about blue people must have prizes. (I never understood how anyone could take James Cameron seriously after the agonising boredom of Titanic. 'Just SINK already,' I furiously shouted at the screen.)

But last night there was nothing much on, and I ended up half watching the BAFTAS, whilst doing other things. I remained unmoved by the Twilight girl and the Inglourious Basterds fellow ( if there is one immutable rule in life, it is:- never, ever, refer to yourself in the third person). Then, suddenly, I found myself minding like hell that the best actor went to the best actor, and that best actor was clearly Colin Firth. They won't do it, I thought. They'll get all dazzled by the wagon of charm and twinkle that is George Clooney, or they'll get sentimental about Ian Dury and give it to Andy Serkis. They'll be horridly prejudiced against Tom Ford, because he criminally once designed a frock, and he's just too handsome and suave for his own good. They'll get distracted by the perfection of the suits. And do you know, they didn't. They didn't do any of those things, and the right man won, and I actually found myself shouting at the screen: GOOD DECISION, BAFTA. Good decision. And for a bonus, we got a lovely, ironic speech about fridges and fragrance, and not a theatrical tear in sight.

Colin Firth Bafta by Jon Furniss 

(Photograph by Jon Furniss).

I sometimes think that the reason Firth does not quite get the credit he deserves as an actor is that he is a fatal combination of good-looking and self-deprecating. People were so blinded by the sight of him in britches that they forgot to notice how damn good he was as Mr Darcy. He'll do a little light comedy on the side and happily send himself up. He does not ever speak of his craft, but makes jokes instead. If you want to see him at his most brilliant, hunt down a copy of A Month in the Country. This is possibly in my top ten films of all time, and he is so restrained and moving in it that he pulls your heart right out of your chest. It was very early in his career, but it and A Single Man form a pair of perfect bookends; in both, impossible grief is signalled by the flicker of an eyelid.

Kenneth Branagh and Colin Firth in A Month in the Country

As a bonus, you also get a very young Kenneth Branagh (left) and a lovely, delicate Natasha Richardson. There is ravishing countryside, a glorious score, and a few universal truths thrown in for good measure. Everything is in what is not said. It is one of those unusual films that treats its audience like grown ups.

So here is to Mr Colin Firth and all who sail in him, and the clever people at BAFTA, who chose correctly.

Sunday, 21 February 2010


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Picture of the day.

The blue hill, in the gloaming:

February 21st 002

At this precise moment, I feel exactly how that picture looks: quite calm and still.

Saturday, 20 February 2010


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Yesterday was a flat day. They come, every so often, for no reason I can identify. I like proper emotions. I like happiness, obviously, and joy, and intense interest. I embrace melancholy, which I like to think comes from my Irish blood (and even a tiny teaspoon of Danish, so I can go all Hamlet on you when the mood is in me). But I hate flatness.  It is what my friend Sophie calls the shallow trough. It is what the Americans, with expressive brevity, call blah. That's why I did not write a post.

Today, the sun is shining, the snow is glittering, and Scotland is in her pomp. There has been a tremendous pre-prandial party in honour of the excellent visiting relatives. Champagne at noon, never let it be said I forget how to be decadent. I got the good conversation, which I sometimes think is all I need. I have no talent for small talk, but there was no danger of that. We spoke of food, physics, James Joyce, the nature of the English, and the perils of sentimentality. (Sentimentality is unearned emotion, said one of the relatives, which I thought the best description of it I ever heard.) Now I must drink black coffee as thick as treacle and clear my head and get some work done.

In the meantime, here is a quick snapshot of the glorious weather:

snow and dogs January 8th 043

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Quickly, at random

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Forgive unseemly haste; today I lost time. The sun shone on the snow; it grew colder; Sarah and I competed on the telephone to see which of us could be the most feminist (high scoring draw, I should say).

For some reason, I kept thinking of the number of things which seem to be enthralling quite a lot people, but in which I have absolutely no interest. Here is my list:

Whatever it was that Sir Nicholas Winterton said about the trains.

Whether Simon Cowell is engaged or not. In fact, anything at all about Simon Cowell. He may be the least interesting man in Britain, apart from Geoff Hoon.

Jordan. The person, not the country.

Lindsay Lohan.

Whether Tiger Woods' wife will take him back. Tiger Woods is nearly as dull as Simon Cowell.

The winter Olympics.

Lady Ga Ga, and whether she is secretly a man. (I know it is sacrilege to say so, but I fail to see the fascination on any front.)

Steve Jobs. If I had magic powers, I would make Simon Cowell, Steve Jobs and Tiger Woods all go and live on an island somewhere in the south Atlantic where they can bore each other into extinction. And Mr Jobs can take his idiot ipad with him. (Did not realise I was quite so grumpy about that. But the hype, the hype.)

The John Terry scandal. Footballer shags someone not his wife. Hold the phone. Although I do feel a bit sorry for Mrs Terry.

Anna Wintour. Tried to watch The September Issue, but she is so dull. That sad pinched little face makes me want to cry. Someone needs to take her out, get her plastered, and make her sing I will survive on the karaoke machine.

The Brits. In fact all awards shows. I can't believe that back in the day my friend Hugh and I used to stay up all night to watch the Oscars.

Anything Liam Gallagher might choose to say next.

There. All better now. I apologise for a distressing excess of italics.

In the meantime, your picture of the day:

Edward Dimsdale Road, East of England


Isn't it heaven? It is by a man called Edward Dimsdale and it is called Road, East of England, and I found it on a blog called Suicide Blonde. I thought it was taken in the forties; it had that evocative feeling of a world that has gone. Then I looked up Edward Dimsdale and it turns out he is only two years older than I, and he took this in 1997. I think he has a stunning eye. So that's my discovery of the day.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

And on a calmer note…

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Today was a calm day. The sun shone serenely on the snow. There are lovely relatives here, and I went to visit.  My younger niece is home for half term, with a fierce new fringe. Tonight, there is a slender new moon hanging over the pines like a tiny beacon of hope.

I made an early supper of fish with peas and bacon. I know it does not sound the most enticing idea in the world, but there was some responsibly caught cod on special offer in the shop, and I was unsure what to do with it. Officially, I hate cod, but I get terribly cross with people who decide they dislike certain foods and refuse ever to touch them and do that special sneering face when you even mention the name of the stuff, so every so often I make myself try something I do not adore. And it was on special offer. Those words are like a beacon to me. So I flipped through my cookery books and ran about on the internet and, as usual, refused to take one perfectly fine recipe and follow it, as a normal person might, but got a few ideas and then made it up as I went along.

I still do not worship cod, even if it is fished from sustainable stocks by saintly Icelanders, but this was quite good. I imagine you might do it with any firm white fish.

Take a couple of handfuls of cubed pancetta and fry it up. Turn the heat down, throw in some ribbons of lettuce (very important to slice them as finely as you can), some chopped garlic and a handful of frozen petit pois. Cook for about four or five minutes until everything is tender. You could add a pinch of dried chilli if you felt like it. At the end, add a little good olive oil, for flavour and texture. Check for seasoning: the pancetta is salty, so you will only need a very tiny bit of sea salt, if any at all.

Meanwhile, fry the fish in olive oil for about three minutes each side.

And that's it.  Really quite a grown up supper for a cold Wednesday night.

February 2009 043

And here is a slightly blurry shot of the new moon, so you can wish on it:

February 2009 029

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Here be rantings

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I should not do this.  I should not.  I can quite easily stop typing and walk away and put up a nice picture of baby penguins and there will be no trouble. But, oh, oh, oh, I can't. I have to get cross about God. Or, more precisely, his representatives here on earth. I am not quite built sturdily enough to be a true contrarian, although I think quite a lot of contrary things (and live them too; you just try refusing to have children and wait until you get the womb comments). I do not especially enjoy stirring up controversy.  I am absurdly conscious of people's tender feelings, and do not wish to trample on them.

My atheism is a quiet, deeply felt thing. It is not of the shouting in the marketplace variety. It came to me when I was fourteen, and has never left. It does not make me dismiss all religious people as wrong. I do not hold them responsible for the ills done in religion's name, any more than I would hold atheists responsible for Stalin. One of the best men I ever met in my life was a priest called Father Gary. It's just that I cannot believe in a good God when there are earthquakes and tsunamis and genocide and child rape and people dying needlessly of diseases which any pharmaceutical company could stop with a click of its fingers.  Can't do it. I listened to a prelate trying to explain Haiti on the Today Programme a few weeks ago and there was nothing there that made any sense. He kept speaking of Jesus coming down to earth, as if that made it all all right that 200,000 people were dead.

So what usually happens is that I trundle along, not believing, whilst trying to understand people who do. It is the exhausting liberal in me, which insists on seeing all sides of an argument. And then something happens which makes me so cross that I must shout, and there is a danger of startling the horses. Today it came in the unlikely form of the Bishop of Swindon. Swindon is more famous for its mini-roundabouts than its deep philosophical thought, but for some reason The World at One decided that its bishop was the man to pronounce on the argument over assisted dying. This has been smouldering along for months now, but has sparked back into life after a man told the BBC this morning that he killed his lover, who was dying, agonisingly, of AIDS.

It is an incredibly delicate ethical area, and thoughtful people are right to address it with care. Oddly, although I see nuance in almost everything, I think it a fairly simple moral proposition that if someone is stricken with a mortal sickness, and is in unimaginable pain, it should be legal to give them an overdose of morphine, so that they may die with dignity. This seems to me an act of humanity and grace. I understand that there are dangers, and slippery slopes, and the old canard about venal children bumping off grandma so they can get the silver. I understand that you cannot just say, sure, kill the sick people all you like, here's the syringe. I understand any new legislation must be written with the utmost care by the highest legal minds. I understand there must be all manner of caveats. What I do not understand is how someone can refuse even to countenance the idea because of their own personal belief system. To insist that someone else must suffer because of what you have read in your own chosen book appears to be the opposite of goodness and kindness. This is what the church is saying. There is no argument: it is just flat wrong, because God says so.

And so the Bishop must be invited onto the radio, and must dismiss any notion that helping someone in great pain to go gently into that good night is an understandable act. He must be listened to with great reverence, because he is a man of the cloth; he gets the trump card in ethics simply because of his church. I am sure he is a good and moral man, but he is not being asked to pronounce because of his own character or expertise or intellect, but merely because of his position. He is part of an organisation that discriminates against women (see the fury currently running about the idea of women bishops, as if the ladies will sully the mitre by the very fact of having ovaries) and homosexuals (do not even get me started on the God hates Fags crowd). Yet he is allowed to insist that a person in screaming agony must gasp out their last breaths, from day to day, to please his idea of what is right. How can it be right to force a guttering life, which has nothing left in it but suffering, to run to a few extra days or weeks, simply because of something someone wrote in a book two thousand years ago? It seems to me monstrous selfishness. And so I end up shouting at the radio, like one of those crazed old women who don't get out enough.

So much for the whimsy, and the penguins. I have been serious, that great British sin. I must return at once to irony, where it is safe. I apologise for the interruption in normal transmission. And if any horses were startled during the making of this programme, I apologise for that too.

Now for the picture of the day. I know this is a bit simplistic and bumper-stickery, and certainly written by a person who has not necessarily struggled with the raging torrents of metaphysics, but as an ethical frame to live by, it's not a bad one to come up with in only seven words:

Desk from Home Sweet Home.

(Via Home Sweet Home.)

Monday, 15 February 2010

What is blogging FOR?

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

The marvellous Miss Whistle had a little existential cri de coeur over at her blog the other day. In a typically eloquent and interesting post, she wondered, essentially, whether she was doing it right. It is a question I ask myself each day about this whole enterprise, but I was surprised that she might ever question herself; her blog seems so assured and polished and endlessly fascinating.  In some ways, I loved that she had her moment of doubt, because it made me feel better about my own. (I think it is not just in blogging but in life that women often ask themselves if they are doing it right; much of the media seems devoted to telling us that we are not, which is the exact reason that Sarah and I sat down and wrote Backwards in the first place, although that is a whole other story.)

Most of the time, I feel as if I have absolutely no idea what I am doing here. I admit that I started this blog with the cunning plan of making the book go viral.  I wish I could offer you higher motives and beautiful humanitarian thoughts; I wish I were pure driven altruism. Backwards was my comeback book after years in the wilderness.  I was very stoical in the wilderness, you would have been proud of me, but in the end it bored me. I wanted to be seen again. I wanted, desperately, for the book to be a success. It felt like the last chance saloon, and I was going to do everything I could think of to make this bird fly. So: blogging. I thought if I could be interesting enough than people would go out and buy the book; they would tell their online friends; I would tear through the ether like a tornado, and all manner of things would be well.

Of course, it did not quite work like that. I occupy a very tiny space in the blogosphere, and I should wager that everything I do there does not really affect my book sales one way or the other. And yet, almost a year on, I keep on doing it. It turns out, I love it for its own sake. It might not, in the filthy expression of the marketing people, build my brand, but it makes me happy. It seems that there are as many reasons for blogging as there are blogs; there is no Platonic template. There are passion projects and commercial projects and crusading projects.  There are places where the fashionistas and politicos can go to share their obsessions; there are the sites where the geeks may geekishly gather and chat their techno heads off.  There are some which are ravishing aesthetic concerns and some which feel more like the enchantingly old-fashioned commonplace book.  I keep thinking if I concentrate hard enough I might end up doing it right, but I am not certain if there actually is a right.

In the end, the blogs I love the most offer glimpses into other people's lives. They are tiny snapshots, scattered across the world, of different possibilities. The grouchy old media people call this solipsism and narcissism; I say you could turn that right around and call it an act of simple generosity. In the harried rushing modern world, we all need to feel we are not alone. People do this in many ways: through friendship or reading or family. The blog is one more arrow in the arsenal; when you read something honest and heartfelt with which you may identify, you give that little sigh of recognition and relief which says: that's all right then. I wish I could put it more eloquently. I think I mean that it's all about connection, which sounds corny but is vital for the full functioning of the human heart.

This thing never became the great glittering perfect object of which I once dreamed. Like Backwards, it was supposed to be an artefact for the Women, and all the important subjects were going to be covered.  Insensibly, it turned into dogs and food and pictures of Scottish beauty, and little rants and sudden tangents and moments of whimsy and bursts of fury. The evil perfectionist in me still mutters: could do better. The flawed human in me says: as long as you go on kindly reading, perhaps it is all right.

Picture of the Day is from The Sartorialist.  It is a lady called Renata, in Milan.  I want to be like her when I grow up.
Renata Milan from The Sartorialist

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

St Valentine's Day is of course an artificial, manufactured, cynical marketing exercise.  It is a way to make every woman feel bad about her life. If she is single on the 14th of February, she is sad and unloved. If she is coupled, it gets more complicated. Should the other half forget this banner day, or get the dreaded petrol station flowers, then of course her relationship is at once officially hollow and meaningless.  On the other hand, if the beloved other pushes out all the boats - a trip to Paris, say - then she might grow suspicious at such overkill and start going through pockets for hidden receipts.  The only answer is the Goldilocks solution: not too flash, not too meagre, but just right. Although who is to say what right is?

But for some reason I feel not sceptical at all today.  Who knows where these sudden moods come from? I think: why not make it a day not about cheap romance but celebrating the love in general.  (Perhaps this is because I just went to the funeral of someone who knew a lot about love; for family, dogs, garden, Ireland, the countryside, the making of the darkest and most luscious damson jam.) I think: let us all count the ways, today. Love, as Sarah and I wrote emphatically in Backwards, does not just mean the romantic sort. It is bigger and better and more various than that.  It is more interesting than that.

So on this absurd day, for no particular reason, I am driven to make a list, of all my loves. 

In no special order they are:

Scotland; my dogs; my old mum; my friends; my sister; my nieces; my godchildren; my enchanting cousin G. I love this place that I live, and the people who live here (it is a little commune, although not in the hippie sense of the thing). I love small, random things: my ability to type 75 words a minute; the making of soup; the National Portrait Gallery; the plays of Chekhov; the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson; Mahler's Fifth symphony.  I love National Hunt racing and the sky at night and the moment the swallows come back from Africa in the spring.  I love the Bar Italia, and Soho in general, especially early on a sunny morning, before the crowds come, when the streets are wet and clean and there is a low hum of expectation in the air.  I love the drive up to Tomintoul, where the mountains open up like a book and I can go for half an hour without seeing a human. I love my little Picasso lithograph, which I could not quite afford, but bought anyway, on a shockingly irresponsible whim. I love linen sheets and small vases of scarlet tulips and the stand of Scots pines that lives in the centre of my garden. I love first editions and political intrigues and the semi-colon.  I have an unaccountable fondness for sheep. I love good red wine and spaghetti with clams and double espresso in thick white cups. I love thoughtful old men and rebellious cussed women. I love newspapers and the BBC. I love the British sense of humour. I love the sea and the coast of Connemara and a cold pint of Guinness. I love Georgian houses and oxbow lakes and being alone. It turns out, rather unexpectedly, that I love the blogosphere, whatever the grumpy old media types have to say about it, and I hold a special place in my heart for my dear readers. As you may have gathered by now, I have an odd adoration of a good list.

I could go on, but I think that's quite enough of that.

And finally, in this spirit of whimsy which seems to have gripped me today, I give you an entirely gratuitous picture of the day, of too sweet by half polar bears, just because I can:

Stupidly sweet polar bears

Happy Valentine's Day.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

And at last I am…


These are the faces that greeted me, slightly grumpy that they missed a road trip:



Friday, 12 February 2010


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

My darlings, I cannot apologise enough.  I just went and buggered off without a word of warning. There was a funeral; there was a drive of over five hundred miles; there was sadness and the consolation of old friends; there was no wireless. Until very recently when I said wireless I meant the radiophonic device, because I was a bit affected like that; now, of course, I mean the capacity to connect to the internet when I am in the middle of a field

I am halfway home now. I got up at five thirty and tried to do it in one go, but Fridays going north are a zoo, and I suddenly ran out of all physical and mental energy somewhere north of Lancaster. I can hardly write this my fingers are so crabbed and old and my mind so fogged with too much emotion. I was going to wait until tomorrow, when I got back to my desk and felt like a rational human again, but all the church bells are going off.  For some reason I felt very strongly that I must tell you that.  I am in a little market town in Lancashire, lying in bed, about to go to sleep for my early start tomorrow, and every single church bell is chiming its head off. I have no idea why.  Maybe Friday 12th February is a high day in Kirkby Lonsdale.  Maybe they do this to celebrate the beginning of every weekend.  Maybe they are all crazy fashionistas, marking the passing of Alexander McQueen.

Whatever it is, it is making me smile.

kirkby lonsdale

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Things to make you go aah

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

There has been low grade drizzle outside for the last three days.  The landscape looks drowned, it has been so drenched by the snow melt coming down off the hills and bursting the banks of the burn.  There is not even a suggestion of anything living; no bud, no furled leaf, no nothing. Everything is brown.  The sky is the colour of old dishcloths.  On Tuesday I must drive five hundred miles to a funeral. I am spending far too much time contemplating mortality. In other words: I am gloomy as fuck.

This is normally the stage where I call in the Perspective Police (you may read about them in Backwards, where they get a whole little section to themselves). They duly bash down the door and tell  me firmly I am not living in Chad; no dodgy Ukranian is selling me into sexual slavery; I have all my arms and legs; I live on more than a dollar a day.  But sometimes, just sometimes, I can't be fagged with the bloody perspective police.  They do make such a mess when they shatter the doorframe with that phallic black metal device they like to use.  Also, they are very busy, and so sometimes can get brusque and shouty.  They have even been known to grow sarcastic: middle-class white women gets a bit down in the mouth because it won't stop raining, big whoop.

This, I discover, is where the internets come in, because sometimes actually what you need is a bit of frivolity and eye candy and ephemera and a cute picture of a penguin. Nobody does penguins better than the blogs, it turns out.  So here, on a dark day in February, is my selection of cheering up loveliness and absurdity. I have to have something to take my mind off the looming sovereign debt crisis which is about to sink Europe.

I love The Sartorialist, one of the best and most simple and elegant sites out there in blogland, and I love this fellow standing in the middle of Paris like he invented it:

Sartorialist Parisian gentleman


One of my newly discovered blogs is a snippy, snappy, sceptical site called Jezebel. It put up this hysterical vintage ad a couple of days ago, with the drop-dead tagline - 'you was exhibitionist dog owners, too':

Crazy ladies from Jezebel


Boing Boing had something to make the grammarian in me (never far from the surface) laugh:



Overheard in New York appealed to my inner sceptic (we can't all be hearts and flowers and polar bears every day of the damn week):

Greenpeace guy: Hey, sign this petition!
Girl in black: No, thanks.
Greenpeace guy: It's to save the Earth!
Girl in black: Fuck the Earth.
Greenpeace guy: But what about the children?
Girl in black: Fuck the children.

--7th Ave & 25th
Overheard by: NSC


District of Chic had a glorious picture of a Miss Louise Ireland and a Miss Helen Marve, getting ready to play polo in 1925. I don't know quite why I love it so much. It's not just the old school style. I think it's because even now polo is still regarded as a game for the fellows. Women do play, but it belongs to the men. So these two must have been quite some girls to glide into that male sanctum all those years ago. I like that they look deprecating but pretty determined about it. Also, anything with a couple of good horses in it always makes me feel better:

Lady polo players


And finally, there is my daily dose from Pixdaus. Pixdaus is one of the most frustrating and brilliant sites on the entire interweb. It is brilliant because it has a wonderful collection of thousands of photographs, and I love something pretty to look at when the rain won't stop falling.  It is maddening because it has no text. The photographers are often not credited, the locations are almost never named; there is no context, no date, no explanation of any damn thing. I want to know who, why, what, where, how.  Also, there is an awful lot of dross, and some inexplicable pictures of ladies playing musical instruments in the weather without many clothes on. It is like shopping in Woolworths in the old days: if you rummage about enough, you find the occasional gem. Today's gem is of penguins, of course. And not any old penguins, but baby penguins. Try and feel cynical while staring at this:

Baby penguins by Tone

There. That's better.

Saturday, 6 February 2010


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

For some reason, I am really glad that there are houses out there with grass on the roof.  I'm not certain I would want to live in one (how would you mow it?), but I'm oddly pleased that they exist.  I have no idea where this one is, but it's very splendid.

From Sabino at Home Sweet Home

From Sabino at Home Sweet Home.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

At Last

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

At very long last, eight days later than promised, THE VITAL PART ARRIVED.  You have no idea how good it feels to type that. The story is too long and convoluted to relate at length, because you have lives to live and it would be too many paragraphs of rant for your good minds. In brief: I managed to break my power cable. (I have a hideous talent for breaking machinery: cars, telephones, computers. When I was young I had so much magnetism in my skin that my watches would stop and start of their own volition. Perhaps that has something to do with it. Or perhaps I am just a klutz.) Anyway, the nice man at Dell promised to send a new one at once. He seemed very kind and sincere. You know the rest: watching and waiting like a penitent at the gate.  In the meantime, I had to go back to my old computer, which I broke in the summer by pouring water on the keyboard.  This rendered the L key inoperative; also the shift keys, the return key, the apostrophe and the semi-colon.

'How very ironic,' said Sarah, when I told her this.  She knows that the semi-colon is my favourite punctuation mark; it is like a sister to me.

That is why the posts were so scratchy in the last ten days.  I could not do paragraphs.  I could not do formatting. I could not make things look elegant.  I could not write the word elegant.  I had no idea how much I loved and needed the twelfth letter of the alphabet until I could not use it.  I could not write luminous, or luxuriate, or liminal, or legible, or legitimate, or lovely, or little, or Lester Piggott, or lazy, or larch, or lawful, or lute, or least, or lest, or lust, or laminate.  I could not write the word LOVE.  It almost killed me.  I kept thinking of the line in the song about you don't know what you've got till it's gone. 

I could get all furious about the rank inefficiency of the Dell organisation and bash on about that. That was my plan.  That'll learn 'em, I thought. But the truth is I am so madly grateful to have my ability to type restored to me, and I am so in love with my rejuvenated machine that I can think no dark thoughts. I am all in the light, another word I have not been able to use.

Along with the light, there is a shadow of sadness.  Another of the great old people has gone. The mothers and fathers of the friends of my youth are slowly leaving; that tremendous generation that could remember the war, that knew about stoicism and make do and mend, that lived under rationing and the spectre of the cold war and mutually assured destruction. I think they were a great generation. I feel a little sentimental about them just now. There is another funeral to go to. This particular one was a truly remarkable woman, and she will leave a gaping space behind her.

Today's photographs are dedicated to that great tribe of women who were brought up never to leave the house without a hat:

Henry Clarke photograph

Kurt Hutton photograph


photograph by Henry Clarke

By Henry Clarke, Kurt Hutton and Norman Parkinson.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010


COMPUTER PART NOT HERE. I ring up. I press many options. I am informed it is coming tomorrow, a week after it was promised. I say – this is amateur hour. I say – this is 2010 not 1983. I say – I know it is not you, it is your rotten company. I try very hard to be courteous when what I want to do is SHOUT. Sarah says – take the afternoon off. I adore it when she says that.  It is her cure for frustration.  Here is another, for the picture of the day -                                            Frustration_Relief

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


No sign of computer part. How hard is it to put an item in a box and POST it? Tricky for me to exist without many punctuation marks (keyboard compromised). Starting to give in to haunting sense of anomie. If not for so many kind comments, esp birthday wishes (thank you, thank you)might give in to despair. For cheering up – picture of the day is from Korean Vogue. I am quite cross about ideas of beauty being more and more WESTERN so this is an unexpected enchantment.                                              Korean Vogue

Photograph by Kim Kyun Soon.


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