Tuesday, 28 December 2010

I don't care that you can't carry a tune

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I've been pondering that What Did You Learn This Year trope that I wrote of a few days ago. It's not so much what the year has taught me that I wonder, but what I know at all. (Answer, sometimes: nothing.) Actually, I'll tell you what I do know, and it is that the people who claim loudly to be the most expert are usually the people who know the least. Yes, I'm talking to you, big fat Wall Street fella. Would you like to sit down and explain to me again what that credit default swap really is? And how it crashed the entire capitalist system?

The things I know often turn out to be very, very small. But then I hear a voice in my head which says something like: it shall have to be the little things. I don't write off the little things. My minute thing of the day is: everything is better when you sing. And the excellent rider is: it does not matter if you can't sing. I can just about carry a tune, if the key is exactly right, and the range is strictly limited. I can do a reasonable version of Carrickfergus, which is the kind of song my old dad used to sing when I was small. I can't hit a high C in front of a church full of people like the older niece can. But if the compound is empty, as it is today, I stick on my iPod and stump up to see the pig, singing along at the top of my voice.

Ch-ch-ch-changes, I shriek. Oh you pretty things, don't you know you're driving your mammas and papas insane, I bawl. My baby done wrote me a letter, I yell. If I have a bit of Al and Bob and Dave and Nina to sing to, then everything else seems brighter and better.

I sing in the bath, and I sing in the kitchen, when I am cooking. The dogs do not seem to mind. I remember that old saw which goes something like: dance like there's no one watching, sing like there's no one listening, live like there's no tomorrow. I love it that there is a thing you can do which lifts the heart, even if you are no damn good at it. It does not matter if you do not sound like Aretha Franklin; as long as there is no one there to hear, you can expand your lungs and let it all out. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, I say; don't forget to tip your waitresses.

I wonder where the universal human joy in music comes from. It can have no biological advantage. Yet, since humans walked out of the savannah, they have sung. They sing in celebration and worship and mourning. They sing in defiance, in shows of unity, or to get their babies to sleep. They sing for no reason at all, but just because they can. They sing in cathedrals and gothic halls and karaoke bars. I would like to know why that is. (I may have to go and look it up on the Google.)

The other mystery about songs is that they act like little time capsules. I was in the Co-op car park the other day when an old song came on the radio that I had not listened to for ten years. Instantly, I was transported back to the far west coast of Connemara, to a white beach, looking out over the Twelve Bens, to a place so distant that all the road signs used to be in Irish, so if you got lost you had no idea how to get home again. It was like a little three minute worm hole in the space time continuum.

The other very small thing that I know is that you have to look for the beauty. It does not always present itself with a nice bow on top. It was a horrid old raw day today. The snow is melting into ugly slush; dirty grey clouds had come to settle over the hill; there was a mean hint of rain in the air. I almost did not go out, but the dogs must be walked, and I had to give Virginia the pig her Christmas apples, which I had bought specially. So off I stumped, with no expectation of anything pretty to look at. I very nearly did not take the camera with me. I did not want to give you gloomy shots of a depressing landscape. Here is the wonderful thing about the new camera: because I must find something lovely for the blog, I have to look hard, on the plain days. And, amazingly, once I started looking, there were ravishing things everywhere, even on this bleak winter morning. In the end, my walk, which I had anticipated being workaday and demoralising, was so much fun that I did not want to come back inside. So that feels like a small parable to me. The beauty is always there, it's just that sometimes you have to squint a little to see it.

See what I mean about the gloom? The hill has quite disappeared into the dark clouds:

28th Dec 2

Dreich, dreich, dreich:

28th Dec 4

And yet, even a few dead leaves clinging onto a bare old tree can look lovely:

28th Dec 5

The little apple tree is the colour of amber:

28th Dec 6

There is glorious moss on the dry stone wall:

28th Dec 7

The rose hips make me smile, even if I could not get them quite in focus:

28th Dec 7-1

Even on the darkest day, the young beech is still like a dancing girl in a glorious red dress:

28th Dec 8

And after weeks of white, it is enchanting to see something green again:

28th Dec 9-1

The beech avenue had a doleful majesty:

28th Dec 10

28th Dec 11

I could see the sheep, through the mist:

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In the low light, a stand of trees took on a watery beauty:

28th Dec 12

Even on the filthiest day, there is always the lichen:

28th Dec 13

28th Dec 14

And horrid old slush has some kind of aesthetic something, if you stare at it for long enough:

28th Dec 1

Then there is the beauty which is so blatant and enduring that you do not have to look hard at all; it just is:

28th Dec 9

28th Dec 15

(Note the slightly long-suffering can you please stop taking photographs of the moss so we can go in and have a biscuit faces.)

And, talking of things of beauty, now I am going to have a naughty little listen to Test Match Special on the iPlayer, because England still appear to be doing miraculous things in the cricket. Who thought such a thing was possible?


  1. The colour of that beech is incredible. The rose-hip is also very pretty. I tried photographing a few a couple of days ago, but all my pics were blurry. Guess I should write to Santa, so that he will bring me a shiny new camera next year :). Also, lovely post.

  2. The sad thing is that nowadays we seem to think that unless we sound like Aretha Franklin (in studio, no less) we don't deserve to sing, which is utter, utter crap.

    Sing, my darling. Sing long and loud.

    Love your photos!

  3. Re the singing: I adore it, sing with some skill but far more chutzpah at the least opportunity (especially at this time of year with the opportunity to throw in descants to Willcocks Christmas carols); and am reminded of an excellent quote I found earlier this year: "'Use what talents you possess. The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." [Henry van Dyke, via Nina Grunfeld of Life Clubs]

  4. Dear Tania, I think it's great you sing. I do too. Sadly I can't hit the notes I used to either.

    I hope you had a wonderful Christmas xx

  5. Curiously enough, my husband and I were just discussing the biological advantages of the human love for music this morning. We were thinking that it might be akin to grooming-- an excellent form of social bonding. All of those things you mention-- celebration etc.-- bring a society together and can even create bonds where there were none.

    An example of the foregoing, one of my very favorite memories: a train ride up to Oban with five very drunken Glaswegian men kicking off a holiday in style, bellowing songs at the top of their lungs. One of them caught my eye and asked where I was from and I said Texas; he knew a Kenny Rogers song. Did I? I did. And so we all bawled "Lucille"-- I was stone sober and I am very shy usually-- and were friends thereafter for the duration of the trip. Unfortunately I had a great deal of trouble understanding what they were saying, but smiling and nodding is another great smoother of human interaction, thank God.


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