Saturday, 30 January 2010


Again the post brings no computer part so posts continue compromised. But who cares? It is my birthday. The sun shines. My mother wins the present stakes by a thousand yards so I now have a gorgeous new artefact above my chimneypiece. I am forty-three. The narcissistic picture of the day is me at two. So serious. What WAS I thinking about? Wondering about the wisdom of that headgear? Green and red feathers – too much?                                                                                   tk

Friday, 29 January 2010


AH, AH, no sign of computer part. Keyboard and formatting continue broken. Bored of giving you sub-standard haikus. BUT am in triumph as have managed to get tax return in on time. Each time this year I worship kind and patient accountant. Each year I promise him a new organised me, and each year he pretends this might happen. Watching Iraq enquiry. Cannot seem to stop. Wd much rather be watching gorgeous running dog in new snow -                                           100_2599

Have a very happy weekend.

Thursday, 28 January 2010


Computer part again not arrived, so typing and formatting continue compromised. But my dear mum MUCH better, which is good news. Thank you for yr vv kind messages – intend to respond once machine fixed. Picture of the day in homage to President Obama, in whom I maintain faith, to mark his first State of the Union.                                          Obama

Wednesday, 27 January 2010


Computer woes continue. Posts to remain sketchy as consequence. SO SORRY. Today am thinking about Kant and aesthetics. You can sue me now for pretention.                                                                               Here he is, with friends hanging on his every word -     


Monday, 25 January 2010

Picture of the day

Outside swathed in dreich. Computer not yet mended. Answer – think   about                                                                    FOOD.     (Formatting continues bust, as you can see. So sorry.)                                                                                                   cheesetable by Karen Mordechai  Gorgeous photograph by Karen Mordechai at Sunday Suppers.

Sunday, 24 January 2010


For something quite wondrous, go here -           or here -           Sorry for formatting horror - computer going bonkers (and me with it).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Picture of the day

Computer angst once more. Posts patchy and sub-standard. GOOD NEWS - mother home from hosp and doing better. Hope computer better in three to four days. Fingers crossed.  Excuse gratuitous penguin picture. Just what I have at the moment. And it is too sweet for words.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Two lost days

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I lost two days. Turned around, took my eye off the thing and pphhtt: they were gone. There was tiredness and grumpiness, combined with low-grade fretting about my mother (I know the docs in Aberdeen are among the best in the country; I know that the lovely NHS will look after her; but, still) which turned into a bitchy little stomach flu. It's that one where you feel like a knackered old lady who has been run over by a large piece of farm machinery, so there has to be much sleeping in the day. Then you wake up at two in the morning and can't go back to sleep until five, no matter how much bloody World Service you listen to. And, as F Scott Fitzgerald said, in one of his moments of shining lucidity, in the dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning. And, at three o'clock in the morning, unless you are staying up all night with a gentleman with a gleam in his eye and a couple of trannies for fun, it is always the dark night of the soul.  Particularly when you have a constant underlying feeling of physical nausea.

My favourite thing is, when my most beloveds are beating themselves up, as beloveds will, to tell them to step away from the large club with which they are bashing themselves over the head. I make weak jokes about egg shaped lumps on the top of heads. I say: you really can stop hitting yourself with the implement now. Oh, I am so wise and sane. And then I get a little stomach bug, and I lie awake in the night castigating myself for all my perceived failings. I do the exact same thing that I give those I love permission, in fact instruction, not to do.  So I am not only an idiot, I am in danger of being a hypocrite.

Here is what I say:
Why can I not be the kind of organised person who does not get actual terror in her stomach when tax day rolls around? Why can I not open my post? (I have a degree, for God's sake, surely opening a simple envelope is not beyond me?) Why did I spend so much money on hotels in the roaring nineties? Why can I not tidy my shed? You should see my shed. It is like the shed of DOOM with extra doom on the side. And the sad thing is it looks so quaint and picturesque on the outside; then you open the door….

I shan't go on, because it's too dull.  You get the drift. Actually, I feel better now. Thank you for letting me share with the group.

Other things I have been wondering:

Why could I never achieve an office as lovely and clean and cool and Spartan as this one, photographed by Patric Johannson, which I found on a blog called Style File?

office by Patric Johannson

Where in the world is this?

Where in the world is this

Do the people who get to study in this glorious library at Coimbra in Portugal have to look up every five minutes, unable to believe their luck? Admittedly, I did get to study in Duke Humphrey's Library in the Bodleian when I was at university; also the magnificent Codrington, thanks to my friend Ed, who told me how to get the special pass to All Souls and made me do it, just so I could look at the black and white floor and the twenty foot high statues in white marble. But I am still envious of the students at Coimbra.

Biblioteca Geral University of Coimbra in Portugal

If I am very, very good, and tidy up everything, and learn to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and stop ranting at people down the telephone when they just rang up to ask one simple question that required a one word answer, will someone give me a picture by Martin Munkacsi? Like this one? -

Martin Munkacsi

I'm stopping now. It's time for my medication.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

The thaw waxes and wanes. Almost all the snow has gone, but long dirty patches of ice form and reform, so that going outside at all is demoralising and dangerous.

Today, I did research. This always sounds very grand and professional, but actually involves me chasing about on wild tangents all over the internet. I am looking into the evolutionary nature of beauty. It turns out that the scientists are having a not very genteel fight on the subject.

I have the familiar sense of frustration that comes with not getting my word count up. I tell myself it is not a race; then I think of the hard deadline. Sarah is very relaxed about this. I fear that if I do not meet it I shall be sent into the garden to eat worms. It is one of the differences between us.

I wait for news on my mother. In the meantime, I make chicken stock. She will need soup when she comes home.


Today's Photograph:

There was nothing lovely outside to look at; it was a dull cold day, and the slush has frozen into dirty, ugly piles. So I stared at this pretty photograph instead, for my necessary aesthetic hit:

interior by Courtney Giles photographed by Emily Followill

(Photograph by Emily Followill; interior design by Courtney Giles; from the Style Court blog.)

Monday, 18 January 2010

Langston Hughes

My friend So Lovely has a wonderful post up today about Langston Hughes visiting Haiti.  It made me go and look at his poems, which I did not know. They are fierce, and magnificent, and sometimes funny. They are my discovery of the day.

Posted via email from taniakindersley's posterous


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

My mum is in the hospital, so she is the picture of the day:

Mum close up

Her situation is not grave, but the rigorous Aberdeen doctors are insisting on many tests. I like very much that they leave nothing to chance.

Friday, 15 January 2010

The True Faces of the Day

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

When a horror comes that is too big, it is hard for the human mind to comprehend. The tragedy turns into numbers ; it becomes almost abstract. Yes, says the pummelled brain, yes, I see; but it is too enormous to understand fully. The stories coming out of Haiti turned my brain into this retreating state. Dead running into the fifty thousands; bodies having to be removed from the streets by bulldozers; an entire state disabled; it was too much to take in. I made an instinctive human reflex of sorrow and regret, resolved to send money, thought of something else.

What I held in my mind, like an amulet, was a desperate Pollyannish notion that it showed the world was still a good place.  I focussed on the money and aid and rescue crews coming in from all over the globe.  Even in the midst of a massive financial crash, tiny broke Iceland was sending help.  I saw a picture of some plucky businesslike Britons setting off to do their bit, and felt an absurd thrill of patriotic pride:

British rescue crew leaving Gatwick for Haiti

In a fabulously stupid way, I felt rather sentimental about the dogs that were being flown in:

dogs going to haiti Getty Images

The world is coming together, I thought; everything is not lost.

I can't excuse my slightly detached initial reaction. I think part of it was because I have been getting my news this week from the radio. The trope is that the pictures are sometimes, paradoxically, better on radio, but in cases like this I do not think that received wisdom holds.  Tonight, I sat down and watched the television news. It was the first time I had seen the scale of the devastation in moving pictures. It was the first time I had seen the drawn looks of shock on the faces of hardened, professional journalists, who are trained from the moment they walk into Broadcasting House to remain neutral and disinterested and apolitical. It was the first time I had seen hundreds of people queuing patiently round the block just to get a meagre bottle of water. It was the first time I had seen cameras roving over rows of corpses.

The thing that got to me, finally, that crashed through the instinctive defence mechanism can be erected when faced with too much human suffering, was footage of one small boy being pulled from the wreckage. I know that it is the very enormity of the thing that makes it so devastating; I know, rationally, that it is the idea of tens of thousands dead and tens more thousands homeless, and possibly a whole republic brought almost literally to its knees, that makes this one of those terrifying historic events that everyone shall always remember. But, viscerally, it was one small child that brought the horror home to me, like a hammer to the heart.

It was not just that a two-year-old survived, against all the odds, buried in feet of rubble. It was not just his amazing vulnerability and his astonishing resilience. It was not just the look of absolute, pure delight and tenderness on the face of his brave Spanish rescuer. It was not just the expression on the boy's face when he saw his mother. It was all those things combined, which symbolised a country of millions of battered, terrified humans who are hanging on by their fingernails.

His name is Redjeson Hausteen Claude:

Redjeson carried by Spanish rescue worker AP

Redjeson Hausteen by Gerald Herbert AP

And this is what he looked like when he saw his mother:

Redjeson Hausteen rescued in Haiti AP

There was a lovely quote in The Times about Felix del Amo, the rescue worker who dug the boy out: his boss apparently told Spanish television, 'He is very nice, but also disciplined.'. I don't know why I like that so much, but I do.

Pictures from the AP, and Getty Images.



It is fashionable to bitch up the BBC just at the moment. The Tories are constantly sniping at dear old Auntie, and Labour's Ben Bradshaw had a mean little cheap shot earlier this evening on Any Questions.

The broadcast I watched tonight was from the BBC News at Ten, and the coverage was the kind of thing which would make Lord Reith shine with pride. George Alagiah, Matt Frei and Matthew Price did stellar work. They were humane without being emotional, lyrical without being sentimental, factual without being cold. Most of all, they did not, at any stage, make the story about them.  They knew very well that it was not about them.  They told it with all their considerable resources, because that was what they were there for. They all looked exhausted, but that did not matter to them, because it was getting the story out that counted. There was no showbiz, no showboating; it was public service broadcasting at its very finest, and I don't take that for granted.

Red Letter Day

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

ONE THREE NINE THREE, my darlings, one three nine three.  After yesterday's dispiriting loss, I sternly sat at my desk today until I had bashed out 1393 words.  I managed to remember about the people of Bhutan, and threw in the nomads of Mongolia for good measure.  Then I tore off on a quite unexpected tangent which led to a small discursive moment on the origins of ambergris (the intestine of the sperm whale, if you must know). The theory of this chapter is starting to cohere, although it is still prone to contradiction, diversion, and, I must be frank, occasional waffle.  Still, dammit, I shall follow the muse where she leads, as long as there is life in my fingers.

One of the things I like about writing non-fiction is that I have to look a great many things up. In a slightly Rumsfeldian way, this is not just because of the things I know I do not know, but also because of the things I think I know I know, but in fact, do not. And one of the things I love about looking things up on the internet is that, although it can be more fruitless and time-consuming than consulting a book, it does lead me to unexpected destinations.  I follow random links and make new and delightful discoveries.

My discovery today was the great photographer Emilio Morenatti. I should really know about him; he has been in Afghanistan and Pakistan for years, and his work is so arresting and ravishing that it has won him awards.  First I found his photographs, which are heartbreaking and acute and utterly beautiful. Then I looked him up. I discovered that he is Spanish, and that he was blown up in Afghanistan. This rocked me back. His foot was amputated, and the last I can find is that he was being fitted for a prosthetic device in America.  This was from last year, and I can find no news since. I do not know if he is back to work, or has learnt to walk again. I fervently hope so, because he has one of the most brilliant eyes I have ever seen in a photographer.

The picture of the day is his. This was the first one I found, the one that made me want to see more.  It is not his most famous, but it the one that speaks most to me. It is of Afghan girls watching a UN drop of ballot papers for the election of 2004:

Afghan children by Emilio Morenatti AP

By Emilio Morenatti/AP.

And this is of the photographer himself, being wheeled into hospital, still working:

Emilio Morenatti photographed by Enric Marti AP

By Enric Marit/AP.

I hope that he is recovering well.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Gloaming

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

It was a rotten day. The slush slushed, and then iced over again so that it was perilous underfoot, and a low, persistent sleet fell from a melancholy sky.  My internet connection filled with glitches. I flew into computer rage and started stabbing at the close button in a vain attempt to get rid of one maddening page that would not shut, the screen flickered, and I had, quite by mistake, shut the file I was working on without saving the changes. It is almost impossible to do this unless you are very drunk, or blinded by fury. Six hundred words were lost. I was in the middle of writing something utterly fascinating about the mountain people of Bhutan. I know they are not really called mountain people, but I think of them like that because where they live is undeniably mountainous. I was getting all smug because I had managed to talk about Marilyn Monroe and the people of Bhutan in the same chapter.  And then it was all gone.

Sarah called, at the very moment of catastrophe.

'Yes?' I shouted.

'Are you all right?' she said.

'No,' I said. 'I lost my morning's work. And I was making that kind of argument that hasn't quite solidified yet, you know the kind you only really understand once you have written it, so of course I can't remember it at all.'

'Oh,' she said.  'Yes I know that one exactly.'

'I was writing about the people of Bhutan,' I said. 'Then the internet started going glitchy and I flew into a temper.'

'It's probably the Chinese,' Sarah said, obscurely.

'Oh my God,' I said. 'The Google.'

We pondered this for a while.

'I don't expect it really was the Chinese,' Sarah said, eventually.

She then made some jokes, cheered me up, gave me permission to take the afternoon off (on a Thursday, it felt so subversive) and said I should clear my mind and start again tomorrow.

At four I went out, still rather grumpy, expecting the horrible weather. The dogs must be exercised though, so on went the boots and the gloves and the hat and the two coats, for insulation. But instead of a glowering sky, I found a magical gloaming, as blue as the sea. A mist was hovering at the base of the hills, and there were mysterious cloud formations in the sky, and the air was as fresh as mountain water. I found myself smiling all over my face.

I had a mild frustration today. I did not, like the people of Haiti, lose my house or my living or my family. I still have running water and a roof over my head and all my arms and legs. I just lost a few words, that is all.


This is what I saw:

gloaming 14th January 009

gloaming 14th January 042

gloaming 14th January 013

gloaming 14th January 047

These ones are a little fuzzy, for which I apologise, but I wanted you to get a sense of the magical mist:

gloaming 14th January 014

gloaming 14th January 023

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Cheating with split peas

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

There is nothing lovely to look at outside any more.  The stalactites of ice have fallen from the eaves and the snow is melting and reforming into iced slush.  A thaw of a kind has come, but out in the fields, the snow is still up to the sheep's elbows.  It all looks rather forlorn and grubby.  Because of the wind chill, it feels colder than ever. And there is terrible news from Haiti.

On days like this, my only answer is to make soup. Sometimes I love to get intricate, to chop and mix ingredients and generally play around.  I did not quite have the heart for that today, so I made the simplest kind of thing that would have purists fainting away with horror.

I took some yellow split peas, a pinch of saffron, a tablespoon of Marigold stock powder, a scatter of cumin, two chopped dried chillies, and a dash of curry powder (I know that I am supposed to roast and grind my own spices, so you will have to forgive that), covered the lot in water, brought to a low simmer and cooked for forty minutes.  You may need to add some more water, as the peas expand mightily.  You end up with a lovely thick article, half way between a soup and a dhal.  I know it should have onions and garlic and other crucial ingredients, but if you feel like cheating, this is a perfect way to do it.  It does not look pretty, but it is rich and spicy and feels with each spoonful as if it is doing good.

Wednesday January 13th 017

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

If you do one thing today

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Obviously, you will be doing more than one thing, so I am being rhetorical.  But do run to the BBC iplayer and listen to Front Row for 12th January, if you can.

Front Row, which like all Radio Four programmes, goes through its doldrums, is on a tear at the moment.  Tonight was a particular delight, because of a ravishing interview with EL Doctorow.  I like to think I know a bit about literature.  It is my job, after all, and I have enough of the intellectual popinjay in me to feel a horrible vanity in my ability to quote Auden and Yeats and Scott Fitzgerald.  But I have hideous spaces of blank ignorance.  I can still remember feeling properly embarrassed when I had to admit to Sarah's husband that I had never read Felix Holt.  It's stupid, because no one, not even writers, can read everything, and even if they could, it would not turn them magically into interesting and charming people. 

Anyway, one of my terrible blank spaces turns out to be EL Doctorow.  I have never read any of his books.  I think I rather assumed he was dead. But there he was, really quite alive, his voice gravelled with thought and cleverness. I fell instantly in love with him. Every sentence he spoke was a thing of delight. He sounds quite old now, and perhaps he was always this way, but he has the air of a man who has seen enough not to have to prove anything. There was a slowness in his speech, as if he had no need to persuade. Because of this, he was a thousand times more persuasive than all those people on the radio who shout and cajole and talk incredibly fast, as if somehow that will make them prove their point.  I wanted to follow him to the ends of the earth.

This thing with voices is something I've been noticing a lot lately: the calmer and more low key the speaker, the more ardently you want to listen to them, and the more keenly you believe them. Barack Obama has this gift, with his lovely low thoughtful cadence. The fast high energy voices just sound as if they are trying to sell you something, and if the recession has taught us anything, it is that we should all resist hucksters with every part of our main and might.

If you do go and listen, you get, as a bonus, a hysterical piece on Meatloaf.  I had no idea he was so funny. Mark Lawson has a perfectly heavenly time calling him Mr Loaf, in that very British ironical fashion, just like Jeremy Paxman did when he kept saying, 'Now Mr Rascal, what do you think?' to Dizzee Rascal on Newsnight.  There is also an amusing item on song lyrics. But the shining highlight is the magnificent Mr Doctorow, whose new book I am running out to buy as soon as I can get my car through the snow.


Picture of the day is not one of mine. I had to research Marilyn Monroe for the book this morning. (Today's word count 783; not stellar, but not too shabby.) I suddenly realised I did not know very much about her, apart from those iconic photography sessions with Eve Arnold, the sad marriage to Arthur Miller, and the conspiracy theories about her being done in by the CIA.  She gave a long, heartbreaking, last interview to Life Magazine, which has made me view her in an entire new light. Her haunted face is what I saw today:


Monday, 11 January 2010

In which serendipity rules

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I think I mentioned that I saw The Young Victoria on Saturday night. I seem to remember that it got lukewarm reviews, but I rather loved it, and it ignited in me a burning desire for further reading. The mad thing is that Victorian England really was my period; at university, the only things that excited me more than the Napoleonic Wars were the great Reform Act and Peel splitting the party over the Corn Laws. (Also: the real significance of Gladstone and all that chopping down of the trees.) But I suddenly realised that, through all this, I was so furiously concentrated on the politics that Queen Victoria herself was no more than a shadowy liminal figure.  I knew about her famous dislike of Gladstone, of whom she was rumoured to have said: 'he always addresses me as if I were a public meeting', and her flirty adoration of Disraeli. Apart from that, I think I considered her a rather dull, dumpy figure, holed up at Balmoral in her unending widow's weeds. 

It appeared I had no biography of her in the house, so I thought I would go back to David Cecil's classic biography of Lord Melbourne, a perfect place to start until the library could come to my rescue. (Part of the reason I have such a huge collection of books is that I get these sudden, imperative freaks: I must read about string theory, or Seabiscuit, or Coco Chanel, right now, this minute.) But the lovely Lord M was nowhere to be found. I was still searching last night, in a furious dogged manner, when my eye lighted on a battered blue hardback, so old that the title had been rubbed off the spine. Even though I have about a thousand books, I know them all by sight - Melbourne is yellow cloth, for example - but this one was unfamiliar to me. I wonder what that might be, I thought, distracted for a moment from my pursuit.

I took it down, opened it up, and to my absolute amazement it was Queen Victoria by Lytton Strachey.  I had no memory of ever buying such a book. I have certainly never read it. It must have been sitting there for years, overlooked in its dowdy blue coat, until a cold Sunday night in 2010, when the only thing in the world I wanted to read about was Queen Victoria, and, in some inexplicable act of serendipity, my fingers fell on it, and a mild sense of curiosity led me to take it down from the shelf. 

Well my darlings, it is an absolute barn burner.  I cannot put it down.  Here is a sample:

'The Duke of York, whose escapades in times past with Mrs Clarke and the army had brought him into trouble, now divided his life between London and a large, extravagantly ordered and extremely uncomfortable country house, where he occupied himself with racing, whist, and improper stories. He was remarkable among the princes for one reason: he was the only one of them -so we are informed by a highly competent observer - who had the feelings of a gentleman. He had long been married to the Princess Royal of Prussia, a lady who rarely went to bed and was surrounded by vast numbers of dogs, parrots, and monkeys. The Duke of Clarence had lived for many years in complete obscurity with Mrs Jordan, the actress, in Bushey Park.  By her he had a large family of sons and daughters, and had appeared, in effect, to be married to her, when he suddenly separated from her and offered to marry Miss Wykeham, a crazy woman of large fortune, who, however, would have nothing to say to him.  Mrs Jordan died in distressed circumstances in Paris. The Duke of Cumberland was probably the most unpopular man in England. Hideously ugly, with a distorted eye, he was bad-tempered and vindictive in private, a violent reactionary in politics, and was subsequently suspected of murdering his valet and of having carried on an amorous intrigue of an extremely scandalous kind…Of the Duke of Cambridge, the youngest of the brothers, not very much was known. He lived in Hanover, wore a blonde wig, chattered and fidgeted a great deal, and was unmarried.'

Isn't it perfect?

So, in honour of fate and Lytton Strachey, his old book, published by Chatto and Windus in 1921, is my picture of the day, because it was what I gazed on with the most delight:

Queen Victoria 003

See how old and unassuming it looks?

Queen Victoria 010

Possibly the chicest dedication ever:

Queen Victoria 006

The chapter on Lord Melbourne:

Queen Victoria 012

The poor old bashed spine:

Queen Victoria 014

Sunday, 10 January 2010


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

The snow is still top-of-the-gumboots deep and the stalactites hang off the gutters like something out of a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. It is utterly quiet. I adore Sundays. The only tiny fluttering fly in the ointment is that I have a sudden urgent desire to read my copy of Lord Melbourne by David Cecil, and I can't find it. (I watched The Young Victoria yesterday, and was rather dazzled by Paul Bettany's tremendous performance as the wily Lord M.)

I'm not going to give you yet another picture of the whiteness, although I can't guarantee what will happen tomorrow. So, today's pictures are a little nostalgia trip. I have old photographs and postcards stuck up all over the walls of my office and I like to look at them while I work. We moved around a lot when I was young, and when I was sixteen my mother and I were living out of a suitcase and our things were stored in a warehouse which burnt down.  All my mother's wonderful photograph books were lost.  But somehow, miraculously, I have still a few old pictures, I have no idea quite how. 

Anyway, this is one of my absolute favourites. There is my mother on the left, and my very naughty father looking just as naughty as he was, on the right. The handsome man with my mother is Dave Dick, a great steeplechase jockey who won the Grand National in 1956. Judging from how young they look and how much champagne they are drinking, this might well have been taken in that glory year. I'm not sure who the blonde lady on the right is; I hope it is Mrs Dick. They were all together in Juan Les Pins, years before the new Russians got there, when you could still find the ghost of Scott Fitzgerald haunting the pine avenues:

Sunday January 10th 015

And this is my old dad, posing his head off. This was taken by a proper photographer called Dmitri Kasterine, who used to come and stay at our house when I was small:

Sunday January 10th 030

And here is my mother, with my sister and brother. Check out those hats. Only my mum could wear a hat like that and still manage to channel Grace Kelly:

Sunday January 10th 034

And here she is again, very young, just married, all hope and blonde hair, working the country lady look:

Sunday January 10th 036

Saturday, 9 January 2010

In which I take a day off

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Quite often I work at the weekends, but today I am having a proper Saturday day off.  I am having a perfectly lovely time doing absolutely bugger all. My mind has gone flat like a mill pond, and has very few thoughts in it. One of the thoughts is: how could I have forgotten that amazing patronising voice of Patricia Hewitt's?  And who was it who ever suggested to her that it was a good idea to speak like that? And why did she ever think that someone who did speak like that could ever pull off a serious political coup? And why did she choose Mr Hoon as her partner, the dullest man in England? (I used to believe that no one could actually be as dull as that in real life, and that really he was just having a little joke with us, and that behind closed doors he was an absolute pistol, cracking jokes and singing show tunes. Now I am not so sure.)

My other thought is: how did a mouse get into the boot of my car, shred pieces of paper it found there to make a little nest, and then disappear again?  The boot was so iced shut that it took me five minutes to get it open today. So how did a little mouse manage it?  I may be pondering this for some time.


Today's picture:

The weather, on which I am in danger of becoming almost as dull as Mr Hoon, has changed again.  The temperature has rocketed up into the minus ones, and there was a sort of snow fog all day, out of which a tentative sun attempted to shine, before giving up the ghost and going away to do something more productive.  This is what it looked like:


Saturday snow 002

And this:

Saturday snow 007

And this:

Saturday snow 004

This was at eleven o'clock this morning.  See how eerie the light is? Observe slightly puzzled dog:

Saturday snow 016

And this is a heavenly bit of lichen, because I love lichen:

Saturday snow 013

And this is just entirely random:

Saturday snow 022

Friday, 8 January 2010

In which the temperature drops

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

It was minus fourteen last night. This morning, even with a glorious winter sun gleaming out of a cerulean sky, it is still minus ten.  It is that kind of cold that I can only walk in for about fifteen minutes; after that, my face starts to hurt. The tremendous freeze has scattered little crystals all over the snow, so that it glitters and shimmers in the light. The trees look as if some creative giant came in the night and carved them all into ice sculptures. (You see that this kind of beauty brings out the whimsy in me.)

Meanwhile, I defy the weather and put on another nine hundred words, and have a low, humming sense of achievement. I know that many of those words will get cut in the second and third (and fourth and fifth) drafts; I know too that they are nothing like as good as they should be, because they never are, at the beginning.  But something is coming out of nothing, and there is a keen pleasure in that.

The other lovely thing is that I do not have to do this alone. I have my partner, who calls up three times a day. Sarah rang today at eleven.

'I am having my elevenses,' I said.

'That's nice,' she said.

'I am having fried cod's roe,' I said.

There was a pause.  'That is quite odd, even for you,' she said.

'Need the protein,' I said, with my mouth full.

Then we talked about Dante, St Augustine, the art of the Renaissance, closed orders, Camus, Balzac, Madame Bovary, the depiction of women in fairy tales, and religion in general. I would love to say that this is just what we talk about every day, because we're those kind of girls, but this was work talk, for the book.  This is what we do: we discuss every single thing that might be at all relevant to what we are writing about, we shoot off on tangents, we test out ideas.  I wander off into the endless prairies of abstract thought, and Sarah brings me gently back down to earth.  We get slightly over-excited and shout at each other. (Actually, that is mostly me; I have a fatal tendency to yell when I am over-stimulated.)  Then I rush to my desk and make notes of everything we just spoke about.  The heaven of it is, I do not have to do my thinking alone. I had never worked with anyone else before Backwards, and the joy of having a sounding board is like getting an unexpected present in the post. Because she is so clever and professional, Sarah makes me better; it's like raising your game when you play against a chess master. And there is also a whole Jack and Mrs Sprat thing going on.  I know a bit about 20th century literature, feminist theory, and Jungian psychology; Sarah is an expert on the Italian poets (Dante is absolutely her boy), the Renaissance, and French novels, where I am horribly ignorant.  Also, she makes me laugh.

And just in case you think we really are too poncy for our shirts, I would like to state that we also discussed the wonders of the John Lewis haberdashery department. 


Now for the picture of the day. I did have a thought that I should be tremendously disciplined and do only one each day; there is a purity about that which appealed to me, in this new mapping the year in photographs idea.  But it was so magnificently glorious outside today that I feel profligate; I want you to be able to see every single one of the ice trees. Forgive the indulgence.

Ice tree:

snow and dogs January 8th 029

Little ice bush:

snow and dogs January 8th 006

My favourite stand of Scots Pines, turned quite white by the weather:

snow and dogs January 8th 041


snow and dogs January 8th 021

Frozen avenue, with dogs:

snow and dogs January 8th 027

My garden, looking due south:

snow and dogs January 8th 038

Look at that sky.  I'm not sure there are even words for that colour:

snow and dogs January 8th 034

More avenue and dogs:

snow and dogs January 8th 007

There is no excuse for this last one at all. It's not as if you don't know what my dogs look like, by now. But did you ever see anyone more ready for her close-up?

snow and dogs January 8th 024

I'm stopping now.  Really.


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