Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The Blue Screen of Death

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

There I was, having my happy lunchtime break, watching The Daily Politics and pondering how it is that I have ended up with such a deep love for Andrew Neil, a man with questionable hair and an ego the size of Poland, when the computer went blue and started screaming. I am not joking. It made this terrible electronic robot yell, so loud I spilled my coffee. White words started scrolling all over a terrifying blue screen, so fast I could not read them.  All I could take in was some kind of countdown going on at the bottom and something about 'physical memory'. Physical memory???

Then everything went black.

I stared at the blackness for a while, my heart banging in my chest like an entire percussion section on mephedrone. You have not backed up, said the voices in my head. You have twenty-five thousand words of a new book that you HAVE NOT BACKED UP. Why did you go and buy that stupidly expensive memory stick if you were just going to put it in a pot on your desk and not actually use it? Do you not know that only idiots and super-idiots do not back up? Did we teach you nothing?

The blackness persisted. Some lights flickered feebly on the keyboard, as if in quiet defeat. I gazed at my little electronic box and realised half my life was trapped within it. There is not just everything I have written in the last eight months, but also all the bookmarks, all the articles I have stored that are relevant for my work, all the Google books I have put on my bookshelf, all my emails, all my blogs. I yearned, quietly, for the old days of pieces of paper and a good old typewriter. I started writing so long ago that I actually typed my first two books, tap tap tap, like those old-school journos that you see in ancient films. Rewriting was hell, because there was no cut and paste, you had to retype the entire manuscript each time.

I bless the new technology every day. It's not just that I can move about great chunks of text, and send entire books to my editor through the ether. It's not just that the whole world is presented to me on a screen. The computer and the internet enable me to live in far north of Scotland, six hundred miles away from the British Museum library, and still do all the research I need. It has liberated me in twenty different ways. But it has enslaved me as well, because when the thing just STOPS, I realise that I am quite unmanned (unwomaned?). I am left bereft and powerless. I find this peculiarly alarming. I live in mild fear that one day the internet will break. If I were an evil criminal mastermind who wanted to bring mighty powers to their knees, I would not bother with bombs or bullets, I would just get a sixteen-year-old hacker to crash the internet. That would really send us back to the stone age.

As you can see, the little computer that could finally, after much flickering and chuntering, reset itself. The lovely electronic ping that announces the start of the day, and usually irritates me slightly (it's a too pingy ping) fell on my ears like balm. My icons sprang back into life, one by one. My documents file was untouched, and is now safely on a neat little flash drive.

So, my darlings, if you do one thing today: BACK UP. It is not my place to tell you to do anything, but really, back up. Otherwise the blue screen of death might get you too.

Picture of the day is from an interesting blog called Daily Dose of Imagery. A man called Sam Javanrouh is doing the thing I thought about but never quite put into practice, which is taking a photograph a day and posting it on his blog. He has a real talent, so much so that he managed to take this most mundane of objects, a doormat, and make it look new and beautiful:

door_mat_detail_01 by Sam Javanrouh

Isn't that rather amazing? I shall now look at doormats in an entirely new light, which must surely be a good thing.

And as a bonus, in honour of the special Easter snow which is still falling, a lovely picture from The Sartorialist:

Walking in the snow from The Sartorialist

I must tell you that when I go walking in the snow, it looks nothing like that at all. There is a baggy old tweed coat with holes in the pockets, and some dirty green gumboots. Sadly, we can't all stalk the streets in red-soled shoes.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The swings and the roundabouts

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Or: you win some, you lose some. With a dash of: what does not kill you makes you stronger. And a side order of: careful what you wish for, little girl, for you will surely get it. (Actually, I never really know precisely what that means, but I always loved Tom Berenger and William Hurt saying it in unison in The Big Chill, possibly the favourite film of my twenties.)

I am trying very hard not to stitch my entire sense of self into the fortunes of our book. Sarah is much better at this than I, having a practical, get the hell on with it streak in her. I, on the other hand, spend my time dreaming and pondering and fretting.

My current frets exist on three levels. The first and most dominant is that the book we are working on at the moment will be no bloody good and however many words I write each day (eight hundred this morning) they shall surely be the wrong ones. This is an occupational hazard. It is like rowers knowing that going out on the water each morning will cause them physical pain. (I used to have a bit of a thing for some of the rowers at university; how I loved watching them run down to the river each morning in their little shorts; I used to channel Anthony Blanche and think 'They are all Grace Darlings to me'. One of them, who competed in the Olympics, once told me that rowing induced the worst agony he could ever imagine.) Anyway, the point is I can't complain about the stalking self-doubt, because that is part of what I signed up for.

The second fret is that however old I get and however much I work at thickening my skin, I can never get over the fact that some people simply will not like the book. This is boilerplate law of averages stuff. Each to each is what we teach, and all that. Today I am stupidly upset because two British Amazon reviewers have accused Sarah and I of being anti-feminist. It is a knife to the heart. I have spent half my life annoying people by banging my feminist drum. I keenly subscribe to the sisterhood, and believe in it fervently. I have put up with stupidity and insults in defence of it. Possibly the best one was when a middle-aged gentleman told me: 'You will grow out of feminism when you meet the right man.' He was not being ironic.

The third fret should not really be a fret at all. Last week, Backwards was published in America. This is iconically huge for me. I have never come close to being published in America before (although there were the heady days when I was big in Cologne). It is a small release, but our publishers are very enthusiastic and charming, and on the US Amazon site the reviewers have been unbelievably kind. It feels almost impossible that someone in sunny Florida should be reading words I wrote in snowy Scotland. I do, of course, understand the concept of globalisation, and that the world is now a village, but even so, it feels like a miracle. It is all happy and good and I should be allowing myself unconfined celebration. That is much too straightforward. Instead, I am harbouring dark fears that our tiny little book shall sink like a stone into the unfathomable pool that is the United States. It is too big, and we are too small, and that's all she wrote. I shall undoubtedly be reprimanded, quite soon, for having ideas above my station.

Against all that nonsense comes the really enchanting thing about the internet, and the laws of serendipity that it seems to promote. Just as I was having my little festival of self-doubt, I wandered onto Twitter. I have not been there for a week or so, and was feeling that I was guilty of neglect. Just as I logged in, a tweet came up with my name on it. A charming woman I had never met in my life before, with the screen name workingorder, put up a link to the book and a recommendation that it is where people should go for common sense. Common sense. (If only she knew.) It felt like an unexpected present, flying out of the ether, to soothe my battered sensibilities.

The comments that come to this blog serve the same marvellous purpose. The loneliness of writing comes not from the physical fact of sitting alone in a room. I love solitude and regard it as a tremendous privilege. I have time to think and read and be still. The loneliness exists in the gap between my hope and my limitations, made real every morning as I stare at the empty screen, knowing it must be filled. The joy of the blog is that all that angst is mitigated each time an encouraging message arrives, as if there is a little army out there, cheering me on. It sounds slightly sentimental, but I feel it to be true. The old school media still likes to sneer and snarl about the solipsistic self-indulgence of the blogosphere, but, for me, it is like a grand public service. It should have a government grant, because it turns out to be a community in the best sense of the word, and I don't take it for granted for a single moment.

Here, for my cousins across the pond, is the American edition:

Backwards American Edition

You can buy it here, for the slightly peculiar but undeniably bargain basement price of $15.61. It is a perfect present for Easter, even if I do say so myself. And we are feminists. We are, we are, we are. *stamps foot and pouts* Even better, we are feminists with DOGS:

 snowdrops 006

St Patrick's Day 034

Take that, patriarchal conspiracy.

Monday, 29 March 2010

A small miracle

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

It seems the computer gods heard my prayer, and the photographs have come out after all. So forgive all the fuss and going round the houses. It was just one of the mysteries of the internet: what first came up as sad white squares eventually turned into pictures, like in the darkrooms of old.

Now I must work out what this is all means, as I am certain it must be a sign of something.

Thank you all for your most kind patience.

In which I give up

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Dear, dear readers - Regarding the previous post: after all that, on my third attempt, the photographs still refused to come out. I am at the end of my wits. It seems it is a sign, after all.

I have decided, possibly against good judgement, to leave the flawed post up, if only to illustrate the point that perfection must be battled at every turn. I do feel quite enraged, though.

I am utterly sorry. Tomorrow shall be better, if the computer gods allow.

Flaunt the imperfection

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

There are days when I do not have a single thought in my head, or at least, not one fit to print. I did a thousand words of the new book and then my brain shut up shop for the day, in Mondayish protest.

But there must be a blog, I thought, in slight despair. Words still refused to emerge, so I decided we could have a nice visual day. That would be the thing. I rummaged about for good photographs, but I was grumpy by this stage, and nothing seemed quite right; not pretty enough or stimulating enough or thematic enough. I wandered through my photography file, and wondered quite how it was that one person could take so many shots of two dogs. Getting crosser and crosser, I also wondered why it was that I seemed incapable of editing any of my files. I appear to have three thousand photographs, most of them rotten or repetitive (fourteen shots of a frittata, for example, taken to illustrate a recipe).

It was time for The Archers. I must do something. And then I decided perhaps there was a theme after all. One of the ideas Sarah and I pushed in Backwards was that one could learn to embrace and even celebrate imperfection, rather than castigate oneself for perceived lapses. We grew furious at the demands that the media and the zeitgeist put on women to do everything immaculately, which women then internalised and used to beat themselves up with a big, metaphorical stick. What if I took all my hopeless out of focus or blurred or underlit or generally wrong photographs and put them all together in a glorious visual representation of imperfection? Perhaps there was a reason that I did not delete them, after all.

So here they are, for the days when we all feel a bit pointless and feckless and useless:


Bookshelves 052

sausage casserole 043

gloaming 14th January 001

wet autumn October 2009 037

 December 18th landscape and soup 006

Christmas Eve 026

London and driving home 065

gloaming 14th January 018

Come on, it's practically art. Or, perhaps not. Well, definitely not. Anyway, I feel rather better now.

And the best for last.  This one kills me. I was trying to take pictures of a midnight snow; it was a magical, moonlit, winter night, and I wanted to capture it. I completely mistook the light, and all I was left with were two slightly puzzled pairs of canine eyes, staring at me quizzically through the dark:

snow 021

Happy Monday.


(Small logistical note: for those of you on Google Reader, I apologise that this is the THIRD version of this post. I had to put it up three different times, because at the first two attempts the photographs did not come out, which I almost took as a sign that they really were too crappy to be seen by the human eye. In the end, dogged to the last, I persevered.)

Saturday, 27 March 2010

A little light housekeeping


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

First of all: a huge, fat, ocean-going thank you for all your lovely comments. I don't think I tell you enough how much I love them. They make me smile, think, laugh, and sometimes BLUSH with pleasure. I am endlessly struck by your generosity.

I do, however, suffer from some angst on this subject. When I started out, I tried to reply to every single comment. I could see from the blogs I most liked and admired that this seemed to be correct blogging etiquette. The problem is that I find I don't have enough time now to answer them all, so I have slightly stopped answering at all, since I worry that if I reply to some and not others it will seem as if I am indulging in ghastly favouritism. (You may think I am being a little nuts about this, but it really does make me fret. Blame my dear old mum, for bringing me up to mind my Ps and Qs.)

I wonder if any of you have strong feelings about this? Or helpful suggestions, hints or even jeremiads. In the meantime, I apologise if you should feel even the tiniest breeze of neglect. I avidly read and adore all your comments, and remain eternally grateful for you to take the time to write them. It constantly amazes me that in all the months I have been writing this blog, I have only had one nasty one, and even that was really only mildly sardonic. (Sarah will tell you I am absurdly oversensitive.)

Second huge official thank you is: to all those of you who so sweetly link to my posts on Twitter. I have been neglectful of Twitter lately (time gets the better of me again) and so if I have not thanked anyone for kind linkage, I am sorry. The gratitude is absolutely there, even if not explicitly stated. I particularly appreciate this kindness of strangers because I do not put up links to my own posts on Twitter. I have the most idiotic idea that it might seem as if I am showing off in some way. I know this is empirically wrong, but I can't quite shake it.

Third apology: I do not link nearly enough to Sarah's pieces in The Times. As you know, she does not have the physical space in her day to come and write here, but it is her blog too, and it is my responsibility to make sure you get to read her work. This shall be remedied.

And finally, a request. I am always looking for blogs which have beautiful photographs on them. I love the written ones, but I sometimes crave the visual. Occasionally, I go to the Google and just type 'beautiful blogs', but this does not get me very far, and sometimes leads to terrifying cul de sacs featuring naked women. Any suggestions would be delightful.

I hope you are having a heavenly Saturday. The sun is finally shining here after a week of rain and dirty skies, and the woodpecker is drilling his head off in the west wood. I have given myself permission to do: absolutely nothing.


There are two pictures of the day, because sometimes I think all you need in life is a zebra and Audrey Hepburn in a red dress. Sometimes at the very same time:


Audrey Hepburn

(Zebra by Ludmila Yilmaz; Audrey, photographer unknown.)


And, as promised, Sarah in today's Times on lists, madness and the balance between work and life:

Friday, 26 March 2010

Oh, you pretty things

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

There are at least seventeen things I got very cross about this week. I was shocked, shocked I tell you, by the intemperate arguments over Israel, the demoralising tarting about of certain British members of parliament, the horror that has been going on in the Catholic Church, and the increasing extremism of the Republican Party in America. I even got grumpy with my beloved BBC when it ran an item on President Obama passing his healthcare bill, and got on two furious right-wingers to explain what a disaster the whole thing was. I know it is not the remit of the BBC to act as a cheerleader for Democratic presidents, but, however flawed the bill might be, it was a historic achievement, and I felt a moment of respect might be paid before the bitching started.

I was horrified when the black congressman and civil rights hero (not too strong a word for someone beaten with sticks on the bridge at Selma, Alabama) John Lewis was called a 'nigger' as he walked up the steps of the Capitol to vote on the bill. The gay congressman Barney Frank was called a 'fag'. Bart Stupak was called a 'baby killer' on the floor of the House (and we think Prime Minister's Questions is a bear pit). He also got a charming message from a gentleman who hoped he would 'bleed out of his ass and die'. Some of those pro-lifers are so pro life. By the time we got to a Harris poll which found that 24% of GOP members believe that Barack Obama 'may be the Anti-Christ', I had run out of outrage. I went to the shop for some more, but it was closed.

I could write about all that, but you know what? I'm not going to. Let all the haters do their hating and shouting and deathing without me. Other, more talented writers have covered it all anyway. (I refer you to the lovely Mr Tomasky and the always stimulating Andrew Sullivan.) Instead I am going to put up some pretty pictures to gaze at, because sometimes a little aesthetic stimulation is what is needed to cleanse the palate. My favourite fact of the week is that, when at Eton, George Orwell attempted to invoke a 'rule of love' in his house, which would replace all the other rules. In honour of the rule of love, which I think is the most excellent rule I ever heard, I am giving you some of the things I am loving, just at the moment.

From Design Sponge:

Lovely interior from Design Sponge

Glorious spring flowers, and piles of blue books. Who could ask for anything more? (I admit the light fitting is a slight mistake, but I refuse to dwell on it.)

From a Mr Brian Clarke:

Glen Affric by Brian Clark

This is Glen Affric. This is not very far from where I live. Imagine the great good fortune to dwell in such a country.

By Olympist, on Panoramio:

Turkey by Olympist on Panoramio

A truly splendid house in Turkey. I wish Mr Olympist had said exactly where. I imagine some tremendous old Turkish diva living there, getting ready for her close-up.

From the Nothing Elegant blog:

society woman from Nothing Elegant blog

I know almost nothing about fashion, but I know the power of a red sash when I see one.

From Rita Konig:

Lovely interior from Rita Konig

An amazingly restful white room. I have far too many things ever to achieve a room like this, but I feel a keen pleasure as my eyes fall upon it.

From Zack Sheppard:

On August 7, 2003, the Aqua MODIS instrument acquired this image of Ireland on the first day this summer that most of the island hasn´t been completely obscured by cloud cover. Called the Emerald Isle for a good reason, Ireland is draped in vibrant shades of green amidst the blue Atlantic Ocean and Celtic (south) and Irish (east) Seas. Faint ribbons of blue-green phytoplankton drift in the waters of the Celtic Sea, just south of Dublin.
Dublin itself appears as a large grayish-brown spot on the Republic of Ireland´s northeastern coast. This large capital city (population 1.12 million) sits on the River Liffey, effectively splitting the city in half. Northern Ireland´s capital city, Belfast, also sits on a river: the River Lagan. This city, though its population is only a fifth of the size of Dublin´s, is also clearly visible in the image as a grayish-brown spot on the coast of the Irish Sea.

Sensor Aqua/MODIS

Credit Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC

For more information go to:

This is Ireland, as photographed by NASA. It really is emerald.

From Aubrey Road:

Lovely interior from Aubrey Road

I must admit I do have a secret yearning for a really good drinks tray, especially one as chic as this.

From Home Sweet Home:

Lovely interior from Home Sweet Home

There. My word of the day, writ large. With roses.

And finally, from me:

dogs 004

As you can see, we have a visitor. She is my niece's dog. Do you think she is having a nice enough time while her humans are away?

Have a lovely weekend.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Let's talk about cash, baby; or, things I do not understand, No 24

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I really wasn't going to do the budget. It's not only that every single person with fingers to type and a brain to think has rushed into print on the subject, it's also that budget day has never been my idea of a good time. This is quite odd, because I am an unrepentant politics geek. I think the thing I have always hated about it is its horrid mixture of gimmicks, political fakery, macro-economic jargon and promises that a child of six know shall never be kept. All of this is wrapped up in a big old ball of ceremony and tradition: the holding up of the battered red case, the solemn incantations on the floor of the Commons, the final 'I recommend this budget to the House'. As I cling onto faith in politics by my fingernails, budget day is always a test of belief.

Besides, this year was a dull and steady budget, so there was not much to write about. It was fitting for a dull and steady chancellor, although the naughty little joke about Belize did manage to surprise. I must confess a sneaking love for Alistair Darling. His dullness is of the most admirable, a very British variety. It is not the ghastly life-sapping boredom of Geoff Hoon or Chris Huhne or Patricia Hewitt. It comes, I think, from a steadfast belief in public service. That is a most unmodish thing to say, but I stand by it. There is no showboating for him, no jazz hands, no dog and pony shows, no Look at me, look at me. He keeps his head down and gets on with the job, and, in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, I think he has not done badly, and deserves respect.

So, I was thinking of writing about something quite else, when the shadow Chancellor came onto the Today programme to give the opposition view. It was the bog standard interview: yes, there will be cuts; no, we can't tell you what they are because we don't yet have the figures; clearly, we can't go on like this and the country must have a change. The burden of his song was that the country now has a clear choice, but the absolute oddity was that when he was pressed and pressed again to articulate that choice, he did not. Finally, in the very last sentence of the interview, he said: it is a question of whether you want a government of energy, leadership and ideas, or what you saw yesterday.

No one could accuse Alistair Darling of having energy or ideas; he is a most pragmatic politician, dealing with economics by increments rather than grand ideology. The curious thing about George Osborne is that he promised ideas, having given none. Admittedly, it was only a ten minute interview, but it was rather like the people who insist they have a great sense of humour when you have never heard them say one single amusing thing, ever, in their whole wide lives. As a voter, I felt cross and short-changed. I would actually quite like a big idea, if it's not so very much to ask. If I cannot have a big idea, could I at least get a couple of concrete proposals? I pay my taxes, I am politically engaged, is it so outlandish to request some straight answers? I decided, grumpily, that the media narrative about there being little economic difference between the two main parties was right.

Quite tiringly, I am devoted to fairness (must, must, must see both sides of an argument) so before dashing into a rant, I dutifully went to the Conservative website and looked at their economics page. And here is the bizarre thing: they actually do have ideas. They are not sweepingly ideological, but some of them are not bad. They have some interesting proposals to support small businesses. By far the best is that they would give 25% of government contracts to small companies. This politically and practically brilliant: it is positive, easy to understand, and ethically sound. Yet I have never heard a single opposition politician say it out loud. I would have it put on T-shirts. I would talk of little else. I would set it to music.

Here's another good one: they would match the one year public sector pay freeze with a five year ministerial pay freeze, preceded by a 5% cut in ministers' salaries. No one wants pay freezes, but spending must come down somehow, or we shall end up like Greece. The cleverness of the ministerial idea is that those at the top of government will share the pain; it might even restore a little of the fragile faith in parliament. Most of all, it shows an active commitment to fairness, even a collective sense that we are all in this together. It is old school, one nation Toryism. Yet, again, I have never heard a single opposition politician say it out loud.

There are a few other devotions to fairness: tax credits and child trust funds will be confined to those on lower incomes; pensions will be capped for those earning over £50,000. This does not sound like the gleeful, savage right-wingery that moderate voters fear. There is some good stuff on credit card companies: excessive interest rates will be stopped, transparent terms and conditions will be insisted upon. Those are not huge notions, but good woman and man in the street stuff, an acknowledgement that huge, profit-hungry companies cannot ride roughshod over the little person. It rather rocked me back on my heels that my left of centre government, for which I voted precisely because I believed that it supported the powerless over the powerful, has done absolutely nothing about predatory lending. It is quite surprising that it takes an organisation once known as the nasty party to propose something so obvious and morally correct.

There are, of course, some things with which I do not agree, like reducing corporation tax. I am not an old lefty for nothing; my bleeding heart does not bleed in vain. But as a package of proposals, it is hopeful, practical, even activist. It says, implicitly, that government can do good, helpful things. My great fear about the Right is that their instinctive distrust of government would resurface, everything would be handed over to the private sector, there would be a reliance on the market, red in tooth and claw, and suddenly we would be back in the bad old days of trickle-down economics. In their economic proposals, I see nothing of this. Take this sentence: 'we could not even think of abolishing the 50p tax rate on the rich while asking our public sector workers to accept a pay freeze'. That sounds like a principle to me. That sounds as if the new Tories might really be new after all.

Here is my question. Why are the Conservatives not talking about any of this? Why are they not in every single television studio, radio booth and op-ed column, singing it to the rooftops? Why are they allowing the narrative to persist that they have no economic ideas? They clearly do have ideas. You might agree or disagree with them, but they are interesting and thoughtful, and some of them seem to me to be exactly what the doctor ordered. Why are they hidden away on a website only the most geekishly political will ever visit, in very, very small print? Why?

This is possibly the most important election since the dark days of the three day week. Poor old Blighty is teetering on the brink. The triple A rating is in jeopardy, the pound is collapsing, we are in acute danger of falling into a double dip recession. The populace is hungry for honesty and good ideas and a sense that something can be done. One of the charming things about the great British public is that they tend not to be obsessively tribal. Even if they have Labour or Conservative written through them like Brighton on a stick of rock, they are prepared to give the other side a go. It is why traditional Labour voters went over to Mrs Thatcher, and stern Tories ticked the box for Tony Blair. If politicians refuse to articulate what they will do, and fall back on waffle and obfuscation, the electorate will shrug their shoulders, buy the prevailing idea that they are all the same, and stay at home.

Come on politicos, be brave. Have the courage of your convictions. Speak loud and proud. We are waiting for you. You have nothing to lose but your chains.


Picture of the day is of Alistair Darling, because I am oddly fond of him, and, whichever way the election goes, this is certainly his last chance to dance with the red briefcase:

Alistair Darling by Getty Images

(Photograph by Getty Images.)

Tuesday, 23 March 2010


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

See? This is what happens. I go away for a couple of days, and all hell breaks loose. A monumental piece of legislation passes in America, against all the odds, to cries of communism, tyranny and the end of days. A huge row over settlements breaks out in Israel. British MPs are caught on camera referring to themselves as taxis for hire (oh, the edification). Lovely Sandra Bullock finds out that her husband has been catting about with a tattooed lady who likes dressing up in Nazi costumes. Meanwhile, my top news is that the oystercatchers have come in from the coast, which is the surefire, copper-bottomed, blue chip sign that spring has arrived at last.

When I say away, what I really mean is that I have not had time to blog for the last few days. My lovely cousin G came to stay and I went into full hostess mode. I take guests very seriously. The good linen sheets must be aired, the flowers arranged, the vodka frozen, the logs brought in for the fire. I even brushed the dogs, so that they would look shiny and smart, like small children on their first day at school. The visit was utter heaven, from start to finish. The sun came out and shone gaudily from the moment she arrived, to the moment she left; there was the taking of cocktails and the discussing of politics and the rehashing of old jokes and all the other intense pleasures of which a friendship of twenty-five years is made. There was laughter and exclamation and long, luxurious breakfasts and walks along the burn, where the ducks are getting ready to build their nests.

We ate delicious Aberdeen Angus steaks, so melting and tender you could have cut them with a spoon, and spicy prawn and noodle soup with coriander and lime, and Thai curry, and pork escalopes cooked in the Milanese style. It was a perfect United Nations in this house. We went up to my mother's house to celebrate my dear stepfather's birthday, and ended up drinking fine cognac at four in the afternoon in a thoroughly decadent manner.

Now I am back to normal. I do apologise for the slight break in transmission. I must sharpen my wits and concentrate; I must write my book and do my work. But it was a perfect four days, and I smile as I think of it.


Picture of the day is Barack Obama, watching his healthcare bill pass:

Obama watches healthcare bill pass

It has become fashionable now to trash Obama. The Left complain because he is not radical enough, he is not doing enough to rein in the banks, he keeps bashing away at the bipartisan thing even though the Republicans will not give him a single vote and treat him with disdain. The Right insist that he is an evil communist (and sometimes a fascist at the very same time) who wants to take their guns, tax them into extinction, kill their grandmothers, pander to terrorists, and generally turn America into France.  Commentators say that he is not tough enough, experienced enough, even engaged enough.

I think he is a sort of Zen miracle. He appears able to absorb the relentless blows rained down on him, without buckling. He sits back as people on national television describe how he is just like Hitler, how he is a racist, how he refuses to keep America safe (a peculiar and persistent meme, as if somehow he is longing for Armageddon). He deals with a rabid 24 hour news cycle, a recalcitrant legislature, the jostling disagreements in his own party, the blatant untruths told by the other side, and then, finally, calmly, he passes a bill that no other president has been able to achieve, although many have tried. I think that shows extraordinary patience, determination and cool.

America may be the most complicated country in the world. It has a kind of rage in it at the moment which makes me think it is almost impossible to govern. It is mired in a bleak recession and fighting a hot war. It faces continuing terrorist threats. Yet Obama manages to retain his belief in it, as a place of innovation and progress and, that hoary old chestnut, hope. He is a study in keeping his head whilst all about him people are losing theirs. I admire him very much for that.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Still Racing

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

For all my resolutely non-horsey readers, I apologise, as Cheltenham goes on. Despite having an excellent win in the second race yesterday, I am what is known as down on the meeting.

Sarah calls. 'Are you gambling all day?' she says. Then, sternly: 'How much have you lost?' The answer is: more than I would like.

So I have little time to write, as I must go at once and study the form. I have a hot tip for the 4.00; keep your fingers crossed for Song of Songs.

Today, fifty-one years ago, my father rode a horse called Irish Coffee at the festival. He and my mother left it late to get to the meeting, got stuck in traffic, and thought they were going to miss the race. My dad got out of the car and ran the last few hundred yards to the course, arriving at the weighing room to find another jockey wearing his silks. Just in time, he tore the colours of the fellow's back, dashed out to the paddock, and got up onto his horse.

'I finally managed to park the car,' my mother says. 'And I ran into the crowd just in time to see his cap.' That was all she could see, as my father flashed past the winning post in front.

Sadly I don't have a photograph of the great Irish Coffee, but here is my old dad, in his glory days:

dad and me riding 008

That's my father on the left. You can see how riding styles have changed in the last fifty years. Look at that fella on the right: you'd never see a jockey do that now. It used to be known as calling a cab.

dad and me riding 015

There is dad again, on the right, kicking on.

dad and me riding 003

And there I am, attempting to follow in his footsteps, not quite fifty years ago, but almost thirty. I still remember that pony. He jumped like a stag and I could not hold one side of him; I inherited him from my older brother and I absolutely adored him. Those were the days when I did not understand anyone who did not get up at seven in the morning to muck out. Quite soon afterwards, I got to London and discovered boys and The Great Gear Market, and that was that.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

St Patrick's Day

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Happy St Patrick's Day to you all, my Irish darlings. (Everyone is Irish on St Patrick's Day.) My grandmother was brought up in the wild west of County Mayo, and then later outside Dublin. She remembered being woken in the night, as a very small child, and taken to the window to see the city burn during the Easter Rising of 1916. When she grew up, she lived in Wicklow, under the shadow of a mountain called The Fancy, at the edge of a black loch. My father grew up there too, and even though he came to England to live and work, he carried a fondness for Guinness (which he regards as a health aid, rather than an alcohol drink), horses, and any number of Irish songs. He was once thrown out of a grand restaurant in Mayfair for singing a rebel song called The Outlaw Raparee ('I'm England's foe, I'm Ireland's friend, went the lilting lyric) during the early 1970s, when the British were understandably a bit sensitive about things like that.

In honour of St Patrick, and my roots, I have started the day with an Ulster fry, shall spend the afternoon betting on the ponies, quite possibly will listen to my old Clancy Brothers records, and may easily lift a glass of Guinness to the auld country.

So, picture of the day is of my splendid breakfast, with all food groups represented, including The Racing Post:

St Patrick's Day 062

And a couple of bonus shots of my ladies celebrating the coming of spring with an especially big stick:

St Patrick's Day 053

St Patrick's Day 043

(See how sad the poor grass is after being covered in snow for the last four weeks?)

St Patrick's Day 052

St Patrick's Day 056

Isn't it amazing that one old stick can provide so much utter bliss?

And now I must go and study the runners and riders for the second day of Cheltenham. What can I tell you? It's the greatest racing festival on earth.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

A state of absurd excitement

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Horses before Cheltenham Press Association

All year I wait for Cheltenham. I can't help it. I grew up in a racing stable, so this week is like a combination of the Olympics and the World Cup for me. My heart is actually bashing away in my chest, I am so excited. It is ten minutes away from the first race; there are four heavenly days of it to go. All I can think of is odds and form and what will stand up and what won't, so please forgive if the posts are a little patchy this week. Also, there will be Guinness. I'm just saying.

For those of you who also love the ponies, I wish you a triumphant week. For those of you who would rather regard drying paint at close quarters, I can only apologise.

Monday, 15 March 2010

No, Prime Minister

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

The Prime Minister did a very odd thing today. He went on Woman's Hour, and talked in a very, very quiet voice. I know that does not sound particularly strange; I wish I could render in words the full peculiarity of it. Gordon Brown is not famous for being soft-spoken; that has never been his thing. He has been notorious for years in the Westminster Village for having a volcanic temper, so much so that Tony Blair was quite frightened of him. 'Give me a clue, Gordon,' Blair reportedly begged, when Brown refused to give the then Prime Minister a sniff of the forthcoming budget. Now Andrew Rawnsley's book has come out, and we know more than perhaps we wanted about pushing and poking and shouting and flying telephones and calling aides unrepeatable names.

So to go onto a programme aimed specifically at women, and suddenly affect a voice so quiet that at times I had to strain to hear it, just made Brown appear like the phoniest of the phonies. I could hardly concentrate on his policy prescriptions, because all I could imagine was him sitting down with some pollster, who had the focus group numbers and the breakdown of the key marginals and other psephological ephemera, and being told that the most crucial thing was to speak softly. 'You see, Gordon,' some wonk must have said, 'it seems that the females don't like stories about you yelling at hapless secretaries, but if you do the thing with the voice, then all will be forgiven.' And never forget, we ladies get startled by loud noises.

I have tried to give Gordon Brown the benefit of the doubt. I used to believe in him. I still retain an unfashionable belief in the political process and the political class. But the quiet voice finished me off. It was not only fake, it was not only style over substance, but it felt as if he was patronising half the population. On top of that, he still refused to apologise for the troops not having the right equipment in Afghanistan. Generals, army families, troops on the ground, coroners and civil servants have all stated clearly that lack of the right kit, from desert boots to proper armoured vehicles to helicopters, was an acute problem. On Woman's Hour today, the Prime Minister trotted out his tired, rehearsed line about meeting every military request. It doesn't matter how many voice coaches you get, if you refuse to take responsibility for your actions, and treat people like fools, and lack the courage to admit to mistakes, then you will never get the women's vote. You do not deserve to get any damn votes.

Oh dear, I suspect that this election season is going to make me very, very cross indeed. I am going to take a deep breath and eat some soda bread and try and calm down. Otherwise, I am very much afraid I am going to end up looking like this:

Don't mess with the ladies

Thank God it is the start of Cheltenham tomorrow, so I can think about the soaring magnificence of this:

Kauto Star

And since the runners and riders are saddling up for the election, and it will be statistics a go-go for the next six weeks, here is my favourite stat of the day:

In a survey done by Ladbrokes, 98% of its customers had heard of Kauto Star, while only 25% had heard of Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats. I know that should really make me despair, but for some reason it makes me laugh.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Mothering Sunday

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Mothers' Day

I know that Mothering Sunday is a pointless, meaningless commercial exercise, perpetrated by the evil geniuses at Hallmark, and therefore I should ignore it. As I said to my old mum only the other day: Every day is Mother's Day. (If I were American, I believe that would be described as a kiss-ass thing to say. Luckily, I am British.)

But you know what? Sod it. Sod them all if they can't take a joke. Let us let off fireworks. I think there should be a celebration, even if it has been hijacked by grasping florists and fiendish manufacturers of chocolates. MOTHERS - Happy Day. You are absolutely bloody marvellous. Everyone blames you for everything, especially Melanie Phillips and your own children, who are quite probably in league together. You are often accused of undermining the very fabric of society. You are told every day that all your choices are almost certainly wrong: too young, too old, too working, not working enough. As for you feckless teen mothers, stop breaking Britain NOW. There are no awards for mothers, no Oscars or Grammies. There is just The Guilt. Oh, and the lack of sleep.

I am going to take a wild stab in the dark and say that almost certainly, against all the odds, the mothers are doing a tremendous job. I salute you all. I especially salute my own mum, who has known a few dark nights of the soul in her time, and still manages to make me laugh.

In honour of the mothers of the animal as well as the human world, the pictures of the day are unashamedly adorable, so any cynics out there should just make their way calmly to the exit:

Polar bear and cub

Cheetah mother and baby

Tiger and cub

Penguin mother and baby

As Nancy Mitford would say: do admit.

Friday, 12 March 2010

In which I get my groove back

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I never quite understand where moods come from. Despite years of reading Jung, lying on a couch in Hampstead (where else?) and, of course, pondering the Human Condition, I am often forced to conclude I know nothing. This makes me mildly grumpy, since I like to think I know something, after all that damn education I had.

Lately I have been cranky and unsettled. I am not getting along with my new book as I should. I castigate myself mercilessly for not yet finding my rhythm. I tell myself I should be doing more, I should be doing better. Then I get even crosser because I think I really have nothing to complain about, when I have all my faculties, and live in a sturdy stone house with heat and light, and do not have to walk eight miles every morning with a heavy pot on my head just to get water.

Yet today, for no reason at all, I woke up smiling. Hope had returned, stealthily, in the night. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it is because my dear old friend Sophie called last night, all the way from Santa Monica. Here is what I cherish about the old friendships: the shared history, the absolute understanding, the shouting laughter, the sense that we have been in it together for twenty-five years, and we shall go on for another twenty-five, contra mundum. It's more precious than emeralds. Perhaps it was because of that one telephone call that I got up today, did all my chores, returned emails, wrote nine hundred words, gave the dogs a proper long walk, and felt like a relatively competent human.

In this lovely new mood, I am accentuating the positive. It's Pollyanna Friday, children, because there is no sense in gloom and doom every day of the week. I find myself contemplating the miracles of modern life, instead of the failures and disappointments and tragedies.

Aside from the old friendships, one of the things that makes me smile is the internet. I do sometimes wonder if it is a force for Good. I sometimes wonder if the relentless hurling of news, as it happens, without break or pause, is entirely helpful. So much of the news is bad. Sometimes it seems it is all venal politicians, paedophile priests, greedy bankers, unrepentant warmongers, child killers, terrifying natural disasters, and rank economic collapse. It is quite hard to cling to the tiny, bobbing raft of optimism in the face of all that. There is an echoing, plaintive voice in my head that says: it was not supposed to be this way.

But, and it's a good, fat, meaty but, the place where you get the little shafts of light is out there in the webosphere. While the official television news and the print media seem almost wilfully determined to ignore any evidence of human goodness, kindness, cleverness, quirkiness or flat-out funniness, the internet revels in these things. It also embraces the majesty and sweetness of the animal kingdom (I admit there is an occasional cute overload, and I also admit I am not immune from a baby penguin, in These Troubled Times). Most unexpectedly of all, it embraces aesthetics. There is an amazing variety of sheer beauty on the web, from landscape to architecture, from modern design to ancient ruins, from photographs to faces.

Here are some of the things that are making me smile today:

The Brixton Zebra! Who knew? I have no idea why I find this so enchanting but I do:

The Brixton Zebra

It is from an delightful new site I have found called How to be a Retronaut, which features old, forgotten, archive photographs, rescued from obscurity and presented with love and care.


To continue the animal theme, have a look at the crazy climbing mountain goat:

High climbing goat by BetterPics

You can just see the tiny little creature up there. There are several things I would like to know about this photograph (taken by someone called BetterPics). Where is it? How did that wild rock formation come about? Where on earth was the photographer standing to get such a shot? Is she or he sure it is a goat? If it is a goat, how did it get up there? And, more importantly, why? Is there some kind of mountain goat gene that drives them to scale the highest peaks just for the pure joy of the thing? Or is it lost?


On quite another note, the pleasure of a random red skirt:

From Allure Magazine, via Absolutely Beautiful Things

This is from Allure Magazine, via the charming Australian blog Absolutely Beautiful Things. I'm not sure why I find it quite so pleasing. I have an irrational fondness for plain black umbrellas. I love a good fire engine red. I adore old junk shops. And my favourite colour is racing green. So I suppose that is why I like this photograph.


A gorgeous room filled with books, from the unassuming but often fascinating Home Sweet Home:

Room with books


And only because I know you want them - BABY PENGUINS. Taken by the very talented Mr David C Schultz, of whom I had not heard until today:

Baby Penguins by David C Schultz

I defy you not to feel a glimmer of happiness whilst looking at those. For some reason, they make me think of a group of old men coming out of a gentleman's club in St James, huddled up in their winter coats, some time in 1932, probably discussing King Faisal and the newly independent Iraq, and wondering if they will find a cab, in this weather.

With or without penguins, I wish you all a lovely weekend.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Not much to report; or, a sudden inability to type

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I was going to do you a lethal bullet of a post about the BBC and the mad egotism of Alex Salmond, the inexplicable First Minister of Scotland, who is saying that my human rights are being breached because he has not been invited to take part in the election debates. I did not notice my human rights being breached, so it was lucky he was on the lookout. I was going to broaden it out into a general argument about the BBC in general and how politicians regard it in particular. I was going to throw in something about Scottish devolution. I was going to make a joke about ABC World News in America and how it shoots Diane Sawyer in soft focus. (I watch it, mesmerised; I never saw a newscaster filmed with Vaseline on the lens before).

But I had to think about porn today, and it's just worn me down. At least I managed 1600 words, unlike yesterday, when I brought gazing out of the window to a performance art. So I have a slight holy glow of achievement, but also the definite sense that my brain has stopped working. I never quite understand why the simple act of thinking can be so enervating, but there it is. Or rather, there I am, in a small pile of collapse in the corner.

I am only good for eating ham and soda bread with slightly too much butter, which is what I am going to do now.

In the meantime, I leave you with this, which for some reason made me laugh immoderately -

(It's not just the squirrels. It's the naughty editor's comment.)

Wednesday, 10 March 2010


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I sometimes kiss my dogs. I know. I am turning into one of Those Women. I like to think that because I am not Paris Hilton, and because they are sturdy working dogs, and because I do it with a degree of irony, it's all right. It's probably not.

The point is: it means absolutely nothing to them. They usually regard me with a patient look of disdain when I do it, or just carry on sleeping. Let's let the old girl get it over with, they seem to say. Maybe they think, in the degree that dogs do think, that I have some kind of nervous condition which induces a strange lip sound. For me, it is an explosion of love. Sometimes I look at them and they are so good and sleek and beautiful and funny, such a bounty of loveliness in my life, that I must give my affection expression. So: the kissing. For them, it is entirely meaningless. It made me think of how curious it is that humans have given the kiss such a freight of meaning.

For a start, who first decided that love should be declared by a pursing up of the mouth, accompanied by a sort of clicking sound? Which of our cave-dwelling or savannah-roaming ancestors worked that one out? How did the open-mouthed tongue kiss become a marker of sexual interest? And who named it the French kiss? Why not the Norwegian kiss or the Japanese kiss?  Then there are the mysterious, almost formal categories of kiss, with all their attendant indicators. There is the social kiss, the polite peck on the cheek. In Britain and America, this used to come in singles, but now is almost always a double, to show a sophisticated European sensibility. The Continentals themselves, not to be outdone, are now starting to favour the triple kiss. There is the air kiss, confined almost entirely to high fashion and some areas of high society. This has nothing to do with love and everything to do with status: I am too important even to touch you with my delicate skin.

In some cultures, only men greet each other with cheek kisses. In others, this is considered too girly and terrifying for words; if there must be public affection, it will be shown in the gruff and manly hug. The kiss on the hand is almost dead now, but is occasionally revived to show old-fashioned courtliness. The reverent kiss survives in certain religions: the bishop will still hold out his ring. The kiss can mean luck: people kiss dice, or betting slips, or even job applications. It is considered so important that some inventive person even came up with a way to write it down: XXX. Three Xs mean three kisses: how on earth did that come about?

There is the iconic kiss of pure, yearning love, as in Robert Doisneau's famous photograph, which for a while hung on the wall of every single student room. This kind of kiss is considered a thing of such intimacy that it is more important than actual sex. When Julia Roberts said to Richard Gere in Pretty Woman that she didn't kiss on the mouth, everyone assumed that was true of all prostitutes, and everyone assumed it made perfect sense. Hookers can lie on their backs and think of England during shagging, but one tiny kiss will pierce all their professional defences. The magical properties of the kiss are seen in fairy tales, where random princesses run about kissing reptiles, or transform hairy beasts into beautiful men through the simple application of lips. At the opposite end of the scale, there is the Shakespearian kiss of betrayal.

How did one minute physical action come to produce such a plethora of myth and meaning? That is my question of the day. Meanwhile, the dogs, unheeding, continue with their slumbers, dreaming of rabbits.

Pictures of the day are of the kisses we all know and love.

The Sailor and his girl on VJ day, by Alfred Eisenstaedt:


Rodin, casting it in stone:

Rodin The Kiss


Doisenau The Kiss

The magnificent Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity:

Deborah Kerr from Here to Eternity

And finally, how could you not want to plant a great big smacker on faces like these?

Mango and Purdey in snow


Blog Widget by LinkWithin