Monday, 31 May 2010

In which the sun shines

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Sometimes the sun really does come out on the May Bank Holiday. Even though I am not a bank, I am naughtily taking the day off in celebration.

Because it's not a usual Monday, the radio schedules are all over the shop. I turned on expecting to hear some cross discussion about poor David Laws, and the Coalition tottering (amazing how it has gone in official judgement from bold new step to hanging by a thread) and instead there was something about the sixties. Frank Sinatra sang a song, and then there was a piece about Kennedy and Churchill dying, and clips of ask what you can do for your country, and blood toil sweat and tears.

There was something about hearing old Winnie talk of our island nation which made me both thrilled and sad at the same time. There was no golden age when politicians were titans and the public held them in pristine regard. Britons, in particular, have always been quite unsentimental about their leaders. Churchill was beloved; then, when they had enough of him, the voters turfed him unceremoniously out, after the war. All the same, it feels now as if we have started to eat our young. There is a kind of savage glee with which politicians are brought down. Look, look - RIPPING off the taxpayer, GAY lover, FORTY thousand pounds. Let us dance piously on the grave of a political career. For good measure, let us discuss, endlessly, whether people should stay in or out of the closet, because the idea of a private life or an autonomous decision is so last season.

Laws claimed for some rent on his second home. He did not go out at night drowning kittens. His transgression depends on semantics: was the man with whom he lived his official partner, or not. It's not the most egregious crime in the history of crime, even if he should be proved to have broken the rules. But everyone should build bonfires and dance in delight as the amazingly self-regarding Telegraph claims another scalp. There, political class, take that, and that, and that. HA.

In America, there are perfectly reasonable commentators who are complaining that President Obama is not angry enough about the BP oil spill. They admit, almost grudgingly, that he cannot actually put on a wetsuit and go and staunch the flow himself, but goddammit, he should be madder. Apparently his job description includes Emoter in Chief, and he is failing perilously. The Telegraph, showing some more of its charming self-righteousness, claims that he has now 'lost all credibility'.

Of course our elected representatives should be held to account. The age of deference, should it ever have existed, did not do anyone much good. But I start to feel a little uncomfortable about this wholesale visceral hatred and distrust of the political class. The endless bitching and suspicion and giddy delight when an MP is brought low is entirely negative and destructive. I hold the unfashionable view that most people go into public life for honourable reasons. They could much more easily sidle off and work for a nice oil company that is raping the land and get fatly rich on the proceeds, without ever having their sexual preferences splattered all over the front pages. But no, no, they are all the same, they are all in it for what they can get, they hold the electorate in contempt. They are corrupt and self-serving and bloated with arrogance, every last one of them. I do not think this is true. I do not think that believing this is constructive. I do not think we should doff our hats every time a politicians walks by, but I wonder if we should not resurrect The Benefit of the Doubt. Just because the sun is shining.

Meanwhile, I contemplate the new life in my garden:


The lilac lilac.


The very first flower on the white lilac.


The first geraniums, coming out.


A fat, tightly furled peony. Last year, I found some peonies growing wild in the rough ground by my compost heap. I dug them up and transplanted them, more in hope than expectation. And now LOOK.


This is another miracle. In the wild part of my garden, there were some big Scottish ferns. The weeks and weeks of snow appeared to have killed them stone dead. They went quite brown and desiccated. Then, this morning, I wandered into the wilderness corner, and there was this curled leaf, green and alive, like a little sign of hope.


This is not some kind of exotic insect-munching plant, but an oriental poppy, in bud. I made this garden from scratch; it was originally just a rough patch of land, all nettles and high grass. An expert horticultural lady came in and dug the beds and did some of the early planting. She put in big blowsy poppies, which I did not like. I like delicate, shy plants, mostly in blue and white. I thought the huge scarlet poppies were vulgar and overblown. I kept digging them up and giving them away, but they would not be denied. Now I rather love them, after all that.


This is my very favourite plant in the whole garden, a tiny little purple geranium.


This baby euphorbia is my second favourite.

And talking of favourites:


Regard the elegance.


And the beauty.

Because a bank holiday is not a bank holiday without a dog picture.

I hope the sun is shining wherever you are.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Another little surprise

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Just mooching about my favourite political blogs, when I came upon this, from the always wonderful John Rentoul:

David Cameron visits Yorkshire

(Photograph by Tim Montgomerie.)

The man these people appear so happy to see is The Prime Minister. It is surprising on several different levels. In various elements of the press, various levels of consensus cohere into a narrative which goes: all trust in politicians is gone, the Coalition is a cynical power-grab which will not last, All Tories Are Evil and Hate Poor People, Mr Cameron is a smooth PR operative without any ideological underpinning, all Britons are in despair because at any moment we shall turn into Greece, the entire country has gone to the dogs anyway, and the sun never shines on the May Bank Holiday weekend. This picture seems to contradict several of those assumptions in one shot.

I can't put it any better than the excellent Mr Rentoul, who writes:

'Love the colours and the happy faces (do these people not realise they live in Britain, where everyone wears black and navy and looks sour?).'

Who knows? I have secret hopes for the new government. It could all go horribly wrong at any moment, but perhaps we are not quite as buggered as some people like to think.

And, as an extra bonus, if you would like one more thing to make you smile, go and read this. It is a touching story about autism and horses. In an ironic twist, I had gone to The Daily Mail to make sure that no one was writing nasty things about David Laws being forced out of the closet. (I like David Laws, think he is proving a very good chief secretary, and hope he will survive this storm.) I was all ready to get up on my own high pony about homophobic slurs and other animals, and instead I found an enchanting story which warmed every last cockle of my old bleeding heart. Which just goes to show. Not quite sure what, but something, for sure.

A slight surprise

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Sometimes, I step outside my front door and get a nice surprise, like a fleeting glimpse of a roe deer or the arrival of the swifts for the summer or any kind of parcel. Today, I really was not expecting this:


Or, in fact, this:


Or this:


There was a little bank holiday fete going on across the way, and a gentleman had pitched up with a sea eagle, two owls, a peregrine falcon and a harrier hawk. It really was rather thrilling.


Then my gorgeous niece turned up and my day was made.

I don't want to go too bucolic on your ass, but I would also like to state for the record that I actually observed some lambs gambolling in the south meadow this morning. I'm afraid there was no other word for it. It's not so very long ago that I spent my time running between the All Saint's Road and Dean Street pretending to be something out of a novel by Colin MacInnes, and now I get my kicks watching small sheep jump about in a green field. My friend Sophie was the one who watched the nature programmes; I was much too busy reading sordid biographies of Scott Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker. Now, all I can think about is when my swallows are going to come back from their African wintering grounds to build their traditional nest in the shed. (Each year, I am terrified something will happen to them on the long journey home, and the perfect little wattle nests will remain forlorn and empty.) It wasn't how I thought my life would turn out.  It got this way through a tangle of serendipity and circumstance, and I would not change it for gold or rubies.

Have a lovely weekend.

Friday, 28 May 2010


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

What I love about the spring coming so late in Scotland is that you get to the end of May and all the green is still new and dazzling. It is the very epitome of green. It is as if green were just invented.


Looking down through the leaves into the burn.


A tiny little cowslip.


Even a common old nettle looks ravishing at this time of year.

And then, just as we were finishing our morning walk, the dogs and I spotted my lovely SISTER:


See how they dash to greet her?


And then politely escort her back. How smart she looks in her new red coat. (The little black dog in front is her poodle.)


Then we all walked up along the beech avenue.


And looked at the wild Scottish sky.

Sometimes all I need is a bit of walk and a bit of chat and some glorious trees to look at. I am not always so philosophical, but I am today.

Have a lovely Friday.

Thursday, 27 May 2010


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Tired, so this is in brief.

Today I:

Was moved by the anniversary of Dunkirk.

Made a Hollandaise, watched it come together perfectly and then, at the final moment, split. Thought, bugger that; got two more egg yolks, started again, added the disastrous separated mess, and thanked the culinary angels as the thing cohered at last. Ate it with asparagus from Worcestershire.

Read an interesting story about Beau Brummell and the dandies of 1818. One theory goes that he conquered London society through sheer indifference.

Did research for the book. Did you know that Queen Shub-ad of Ur was probably the first person ever to wear lipstick, in 3500 BC? I did not. I did not even know where Ur was.

Contemplated the differences between radical and liberal feminism, to no great effect.

Talked to a nice gentleman about buying some 2009 claret en primeur, which is excessively naughty but rather thrilling.

Spoke to my mother on the same subject. 'What does Parker say?' she said. Then: 'Hmm. Perhaps I should get some La Tour Carnet too.' There was a rustling of pages. She has many mysterious wine books in which she looks up things to do with wine. 'Left bank,' she said. 'That's good.' More rustling. 'I see,' she said, cryptically. 'Mum,' I said, 'shall I let you get on with it?' 'Oh yes,' she said vaguely. She was no longer listening to me, but wondering whether the sun was shining when the grape was picked and how much it had rained the month before and if it was true that 2009 could be almost as good as 2005, which is what people are starting to say.

Thought about cleaning my car, and decided against it.

Felt a slight regret about all the things I do not know and shall never know.

Took a picture of  - guess who? - no prizes:


(Isn't it odd that sometimes they look so different and sometimes so similar? Even though they are sisters, their looks and characters are quite discrete.)

Admired the horse chestnut, now in full bloom:


Felt pleased the delicate little chives survived last week's crazy monsoon:


And the apple blossom too:


Admired the evening light, complete with canine:

May 27th

And that was quite enough for one day.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

One more thing

Posted by Tania Kindersley.


Like a pesky bit of apple core between the teeth, that State Department fellow keeps on coming back to bug me. When I said it was not entirely untrue that there is nothing special about Britain, I meant it in the widest sense: there is not necessarily anything more or less special about any country compared with another. Each place is special and not special in its own special way. Am I lost in semantics yet?

I instinctively flinch from the we're the greatest tendency; you can take your damn testosterone and go home. I really don't think it is a competition. If there is a greatest nation in the world it is probably Denmark, if their bus drivers are anything to go by.

But I find myself muttering, like Mutley in The Whacky Racers. (Am having sudden acid flashback to Penelope Pitstop putting on her lipstick.) I hear myself saying, at odd moments: Marmite. Or: Irony. (I know that other nations do irony, but I say that it is a British invention.) And: Frank Cooper's Oxford.

Obviously I am not quite as temperate and sanguine as I thought. So here, out of sheer bloody-mindedness, another very British invention, is a little list of the things that this poor, clapped-out old country gave the world:

Fish and chips. Keats. The telephone. Matches. The Grand National. The Rolling Stones. Vanbrugh. Winston Churchill. Oxford and Cambridge. The pub. The internet. (Oh, yes, the INTERNET. Which the miraculous Tim Berners-Lee not only invented, but gave away for free.). Twiggy. The Lake District. Evelyn Waugh. The Scottish Enlightenment. Sir Isaac Newton. The BBC. Stilton. The poems of Milton. The cartoons of Hogarth. The bowler hat. Virginia Woolf. The mini skirt. The Mini Cooper. Pimms. Byron. Laurence Olivier. The Angry Young Men. Gilbert and Sullivan. The police. Oh, and The Police. Football. The television. George Orwell. Scotch whisky. The equals sign. (= was invented by a Welshman. Who knew?) Cricket. Auden. The crossword. Savile Row. The magnifying glass. Logarithms. Red London buses. Stubbs. The English language. Cecil Beaton. Both Francis Bacons. Rosalind Franklin. Self-deprecation as a way of life. Jane Austen. Mary Queen of Scots. James Bond. The Aston Martin. Melton Mowbray pork pies. Nancy Mitford. Afternoon tea. Tweed. The kilt. Punk. Spotted dick, for which we apologise.


There. Better now. The old Joanna Bull in me is sated.

Special, schmecial.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Pomp and Circumstance

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Imagine you are twenty-six years old. You are taken aside and told that your job has been decided for you. You may have no say in where you live, or what you do from now on. Your daily life will be mapped out in increments, inscribed in intricate official diaries, drawn up by other people. You may not carry money. No one, except for members of your very close family, will ever call you by your name. Your every move will be scrutinised. You must weigh each word before you utter it, lest you carelessly cause a scandal or a constitutional crisis. You will never again be able to ride on a bus or hail a cab or cycle down a city street. You cannot nip down the shops for a packet of fags. Your first question on meeting anyone will be a variant on: 'Where do you come from?'. You will spend an inordinate amount of time with Lord Mayors and other dignitaries. Everyone who ever meets you will be on their best behaviour, which means the likelihood of antic conversation and good jokes are vanishingly small. Nothing you ever do, ever again, may be on a whim.

This is why I love the Queen. I know she has palaces and some nice horses and a few jewels, but I would not wish that constrained life on my most devout enemy. I used to take the easy, fashionable view that the whole lot of them were a bunch of worthless showers; now I am older I think, perhaps it is not quite that simple. Anyway, I salute Her Majesty and all who sail in her.

The awful thing is, that I am now such an old fart, I also rather love the State Opening of Parliament, which happened this morning. I love the ripples of history that run through it. The Yeomen of the Guard must search the basement of the Palace of Westminster, because of Guy Fawkes. It's only four hundred years since a band of plotters tried to blow the place up, who knows when they might try again? I love that the Cap of Maintenance must be delivered, to remind us that once monarchs craved the blessing of the Pope, until Henry VIII got jiggy with it and decided to put an end to all that. I love that the door must be slammed in Black Rod's face, forcing him to knock three times in acknowledgement of the supremacy of the lower House, in a particular reminder of the moment in 1642 when Charles I attempted to have five members of the Commons arrested. I like that we still have a Lord Great Chamberlain, after 900 years, and that he gets to dress in this amount of fabulous frogging:


It's all absurd, really, but it's wonderful at the same time. It is so much more aesthetically pleasing than men in suits in black motorcades.

I missed the beginning, but I turned on the BBC just in time to see the Queen leaving. I was delighted to witness the Imperial Crown, on its own special cushion, and the Sword of State being taken back to the Tower of London, in the Queen Alexandra state coach, accompanied by the Crown Jeweller and the Barge Master. I did not know we had a Barge Master, but I am very reassured to hear it. The barges must be mastered. I wonder if it is a job one could apply for? I quite fancy being Mistress of the Barges.

The imperial crown from Number 10 flickr feed

I caught a happy glimpse of the state coach and two troops of Household Cavalry taking up half of Whitehall, the spanking black horses gleaming in the late spring sun.

The Household Cavalry accompanies the Queen home via The Telegraph

The Queen's coach makes its way down the Mall by Dan Kitwood

The Queen's Coach leaving parliament by the EPA

I do have a soft spot for a fellow in a really good uniform, so you can imagine how happy all this made me.

The Queen in her coach Andy Rain

(I do hope someone mixes old Queeny a socking great dry martini when she gets home.)

Along with all the circumstance and pomp, I love the slight irreverence with which the British press greets the event. 'Her Maj delivering speech' went one caption in The Sun. Ann Treneman tweeted: 'Am counting tiaras. It's my job. Amazing bling.' The Times reported that the Imperial State Crown 'looks in fine fettle and very sparkly'.

For all the jokes, and we are right to make them (great British sin: taking oneself too seriously), the whole event is a rather stirring spectacle. I know that we are just a small, crowded island in the North Sea; we no longer have much clout in the world. Last week, I read about an official from the State Department in America saying: 'There's nothing special about Britain. You're just the same as the other 190 countries in the world.' It was brutal, and not very mannerly, but not entirely untrue. I don't like jingoism or exceptionalism, although when I am feeling cranky I do think: we have SHAKESPEARE, so everyone else can just bugger off. But for all our reduced role on the global stage, boy, can we do ceremony. It's not the cure for any of the world's ills, but it's not nothing.


(Photographs by Allen Warren; Number 10 Flickr feed; The Telegraph; Dan Kitwood; the EPA; Andy Rain.)

Monday, 24 May 2010


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Very Mondayish. Have managed to bash out 1200 words, which has exhausted my capacity for rational thought, should such a thing exist in me in the first place. I am squinting at the screen like a cross old lady who has lost her reading glasses.  The thing that is most interesting me is the lone jackdaw who struts and hops about the lawn in front of my study window, pecking for worms. He has the manner and gait of a gent out of PG Wodehouse. All his friends live over in the beech avenue to the west; he is the only one who comes here, I have no idea why. Also, a single black-faced gull has flown in from the coast, and is show-boating about in front of the house. So really all I am capable of are random avian musings.

Luckily, the national treasure that is Michael White has written a particularly funny piece today on mad Liam Fox and his Afghan blunder, so if you want some sense, I direct you here. He makes an especially good joke about David Cameron surely having some nice Afghan schoolfellows. It's not beyond the bounds of possibility. After all, Eton educated King Leopold of the Belgians, a chief of staff in the Indian Army, various Thai, Romanian and Yugoslav princes, the Maharajah of Jodhpur, the Prime Minister of Thailand, and the homicidal King Dipendra of Nepal. It was not all dukes and rolling green acres. Why not an Afghan warlord or two?

In the meantime, I leave you with a couple of random pictures for your visual pleasure, and apologise for shocking lack of coherence. Better tomorrow.


The white lilac, getting ready to burst into flower.


The very first of the mint.


The startling scarlet bud on the plane tree.


My favourite old tree stump. It looks like some kind of ancient sea monster.


A glimpse of the blue hill, through the trees.


A moody black and white shot of my favourite gateposts.

There. Now I am going to have a little rest.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Sunday, Sunday

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Last week, the lovely Lou from the enchanting Lou, Boos and Shoes passed on to me a Grumpy Meme, which appears to be the blog equivalent of that programme on BBC2 about grumpy old women.  (For those of you not familiar with the BBC, they had done a programme called Grumpy Old Men, which was composed of famous and semi-famous gentlemen of a certain age getting cross about things. Even though it was just talking heads, it was actually rather funny and struck a chord, so clearly some clever commissioning editor sat up one morning and thought: Hey! Women can be grumpy too. To which I say: YES WE CAN.)

Anyway, the point is that you list as many things as you like that make you stamp your foot, which must be an excellent psychological exercise, and yet another example of the cleverness of the blogosphere. I see it as a perfect invitation to let off steam, although you may have noticed that I don't need that much inviting.

Here we go.

Number one, with a bullet, is: DANGLING MODIFIERS. As a devoted pedant, dangling modifiers make me crazy. See what I did there? Of course you know what I mean, but that sentence is wrongly and hideously composed; it will arrest the eye, and you might have to go back and read it again. The correct version is: as a devoted pedant, I find dangling modifiers maddening. I am not certain whether it is because I have become more sensitive to them with age, or whether they are increasing in frequency, but I see them twisting through even the most reputable publications now, like Japanese knotweed. I even found one in The Telegraph this morning. This insanity must STOP.

Two.  My astonishing ability to break things. It's not china and glass so much, although I was famous as a child for being radically clumsy, but any mechanical object. I have a most peculiar effect on clocks. Any clock I buy will be guaranteed to stop working within a week of my getting it home. I am far too disorganised to take them to the mender, even should I know where a clock-mender might live, and too sad to throw them out, so I have a house full of stopped clocks. This sounds like a metaphor for something, but I am not quite certain what.

Three.  The expression 'must have', as used in fashion magazines. Sarah and I have a good old rant about this in Backwards. I do not see why perfectly intelligent, sentient women should be told what they must or must not have. As an added irritant, the Must Have is often egregiously ugly and excessively expensive.

Four.  The making of assumptions. I do this myself, because it is a very human failing, and I am not living up on some pristine mountaintop where the air is too pure for flaws.  I do try and fight against it, though. It is a gateway drug: you start off thinking you can handle it, and before you know it, you are injecting stereotypes before breakfast. It's a tiny step to: all women are obsessed with shoes/hate their thighs/are nothing without a husband, and all gay men love Judy Garland records, and all straight men think about nothing but sex and cars, and all lesbians wear Doc Martens, and all Frenchmen are intellectual snobs, and everyone who lives in the West Country drinks only cider, and look how efficient every last German is. Suddenly we are living in a world where complexity and contradiction are banished. This is a slightly trick one for me, because I do love a good, juicy generalisation. It's a work in progress.

Five. My complete inability to keep my office tidy.

Six.  The ground elder which grows and grows in my garden, and laughs at my puny attempts to keep it under control.

Seven.  Lou has this one on her list, and I second it, with gusto. It is: rudeness. In particular, to people who work in shops and restaurants. It's easy to be charming to one's peers; if someone is rude to waiters I take it as a black mark against their character.

Eight.  People who bang on. Again, my house is made of glass on this one. I have been known to harbour several buzzing bees in my bonnet. But life is short and there really is no call for droning on, and on, and on about a thing.

Nine.  The We Are All Doomed lobby. The most visible manifestation of this is the cadre of newspaper columnists who are perfectly furious about everything, and insist that the country is going to The Dogs. The government is useless, the young people are drunken fame-whores, the culture is thin and gimcrack, even the weather is not what it used to be. Oh, and the women are usually ruining everything, you will find. I know we can't all spend every day being Pollyanna Panglosses, but there is an awful lot of daily wonder in life, and if people just run around saying everything is shit they really are doing nothing to add to the gaiety of nations.

Ten.   Anyone who insists that feminists are humourless, po-faced, ugly, man-hating, proto-lesbian harridans. Some of us are very jolly dog people, thank you so much.

There. That's better.

Talking of the dog people, here are a couple of pictures:



(I may be wrong, but I think she is contemplating the Universal Why.)

And the tremendous news is that the very first horse chestnut flowers are out today:


Look how magnificent and green the old tree is:


As if that were not enough, there is also the first, tiny lilac blossom. My lilac did not flower last year, for some mysterious reason of its own, so I was never so pleased to see anything:


Amazingly, the apple blossom survived the seven hours of torrential rain we had on Friday:


(It rained so hard that the entire village was cut off, the power went off, and all the delicate cherry blossoms were stripped off their branches as if by some malign, giant hand. It was quite alarming. One of the dogs spent the whole afternoon hiding under my desk.)

And look what beauty is growing in the wilderness part of my garden:


I never planted these, but there they are, a little miracle, growing like Topsy in all their glorious blueness:


And just so you can see how amazingly verdant everything is after all that monsoon rain:


Don't you love the balls? They are the tops of the old gateposts at the end of my garden, but from this angle they look like a mysterious relic indicating an arcane mathematical formula or some secret of the ancient Celts. Or perhaps not. The whimsy is growing on me, so I shall stop now.

I hope you are all having a lovely, happy Sunday.

Friday, 21 May 2010

A rather slender Friday

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I wanted to do a big meaty, round-up of the week kind of post for you today, but I have just done 1300 words of book and my brain is about to fall out of my ears. I never quite understand how just thinking and then translating those thoughts onto a page can be so tiring. I often tell myself that I am not working in a factory, or down a mine, or digging up crops from the fields; there is no call for this level of physical exhaustion from simply sitting at a desk. The fact remains that on days when I do a fast, concentrated run of work like this, I am left good for absolutely nothing.

So I do apologise.

Instead, here are a few more photographs from my heavenly new Olympus EPL1. (EPL1 is such a bloodless name. Could they not have called it the Olympus Miracle, or the Olympus Genius, or the Olympus Completely Bloody Marvellous? Perhaps EPL stands for Excessively Pleasing Loveliness. It could do.)


I love this because even though it is not a well-composed picture, and appears to be leaning at a slightly drunken angle, and is, let's face it, not quite in focus, it makes my ordinary old room look like something from one of the Bloomsberries. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


Look, look, the very first chive is flowering.


That, believe it or not, is just the dried up old head of last year's marjoram, which I should have snapped off by now, because it is unsightly. But under the gaze of the Olympus Miracle it suddenly looks rare and delicate and exotic.


Now I'm just poncing about. There really is no excuse for it at all.


I really wasn't going to torture you with yet more dog pictures today. But she looks so pretty with the sunlight on her ear.


And to keep things fair, we must have the other one too, otherwise I'll never hear the end of it.


One final little phlox, in honour of spring.

Happy Friday.

Now I am going to sit very, very still and give my brain time to regenerate.


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