Friday, 31 December 2010

Year's End, with trees

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

The sun came out today, after four days of dreich, and it shone as if some great lighting director in the sky had decided to pull all the stops out for new year's eve.

It is not an eve I adore. I do not like phoney love on the stroke of midnight, or stupid auld lang's syne, or the absurd making of resolutions. It is just some random date on the calendar, but I suppose that humans like to put things into order and categories, and this category is the new beginning one. I shall be grumpy, and then put my lipstick on, and plaster a great big smile on my face, and pretend that I am in the sunniest of moods. Who knows? With enough lipstick and smiling, the fake may turn into real jollity after all. I have found that this can happen. (Just in case, I have warned my mother, who is dealing with her trepidation by shipping in extra champagne. I think her cunning plan is to get me drunk. I think it is an excellent plan.)

Anyway, despite my bah humbug old mood, I do wish you all a very happy new year, wherever you are. Tomorrow, when it is all over, I shall be back to being a little ray of sunshine.

Talking of which, here is the amazing light of the day:

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And look, look, there was even some magic cloud, hovering over the sheep:

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The rosehips and the wall looked particularly vivid:

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And the ladyships looked like Ava Gardner, bathed in the incredible winter sun:

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Finally, today's view of the hill, in all her glittering glory:

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Thursday, 30 December 2010

The trees

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

More family are arriving. There is the older brother with his other half. (So wish I could think of a better word for it; girlfriend just sounds stupid when you are over fifty; partner is too corporate; lady is horrid. There is no good solution. So I say 'other half' with heavy irony, which I hope you can sense, through the ether.) Also, there is the dear ex-brother-in-law, who is still part of the family on account of his being the father of the older niece. I have known him for thirty years, and I do not think I have ever seen him without a smile on his face.

Today, I have been thinking about the trees. We have very long winters up here; some trees will not put out a hint of a leaf until the end of May. When it is all bosky in the south, we are still brown and bleak. But at the moment I am slightly obsessed with the stark beauty of the empty branches. I actually looked at some of the trees today and thought I shall be sad when they are carnivals of green; I thought there will be something rather blowsy and vulgar about it, after this glorious pared-down loveliness.

Then, just as I was putting the photographs on the computer, a programme came on Radio Four by the excellent poet Owen Sheers. He was attending a ceremony for the cutting of mistletoe. What are you doing now? he asked the special mistletoe people. We are honouring the trees, they said.

Yes, yes, I thought. I too am honouring the trees. It goes along with my theme this week of watching for the beauty and taking notice of the small things. When I have had too many cups of coffee, I am tempted to nominate myself the Queen of the Little Things. (Sometimes I really do wonder at what I admit to you.)

Anyway, it was a charming little piece of serendipity. And here are the lovely trees, in all their mighty honour:

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And the hill, just now, with the evening mist descending:

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I feel very lucky that I live in a place where there are such beautiful and various trees.

Another of the things that I have never taken for granted is the fact that I have glorious cold Scottish water, straight off the mountain, roaring out of my taps. I have had a thing about water for a long time; I think a lot about those people who have to walk for miles each morning to get water, and carry it home in pots and buckets. Everyone has their funny little tic, and the realisation that running water is a great luxury is mine. (I also bless my opposable thumbs, most mornings, as I do up buttons.)

Usually, it is the people of impoverished African countries that I think of, when the water is in my mind. But today, it is the citizens of Northern Ireland who have had no water for the last ten days, and look as if they will have to wait another week. Imagine trying to get through the tests and tensions of the holiday season with no water. No baths, no lavs, nothing with which to wash the clothes and the dishes and the pots and pans. Making a cup of tea becomes an obstacle course. Dear old Scotland is sending thousands of litres of bottled water, but that is not going to get anyone very far. If I am tempted to get grumpy over the next couple of days (New Year does not always bring out the best in me; all that forced jollity) I shall think of the people of Northern Ireland.

Oh my goodness, almost forgot daily dog picture. I suspect I would get mighty objections from certain readers should I not give you these:

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Wednesday, 29 December 2010


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I like the sense of caesura that comes between Christmas and New Year. The news appears to kindly stop. All the Radio Four schedules are festively rearranged (although of course The Archers stops for no man). Although the shops are open, they do not feel as if they are open. There is a low feeling of pause.

I make tomato soup for my mother. On my morning walk, I run into my sister and the two nieces, and we forensically discuss every aspect of Christmas. (Deconstruction of this kind is vital for family peace of mind. Also: it makes us laugh a lot.) In the Co-op, I find the lovely step-nephew stocking up on green vegetables and the good chocolate biscuits. He has the adorable great nephew with him, who is, as usual, observing the world with thoughtful gravity and provoking a great deal of clucking, on account of his great beauty.

It makes me think of my unfashionable belief in the Whig view of history. (Ha. You weren't necessarily expecting that, were you?) The sight of a father and tiny son out together is not remarkable now, but only a generation ago it was almost unthinkable. The step-nephew does not swank around, as if to say, look at me, being a new man, with my little chap. He's just doing what comes naturally, because he loves his boy. When I was small, my own dad was very sweet with us, a source of hugs and jokes, but he did not take us anywhere or even do very much with us. Children were the province of the women. My mum did once pack us off to see The Lady and the Tramp at the Newbury ABC, but the whole thing was a disaster. We got there too late and had to sit in separate seats, which was quite traumatising since I was only five, and Dad did not understand the vital importance of getting in the Kia-Ora at the interval. (Remember the days when films had an interval, and the lady walked down to the front with her tray to sell orange juice and ice creams and boxes of Maltesers?)

I quite often look at my male friends with their small people and marvel at it. They are so easy with the children; there is no sense of seen and not heard. I say: this is progress. It might not be a smooth upward curve, but it is curving, all the same. So that is my happy post-Christmas thought.

It was another dreich old morning, but in my continuing quest to find the beauty even under dank skies, I focussed my camera and concentrated. And there it was.

I am growing quite obsessed with the delicate loveliness of the bare branches in my garden:

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My friend the Man of Letters found me this amazing tree stump a few years ago, and dragged it back from the woods, and put it in the wild part of the garden, where I think it looks like a sculpture by a brilliant artist:

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A tree, with mist:

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My favourite kind of combination of moss and stick and lichen:

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The old fallen tree trunks:

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I love this little pair:

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The woods:

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Sister, with nieces:

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Intent look on faces is because they think they have heard some kind of wildlife scuttling about in the trees:

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Today's view of the hill, wreathed in mist and looking really rather evocative:

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I hope you, too, are having some quiet.

Oh, and may I just say, for those of you to whom this means anything: ENGLAND WON THE ASHES.


One must not gloat or be triumphalist or any of those vulgar things, but after years and years of Australian taunting about how the Poms cannot bat, bowl, or hold a catch, there is a very sweet savour about this marvellous victory.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

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

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dreich, dreich, dreich:

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

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The little apple tree is the colour of amber:

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There is glorious moss on the dry stone wall:

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

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

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

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The beech avenue had a doleful majesty:

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I could see the sheep, through the mist:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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