Thursday, 27 January 2011

Esprit d'escalier

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

You know how you leave a room and think, too late, of the perfect thing you should have said? The snappy comeback, the witty riposte, the definitive, clinching argument: all arrive half an hour too late.

Sometimes, I think that I have a sort of reverse esprit d'escalier on this blog. Here is how it goes:

I wake up in the morning, and, as I clean my teeth, my brain revs into gear, like a growly old diesel engine. As I wash my face, I compose a glorious, pithy, intellectually startling piece of prose. (I cannot tell you how brilliant I am in the privacy of my own head. Sadly, the brilliance remains trapped there, for all time.) Then, I walk the dogs. An entire other subject presents itself, and I parse that. Then there is breakfast, a bit of standard pottering, possibly a visit to my old mum, a trip to the village, a telephone call, some daily errands. (Today I wrote thank you letters, went to the post office, and actually managed to retrieve and fax a Vital Document, much to the amazed delight of my patient accountant.)

Then I do my work. Today, it was 1264 words, in the polemical style. I have got to that stage of the book. I half made my argument, but was keenly conscious that I have not nailed it, and that I am veering off on tangents where I should be sticking ruthlessly to the point. But still: it was 1264 words, and I can bash it into shape in the second draft.

Then I think: time for the blog. But by this point I have had far too much coffee, and have thought far too many thoughts, and my brain has switched into a muddy, fugue state. It hurls itself onto the sofa and lies there like a moody teenager, refusing to produce one more coherent thing.

You see, I was going to do a whole thing on sexism. (How your hearts leap at the very notion.) Someone has written a cross article about the ladies, and I insist on right of reply. Then I was going to something about the Judaeo-Christian tradition and the law, because there was a Moral Maze on that last night and it drove me nuts. But now, all I can think of is my butcher.

I KNOW. How did I get from feminism and religion to the butcher?

I think it is because when I get beyond the stage of marshalling an argument, I revert to the domestic. I do not have to make an ideological point about that. I do not have to see both sides and thread my way through the thickets of politics and morality. I can merely recount a moment of pure, ordinary pleasure.

So: I went to get my mother a steak pie, and myself some beef. I told the butchers (there are five of them, all experts in their field) that I needed the iron, because the book was killing me. 'I must be like POPEYE,' I said, flexing my arms like a weight-lifter, to their slight amazement.

Anyway, I watched them cut the meat for me, with unerring strokes of the knife, and made a few jokes, and admired their skills, and we all had a lovely time. I thought: this is the point of the small village butcher. Not only do they hang the Aberdeen Angus for three weeks, unlike the supermarkets, but one gets smiles and laughter and human interaction. As they carved away the excess fat, I asked if I could take it for the dogs. Of course, of course, nothing could be easier.

As I walked away, I heard a shout behind me. One of the butchers had run down the street after me, spruce in his striped apron.

'Wait, wait,' he cried, holding out a tiny package. He pressed it into my hand, his face wreathed in smiles, as if this were the most delightful thing he was going to do this day.

'Fat for the dogs,' he said. 'You forgot it.'

I was quite overcome. 'Oh, oh,' I said. 'You are kind. I feel quite teary.' And we laughed some more and I went home.

None of this matters a whit, in the big old world, where there are serious arguments to be mounted, and people are having revolutions and taking to the streets. But it felt oddly profound to me. I think it has something to do with the world feeling rather mad at the moment. When that happens, I tend to concentrate very hard on the small things. And this was a very small, but very lovely thing.

Talking of little things, I am rather obsessed with the minute growing things in my garden.

The ornamental cherry, with its tiny little buds:

27th Jan 1

The dear little box, which bravely survived all the snow and the frost:

27th Jan 9-1

The tips of the blueberry bush:

27th Jan 3

Bulbs, starting to poke hopefully through the black earth:

27th Jan 2

The viburnum:

27th Jan 3-1

27th Jan 4

The ladyships, rather serene and contemplative today:

27th Jan 5

27th Jan 6

My naughty friend the Man of Letters called a couple of days ago and remarked that he thought the dogs were looking a bit old. He has not seen them for a while. I was most indignant. They do, like Yeats' heroine, have grey in their hair, but they are seventy-seven in human years, and I defy you to find a seventy-seven year old who looks this good, AND can still jump over a cattle grid. So there.

Actually, talking of Yeats, let's have him. There has not been enough poetry on this blog lately.

From the first stanza of Broken Dreams:

There is grey in your hair.
Young men no longer suddenly catch their breath
When you are passing;
But maybe some old gaffer mutters a blessing
Because it was your prayer
Recovered him upon the bed of death.
For your sole sake - that all heart's ache have known,
And given to others all heart's ache,
From meagre girlhood's putting on
Burdensome beauty - for your sole sake
Heaven has put away the stroke of her doom,
So great her portion in that peace you make
By merely walking in a room.

And finally the hill, which is the kind of thing WB would have appreciated, glimmering in the morning light:

27th Jan 8


  1. I love the signs of Spring, your blog has me looking forward to it even more.


  2. I echo your praise of wonderful wonderful local butchers (and others) and their produce though I now have to travel 12 - 20 miles for the privilege. We lost ours partly as result of neighbouring pub exploding and now have only one (threatened) general store having gone from 5 local retail businesses 3 years ago. Blah!

    As for sexism, I feel strangely discriminated against because in my 53 years as a pretty obvious female, I do not recall I have ever had sexism actively or openly perpetrated against me. Where do I apply for my share?

    And for dogs, and hills, and buds - bliss!

  3. Well done on the 1264 words! I totally agree that it is the small things that give the most pleasure - small acts of human kindness are shining examples.

    For some reason, the sight of fresh molehills alongside a country road today made me smile - I imagined their relief at being able to burrow again, while the ground is temporarily unfrozen!

  4. Tania - my wonderful friend S and I regularly walk together around the park, and this is exactly the thread of our conversations, punctuated with much laughter. She has been summering in Queenstown and is soon off to Spain for a month, so your brilliant blog is about as close as I will get to those stroll 'n chat sessions for some time yet.

  5. What a lovely post - from words to pictures.
    The beautiful signs of spring have made me realise that my summer is soon coming to an end. I'm not ready!

  6. And as for the girls looking old! They are simply serene and poised and utterly gorgeous. The end.

  7. A good friend sent me this link today - I thought of you, writing your book about beauty, and thought you might be interested to read the article.


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