Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The strangeness of magical thinking

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

The regular readers will know that I pride myself on being a child of the Enlightenment. It's odd, the things that you congratulate yourself for. I take idiotic satisfaction from a variety of irrelevant matters. I like that I can make soda bread, type at 70 words a minute, have read every word F Scott Fitzgerald ever wrote, know about the repeal of the Corn Laws and how Peel split his party to achieve it, and can recite Yeats. When the financial crash was at its height, and it was all anyone could talk about, I held a ridiculous pride in the fact that I knew what the Glass-Steagall act was. (I remember sitting next to some flash money fellow at dinner and having a terrible flush of triumph because he had never heard of it, and I could cite chapter and verse. I hang my head at the memory.)

The irrational shames are equally odd. I still have a slicing sense of failure that I cannot speak French or play the piano, even though I was taught both as a child. I am embarrassed by the fact that I cannot keep my office tidy and I must finally admit that I shall never really understand quantum physics. I can't make good mayonnaise. There is a distinct possibility that I shall never read James Joyce. (Even as I write that sentence I can hear the CALL YOURSELF A WRITER? klaxon going off in my head.) I will never be that kind of stylish woman who can transform an outfit with one witty accessory. In fact, most of my favourite clothes have actual holes in, and of course I do not know how to darn.

But at least I am the queen of Rational Thought. Well, perhaps not the queen, but certainly a princess of the blood. I know all about not being led into the morass of things which cannot be proved by the scientific method, which have no peer-reviewed studies to back them up. I won't be led astray by astrology, or homeopathy, or the laying on of hands, oh no. This is surely a Good Thing. Look at me, with all my empirical rectitude.

Then, this morning, I go out into the low, quiet day, thinking very much of the people of Christchurch, whose city has been devastated by random natural forces. One of my dear readers lives there, and has sent me a heartbreaking despatch. I find myself taking many, many pictures of the dogs, who happen to be looking particularly beautiful in the low light. As I do it, I think: I can put these on the blog and this will cheer up my readers in New Zealand. I actually think that thought.

This is INSANITY. If your entire world has been literally rocked by a senseless earthquake, if your streets are filled with rubble, and nothing works, and the hospitals are overflowing with casualties, will some snapshots of two elderly lab-collie crosses really make you feel even an iota better? What is wrong with me?

I think it's the helplessness thing. Because of the combined miracle and curse of the internet, every bit of the world comes into my quiet corner of Scotland. I get all the news, plus the blogs from the ground, and the tweeted reports and the Facebook updates. The bloody events in Libya do not take the form of some distant news story, filed two days later, from a faraway country of which we know nothing, but immediate, real-time happenings. New Zealand, which is ten thousand miles away, feels as if it is in the next county. And yet, for all this sense of closeness, of being a global village, of connectedness, there is absolutely nothing that can be done. I still live in a small village in Scotland. One can send money to disaster relief funds, put up faltering words of sympathy and empathy on a tiny blog, watch with attention as the news rolls by, but, in the end, the world swings on, in its gaudy, tragic way, and there is nothing in my puny plan which makes any difference.

When I was young, I thought I was going to change the world. Come on, that's what we all think, when we are fifteen. We shall fight injustice with our bare hands, take to the barricades in fearless triumph. Now I think: I can only concentrate very hard on the small things. It turns out that this is what this blog has become about. That is why there are daily pictures of canines and lichen. It is why I write of chicken soup and the nieces and my dear old mum.

So, here are the pictures. Even though I know my magical thinking is palpable nonsense, I am putting up extra dog pictures today, after all that. They cannot make any single thing better, but they are a few extra seconds of loveliness on which to rest your poor, tired eyes.

The snowdrops:

23rd Feb 1

23rd Feb 3

The new crocuses, the first of the season:

23rd Feb 5

Here I was experimenting, not entirely successfully, with different kinds of focus:

23rd Feb 4

The grass, which has been old and brown after the long, snowy winter, has suddenly gone emerald green:

23rd Feb 5-1

The first little geranium leaves are pushing through the brown, leafy earth:

23rd Feb 2

The beech leaves, which have clung to the bare branches since the autumn, continue to fascinate me:

23rd Feb 6

This little clump, for some reason, is much paler than all the others, the colour of biscuits instead of bright amber. You can see I am playing with the focus again:

23rd Feb 14-1

The lichen, of course, of course:

23rd Feb 7

The view to the south, against a flat white sky:

23rd Feb 7-1

And now, the promised canine loveliness. I do not know why they were looking quite so ravishing today, nor do I know why they decided to lie down and do some serious posing. I did not instruct them. They just decided it was time for their close-up:

23rd Feb 10

23rd Feb 12-1

23rd Feb 11

23rd Feb 13

23rd Feb 14

Duchess looking very duchessy:

23rd Feb 15

And Pigeon very pigeony:

23rd Feb 17

A delicate clump of long grass:

23rd Feb 19

And the hill:

23rd Feb 21

It is a thin sentence, and a sentiment so paltry that I hesitate to write it, but: I wish you well, wherever you are.


  1. I too am thinking of NZ right now. I had a friend, Jenny Morgan, who lived in Christchurch years ago and although I haven't heard from her for more than 20 years I am wondering how she if and if her family are safe...I hope she is and my thoughts are with all New Zealanders right now...

    Another interesting post, Tania...thank you.

  2. I was born in Christchurch and now so much of that city has gone along with so many innocent people going about their day. Its a tragedy and will take years for that beautiful city "The Garden City" to recover. But for Kiwis who are a resilient people and would give anyone the shirt off their back - its a time of need. The first time ever that the nation has declared a state of emergency.

  3. I feel a kind of survivors guilt at the moment as there was a time in my life when I desperately wanted out, but I have been able to live and thrive and be so very lucky while there are many who appreciated thier lives who are having them snatched away.

    I am thinking of all the people in Christchurch, donating to the efforts and wishing I could do more. The people I knew there are safe but I know others are not.

    In some ways the world has shrunk, but people still live oceans away from us and out of reach. Would that we could do more, we can just hope and know there are people closer who can and will I guess.

  4. Tania, I'm in NZ (Wellington) and my folks are in Christchurch - they are all accounted for thank goodness albeit mentally battered and scarred. Rest assured that photographs of your lovely ladies and the timeless hill, together with the company of my own chirpy terrier, are keeping me sane at the moment. Thank you

  5. Christine - so hope that your friend is safe, and thank you for the kind comment.

    So Lovely - so glad to hear yr voice; have been thinking of you.

    Siobhan - such an interesting and thoughtful comment, and am so glad you ARE living and thriving.

    Caroline - what an incredibly lovely comment. So pleased yr family is safe and my thoughts are with you.

  6. I am about to make up the spare room as my daughter's school has been asked to billet students from Christchurch if necessary. We have had good and bad news. My heart just breaks for everyone...
    Your girls and beautiful home are always, always delightful and calming as are your kind words.

  7. I can't begin to imagine what life is like for the people of Christchurch or NZ at the moment. What I do know is that for me, when something terrible happens, kindness and beautiful things and knowing that some things are carrying on as normal (the hill!)are all balm to my soul. Your blog has all of this in spades and I'm quite sure that it does make many of us feel more than an iota better, often.

  8. The canines rose to the occasion beautifully today, in their serious and poised poses!
    It almost looks as if they knew that they might have a special mission today.
    What a kind and gentle thoughts you had in your post today!
    Thank you for all the loveliness of the pictures, wonderfully soothing, for the eyes and for the the mind.

  9. I am from Christchurch though I live in London now and have read your blog (without commenting!) for a long time. My family are alright although we still have missing friends and hope is starting to run out.

    You might not realise how comforting it is to read lovely thoughtful words from people like yourself and your other readers. I have been incredibly moved at the support and generosity shown by other countries sending aid, support and kind words.

    And your gorgeous dogs have helped cheer me up tonight - thank you!

  10. Tania - thank you (and your readers) for your kind words and thoughts.

    Your pictures DO help. They really do. And your words.

    The sun is shining n Christchurch today and heartening signs are everywhere in the suburbs. I saw a home-made poster at one person's gate: We have water. Please come in.

    And elsewhere, another sign leaning up against a small table in someone's driveway with an extension cord and power-board: Charge your cell phones here.

    Four young men were driving around towing a trailer-load of wheelbarrows and shovels, offering help to complete strangers - pitching in where needed.

    For the vast majority of us who have come through unscathed, the little things will get us through.

  11. First, as to James Joyce, I suggest you read the first two chapters of Finnegan's Wake, to get a good feel for it and to appreciate the humour, then flip to the last page and read that. You will then see that the story is CIRCULAR, and you needn't feel obliged to read any more if you don't want to. You will have done your James Joyce duty.

    As to cheering people up, I think that when people are living through any sort of personal or natural disaster, sometimes what helps best ARE the little things. They give people some bit of normality to hang on to, and the very smallness makes them more accessible. So don't beat yourself up about it so much. Accept that you've lightened up the world a bit with your kind words and photos!

  12. Thank you for an interesting post. Apart from Christchurch I am feeling a bit downish as my son left for Melbourne after 2 months break here. It is very dull again and I was feeling a bit weepy as well. Seeing the photographs certainly has helped me to start Thursday morning.

  13. Em - thank you so much. Thinking of you over there.

    Claire - such a kind thing to say; thank you.

    Cristina - lovely comment, thank you. Smiling at idea of canines on a mission.

    Rachel - how kind you are. Thinking of yr friends and family.

    Michelle - have put yr comments up on the blog today, and thinking very much of you.

    Anon - genius Joyce suggestion, thank you.

    Mystica - so know the feeling of waving goodbye to a beloved, and v pleased that the blog cheered you a little.


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