Thursday, 24 February 2011


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I drove the dear stepfather to the hospital in Aberdeen this morning. He must have a procedure. It is not a big operation, but still, hospital. Of course I worry most about the filthy food. 'Should we send him food parcels?' I ask my mother.

The drive home is extraordinary. I had not done it in a while, and I had almost forgotten about the view. There is some rolling field and forest, the trees all in different colours, from dark green to a sort of cooked golden. And then you turn a corner and an entire range of blue mountains opens up like a book, running along the length of the horizon. They are the darkest, thickest blue, a blue so deep that there is not really a name for it. Then they shade into purple and almost black. There is snow on the high peaks. These are the Grampians. I always think that Grampian is no name for a mountain. It sounds like a gloomy monster in a children's book. It has none of the high musical majesty of the Cairngorms. The Gaelic name is better: Am Monadh. For all their prosaic name, they sing with a timeless beauty that defies words. They make me feel that everything is all right.

I always think when I drive. I thought about the nature of success, and the comforts of family, and how it is that a cheesy old song on the radio can suddenly transport you back to a perfect memory of childhood (someone was playing dear old Leo Sayer, and it made me laugh). I thought about the people of New Zealand, about whom I have been writing, a little. I thought about Libya, about which I have not written. I thought: I must write about Libya.

I do not know why these imperatives come. I sort of know why I have not written about Libya. Every newspaper and arm of the BBC and political blog has covered it extensively, so there is that. It is so horrifying that my mind shies away from it, instinctively. The geopolitical arguments are practically and ethically complicated, even though people are trying to boil it down to black and white. I wondered if there is anything I could say which would add anything at all.

But for some reason I felt it almost a duty to have some serious thoughts on the matter. That is the part which I find slightly odd. Why must I? Some confused notion of being an engaged citizen of the world, left over from my younger and more idealist days, I suppose.

I have three main thoughts.

There is sheer shock, that the numbers of dead are not in the hundreds, but, according to doctors in the two main hospitals, thousands. It's not just that the part of the army still under Gaddafi's control are shooting people, but that hordes of mercenaries are roving about, firing at random.

There is the oddity that for a long time Gaddafi was regarded as a sort of comedy dictator. He was such a strange creature, with his crazy clothes, and his odd dyed hair, and his suspicion of a bad facelift. It was so easy to point and laugh that people overlooked what he was doing to his benighted subjects. News outlets would run articles with funny headlines like: Seven facts about Gaddafi's beautiful virgin killing machines. He employed a personal guard of Amazonian women, all highly made-up, with glossy hair and painted nails and uniforms dripping with gold braid; they all had to take a vow of chastity. How we shrieked. Actually, it's quite a good lesson for a dictator. Be as peculiar and comical as possible, and no one will take you seriously, or look too closely at your human rights record. They will be far too busy chuckling at your latest absurdity.

There is the furious and simplistic argument, now the regime is falling apart and the full horror show is becoming apparent, that is it all somehow the fault of the West. Cameron and Obama are not being butch enough, the United Nations allowed him to come in, out of the cold, into the international community, Mr Tony Blair made him respectable with his own bare hands, in his crazed thirst for oil. It was partly about oil. It was also about the fight against terrorism, post 9/11. Some hard-headed and unpalatable decisions were taken. There is no doubt that if Libya grew brussel sprouts instead of producing huge amounts of oil, the policy would have been very different.

It's easy to get pious about this, post facto. Many commentators cannot resist the temptation. Up on their pristine soap-boxes they clamber. I am an idealist in my heart, but understand realpolitik in my head. Governments can only be as pure as their citizens. If we want to roar about in large cars and fly off to exotic lands and use plastic bags, we have to expect that our leaders will sometimes make messy compromises. I wish that my elected representatives could always live up on the moral high ground; I hope they will come down on the side of the greater good. It's just that I'm not sure I can make cheap, judgemental arguments as long as I drive around in my car.

Today's pictures are on a happier note. It turns out that someone has found an excellent stick:

23rd Feb 10

While her sister gazes nobly into the middle distance:

23rd Feb 11

Crocuses and snowdrops are growing out of the black winter earth:

23rd Feb 2

23rd Feb 3

23rd Feb 4

23rd Feb 4-1

The box and the Portuguese laurel provide cheering splashes of green:

23rd Feb 8

23rd Feb 7

The heather is heathery:

23rd Feb 6

23rd Feb 6-1

I have found a new, extraordinary piece of tree bark over which to obsess:

23rd Feb 5

The view to the south, taken over my garden wall:

23rd Feb 12-1

Another bit of heedless beauty:

23rd Feb 12

The weather has grown suddenly mild, so the Duchess takes the opportunity to do what she likes doing best, apart from digging for moles, which is lying regally on the soft grass of my garden. She would lie there for hours if I let her:


The problem is, I can't let her, because she has a tendency to wander off, and I worry she will be run over by a tractor. This is the face she makes when I call her in:

23rd Feb 14

That one is clearly the 'if I close my eyes then I can pretend you are not there' tactic. While this reproachful one is the 'I'm going to call the RSPCA on you' approach:

23rd Feb 16

At this point I give in and bribe her with biscuits.

And finally, today's hill:

23rd Feb 17-1

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