Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Of blackbirds and green velvet coats


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

It is a bright, shiny, sunny day. The Pigeon and I walk round the block. At the bridge, I cry. The tears seem to come at a regular time now; it is just after nine. I quite like the idea of this. If I know when to expect them, then I can just do the thing, get it all out, and then get on with my day. It’s a balance, I start to realise. You can’t just tick the bloody box and think: now I’ve done that. You can’t do grief. You have to let it live in you.

The secret, I think, and I am only starting to see this very dimly, is that you learn to make room for other things. The sadness, the gaps left behind by the people (and dogs, for I am missing my Duchess sorely as we take what was her favourite walk) shrink into their proper place, so that the joy and delight and laughter may come back in.

As if to prove this amorphous thought, just as I am rather clumsily wiping my cheeks with the back of my hand, I see a baby blackbird. It is hopping and singing and eating delicious worms. I stop, stock still, entranced. It is so tiny and perfect and brave, out there in the green grass, all on its own. It draws itself up very tall, and looks straight at me, as if it were Queen of the May.

There is my talisman, I think. If I can still be excited by seeing a small, ordinary bird, then all cannot be lost.

The lambs have moved from the south meadow, and I miss them. I miss their antic jumping and baa-ing. Everything is very quiet and green. I sit down under a gnarled old chestnut tree, leaning my back against its rough bark, feeling the reassuring solidity of the earth under me. The Pigeon comes and settles herself against my legs, sitting like a sentinel, on watch. I look out over the wild grass and think rambling thoughts.

I am wearing my very favourite, very old, green velvet jacket. I got it from Johnson’s, a great men’s clothes shop which used to sit on the curve of the King’s Road at World’s End, over twenty years ago. I loved that shop. It had polished wood floors and racks and racks of proper tailoring and a slight hushed air. I always loved buying men’s clothes in my twenties. I have two old school double-breasted coats from them, in thick velvet, one bottle green, one dark blue, the blue of midnight and the navy. Also a long-skirted almost Edwardian coat with double pockets and wide lapels in a moss green tweed.

I think about my old green coat. I have worn it in Venice and the Italian Lakes and the Hebrides and the far west of Ireland, that part of Connemara where the road signs are all in Irish, so that you can get lost in a heartbeat. It has driven up the long glittering road to Big Sur; it has been to the mountains of Yosemite and the vineyards of Napa and the long shadowed canyons of Manhattan and the sunny hills of Sauselito.

On my iPod, Van Morrison starts singing St Dominic’s Preview. I smile. That was the very song that my friend Sophie and I used to play, over and over, when we were doing long, laughing road trips in California, a hundred years ago, when I was wearing this very coat. I still have the pictures.

For some reason, this feels both comforting and profound. The coat is very worn now. The sun has faded the colour over the shoulders, and the lining is torn. It is no longer the sharply tailored article that first came out of that great shop, which no longer exists. It is a bit baggy and out of kilter. But it and I have history, and just because something gets a bit bashed up does not mean I don’t love it any more.

I’m not quite sure what any of this means. The form of the blog now is that I sit down to write, because I must write, the daily bulletins must be posted, and it’s a bit hit and miss as to whether anything makes any sense. I must string words together, because that is what I do.

The thing that is haunting me is that it is my father’s memorial service tomorrow and I am not going. I can’t. I have hit the wall. There is absolutely no physical way that I can get in the car and bash down the M6 for the third time in a month. There is no emotional way I can sit in the fourth church in four weeks and think of someone who is no longer alive. For some reason, the thing has been arranged to come very quickly after his death. I see now why people have memorials six months or so after. The loss then is in its place; the layer of skin that has been stripped away has begun to grow back. One may sit and celebrate and remember with ease and laughter. It is still too soon for that. It would be another of those hours of sitting up straight with the mad staring eyes, open very wide to try and stop the tears falling.

I know that it is the right decision. It is the only possible decision. But I also know that tomorrow I shall wake up and be filled with a sudden, wild regret.

Still, I said goodbye. It was a fine farewell. It was a good funeral, with just the correct balance of love and solemnity and smiles and grace. This one will be a much bigger affair, planned more like a party. I am not ready yet for a party. Perhaps I shall have one of my own, in September, when I am ready, even if it only takes place in the privacy of my own head.


Here is my blackbird:

31 May 1

31 May 2

31 May 3

Here is what I could see while I was sitting under my tree:

31 May 4

31 May 5

31 May 6

31 May 7

31 May 8

31 May 9

31 May 10

31 May 11

Back in the garden, the dog roses are out:

31 May 9-1

The first honeysuckle buds have appeared:

31 May 9-2

The blowsy old oriental poppies, which I used to loathe and now adore, are doing their best imitation of alien creatures from another galaxy:

31 May 9-3

Do let's hope they come in peace:


I love this little plant, and cannot quite remember its name. Could it be nepeta? I know one of you will know:

31 May 9-5

And finally, these beauties arrived this morning, bursting into flower overnight. They are from bulbs, and I have no memory of having planted them, although I have a terrible habit of buying packets on a whim, throwing them into the ground, and then erasing all recollection from my mind. Whatever they are, and wherever they came from, they feel like magic to me, because they were not there yesterday, and today they are, like an amulet or a sign:

31 May 9-6

31 May 9-7

The view to the south, with the light falling over the curving hills:

31 May 12

The Pigeon, so beautiful I had to take her twice:

31 May 14

31 May 15

Today's hill, in panorama:

31 May 16


  1. I wish I could send you some mental/virtual version of chicken soup - for the health. You do seem to be a doing a gret job though. We were only ever meant to go one step at a time. That's all you can do.

  2. It's so good to read that you are finding some solace in your beautiful surroundings. I think you're quite brilliant to be able to 'string words together' in such a way when you're feeling so sad. Take care, and I hope more and more sun comes through the clouds for you as the days go on. With all best wishes Sarah

  3. I think the words you are "stringing together" are beautiful, and am keeping you in my thoughts. I am very happy for the black bird to be there and the photos of it.

  4. I've just discovered your blog with the aid of a good friend and wanted to say that I'm so sorry about all the losses you've had to endure lately.

    My eyes have filled up and brimmed over several times as I've read your posts about your lovely dogs. I can see so much of my own dearly beloved puppy in their expressions. He has been diagnosed with arthritis in his back legs and I know it's just a small thing and it comes to all dogs, but part of me finds it so unfair that he's only 4 and yet I am watching the onset of his own old age. I'm so glad you've been able to take such pleasure in knowing Duchess and giving her such a happy life.

  5. Tania, what a intimate and beautiful post you have written today.
    I think you are sturdy and wise in seeking solace under the Big Chestnut Tree.
    Good to see the Pigeon more serene, and very handsome, and to know that you are being looked after so well by her. xxx :)

  6. P.S. *an*
    Very cross with myself now for being almost unable to write in English these days without the dreaded spelling mistakes.

    Please understand and forgive me.

  7. Just dropped in to say hello and that I'm happy to see you are taking good care of yourself. I rather like your discovery that the sadness finds its own little crevices to settle into, thereby making room for velvet coats and birds and such. It is most comforting.

  8. I know I keep saying this... your home is just so beautiful. As are your photos.
    I think you are very wise to know it is too soon for you to attend the memorial service. Wrap yourself up in your lovely green coat and take care x

  9. It sounds like a lovely, right sort of day, the right decision, everything in its right place.

    The white flowers look like Ornithogalum. The other plants do look like they could be somewhere in the mint family.

  10. Pigeon is looking particularly "regal" here.

  11. I hope that when the regret comes, you are able to re-read what you have written and remind yourself that you have made the right decision for yourself. It's like Jo said, one step at a time. It is all we can ask of ourselves. Thank you for sharing this time with us (I know you aren't doing it for us, but thank you all the same).


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