Thursday, 9 June 2011

A Birthday, and the counting of blessings

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Today is my dear mum's birthday. Happy Birthday, Mum.

It's odd how a blog develops and what it turns out to be for. I  know I talk about this a lot, but I think about it a lot. There are voices in my head which say these are serious times which call for serious measures. Should I not be writing about what is happening in Jisr Al-Shughour? I heard a woman on the radio today talking of how the Syrian secret police have a terrifying habit of coming into a town, rounding up all the young men, and taking them away in the night. They are often never seen again. Should I not be saying something about that?

Then I think: rather like this journey through sorrow, there almost certainly is no Should about it.

One of the interesting things about loss is that the world shrinks, a little. The voices on the radio come from a long, long way away. Daily living becomes intensely personal. I am, for a while, no longer the citizen of the world I like to fancy myself, but one small human dealing with matters of my own small human heart. I focus acutely on the minute, known things. One of the Dear Readers remarked, most accurately, that I am taking solace in my garden. It is quite true. Last night, as the evening sun gentled the trees, I decided to rescue one of my poor Japanese cherries. I suddenly noticed it was being monstered by a wild rose and the old lilac.

Pah, I thought. You shall not have it. I got out the secateurs, and began to chop. Take that, I said, out loud, as I cut away the branches that were obscuring the light. And that, and that, and that. The poor little cherry, which had been bravely battling on, against all odds, was suddenly free. I had liberated it. Now it shall have sun again, and will live to fight another day. It felt symbolic.

By then, I had the bit between my teeth. (Forgive platitudes; sometimes the old, familiar saws are comforting, even though I like to think I spend my life resisting worn phrases.) I moved onto the elders and the hawthorn. The Older Niece appeared.

'What are you doing?' she said, gently.

'LOPPING,' I yelled.

I stopped for a moment to talk to her, but I could not pause for long. I started up again, talking breathlessly as I cut and pulled and tidied and trimmed. The Niece seemed to find this quite amusing, and indulged me.

It was good, hard, physical work. After a day when I was missing my dog so much that it ached in my chest, it was amazingly reassuring and satisfying and real. The Pigeon sat and watched, her ears cocked, as if she found it quite therapeutic too. (More probably, she was thinking: what is the old girl up to now? And: where is my biscuit?)

In a long and winding way of coming back to my original question: it turns out that I am not in any position to discuss world affairs, just now. It turns out that, at the moment, this is the place where I talk of the small, personal things. So I use this platform to sing out a song of birthday greeting to my dear old Mum.

I took her a package of scented candles, her favourite cheesecake, and a bunch of flowers. I chose the flowers carefully, and the kind lady in the flower shop arranged them in a pretty bouquet. Normally, I get very tasteful, discreet flowers; Mum mostly likes blue and white. But today, for some reason, I went neon. What the hell, I thought. Let's go crazy.

This is what they looked like:

9 June 14-5

I was so overcome by the prettiness that I took about twenty-seven pictures:

9 June 15-5

9 June 16-5

9 June 17-5

9 June 18-5

It never ceases to amaze me that I live in the far north-east of Scotland, in a place where all I can see are trees and hills, and yet, a moment away, there is a lovely village which has a flower shop in it, where I can get an arrangement like this, which looks as grand and sophisticated as anything Pulbrook and Gould has to offer. I've always been a bit fanatical about counting my blessings, and now it feels more important than ever. My village is one of the my great blessings.

To remind myself of this, I went to the butcher's. I am eating a lot of beef for strength (need the iron) and I decided to treat myself to a bit of Aberdeen Angus, our local beef, and one of the great luxuries of the world. As an added bonus, there turned out to be a new butcher in there (there are about seven of them) who looked like a Hollywood film star. I tried not to stare too blatantly. Middle-aged woman ogles handsome butcher is not necessarily the look I am going for at the moment. But it definitely goes on the Blessing List.

Then I came home, did some decent work, drank slightly too much coffee, felt tired but calmer than I have in a while, and gazed at the glorious green things in my beloved little patch of earth. It is a solace. I don't think I ever knew how much until this moment. There is something astonishingly real and good about planting and tending living things in the fine Scottish earth. It is another platitude, but it makes me know that life goes on. It reminds me, somehow, that my bashed heart will mend.

Here is what it looked like:

9 June 1

9 June 2

9 June 3

9 June 4

9 June 6

9 June 7

9 June 9

9 June 10

9 June 10-1

Another thing on the blessing list is the simple fact that when I look over my garden wall, this is what I see:

9 June 5

9 June 19-5

I do not take that for granted.

Nor do I take this for granted; the lovely, funny, questing, dear face that greets me each morning:

9 June 14

And, as well as all that, every day there is the hill:

9 June 20

And one more thing. One of the Dear Readers, who is also one of my favourite bloggers, is Lou at Lou, Boos and Shoes. She is having a bit of a rough time at the moment, and is writing about it in a very understated and delicate way. There is not much one can do, through the ether, but if I have learnt one thing in the last month it is that the words of kindness that circulate around the blogosphere do matter. It is something about connection and community and generosity and acknowledgement. At its best, this curious, novel medium can remind us of the John Donne idea, which I am thinking of a lot just now, that no man or woman is an island.

Anyway, today's pictures are dedicated to you, Lou, because I know you too love the greenness of things. I so hope you feel better soon.


  1. Stunning flowers, too much coffee, a handsome butcher... it's all good. You're so good at appreciating the 'dappled things'.

  2. Sarah - thank you so much. Love the idea of the dappled things.

  3. You have energy and in energy, I believe, there is always hope...

    My "thing" or should I say my "lopping", is breaking pencils in half. So wasteful, so perversely poignant (I love writing), so childish yet so very satisfying in channeling emotions I need to be rid of.

    And they are beautiful flowers; certainly worthy of a beautiful mother,

    Bird x

  4. Tania - must admit this made me shed a little tear - such an unexpected display of kindness. I have been devouring your words for ages and of course never expected to see myself mentioned amongst them. I also can't tell you how much I liked the Donne reference; I studied him at A-level and it's always stuck with me. Probably more than any other text I recall. Indeed no woman is an island and you are so right, the words of others do offer buoyancy when you are at sea. At least that is what I have found. Thank you for the beautiful words and the images - I do need the greenness. So from the opposite end of the British Isles...I am here appreciating that Scottish beauty you provide in a daily dose! Lou x

  5. Bird - such a kind comment. Love the idea of the pencils.

    Lou - so glad you liked the green. I always love coming to your blog and finding all the beautiful pictures you put there. It's a perfect north south exchange. x

  6. That birthday bouquet is so vibrant -- beautiful! Happy birthday to your Mum! (My mother, husband's mother, closest sister AND beloved daughter are all born in May-June. I don't "believe" in astrology, however, it IS interesting that they're all very verbal, scathingly funny...)

    After a "certain age" (every woman gets to pick her own number), ogling -- and even flirting(!) with younger (particularly attractive) men is more than "OK"!

    Gardening is GREAT "therapy". And you have the added "plus" of good results.

    Is it coincidence that my wv is "wirms"?????

  7. Sounds like you're doing some growing too - hope your Ma had a lovely day

  8. Pat - so glad you liked the flowers. Mum was very pleased. Sounds like you know about the gardening therapy; I had not realised what a balm it was until very recently and it feels like a miraculous discovery.

    Jo - I think maybe there is a bit of growing. Can't quite tell yet. Rather love the fledgling idea that it might be me and the garden both.


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