Sunday, 19 June 2011

Fathers’ Day

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

It was a gentle, slow morning. I went out into the garden and inspected all the plants. I am delighted with the big, established things that are going great guns, like the salix and the honeysuckle and the astrantias and the geraniums, but almost the ones that give me the most pleasure are the tiny plants which are miraculously battling on after the hard winter. There are some minute shrub roses which I thought had had it, but are slowly coming back (one or two have even put out a flower), and two baby lavenders which are refusing to die, and a little astilbe which I thought had gone the way of all flesh, but is gamely hanging on.

I was amazed and thrilled that the Pigeon wanted to catch her stick, for the first time since she got sick. I only threw it twice, a very short distance, because I am under strict instructions to take her very, very slowly, in her recuperation. But the fact that she was once again bouncing up and down, her ears up, her eyes bright, gave me keen hope.

I planted some parsley and potted up some cuttings and got my hands black and dirty with compost, which I find very reassuring, just at the moment. I need the feeling of the earth.

Then I went inside for lunch and suddenly, out of nowhere, there were tears. I have been edging back towards a small feeling of normality in the last couple of days; I had a feeling that the worst of the white water was past. So I wondered why, now, so abruptly. Then I realised: it is Fathers’ Day.

I have a staunch resistance to any kind of artificial commercial construct, probably invented by Hallmark, to make us all spend our austerity-hit cash. But just as on Mothers’ Day I always end up taking my mum a bunch of flowers, so on Fathers’ Day I would usually ring up Dad. Now that telephone call is not possible, because there is no one on the end of the line.

I suppose I have been thinking of him all week, in the back of my mind, because of it being the Royal Meeting. Dad decided, years ago, that he would never go to Ascot again, partly because he always lost so much money, and partly because he became maddened by all the social side of it, with those people wandering about in big hats not knowing one end of a horse from the other. But he also knew that if he was in the country, he might not be able to resist. So each year in the third week of June, he would go abroad, safely out of danger.

I remember the last time I saw him at Ascot, before he put in place his self-imposed ban. I was sixteen, and it was up in the Irish bar, which was always the place where you had the most fun on the entire racecourse. He was getting stuck in with a real old mucker, a tall, laughing fellow from Limerick, whom he obviously had known for years. They were swapping endless horse stories.

‘Darling, this is Bill,’ said my father.

I instantly adored Bill. He was the kind of grown-up who treated me, a raw teen, as if I were the Duchess of Alba. He bought me Guinness and laughed at my jokes. We had the most splendid afternoon. It was only much later that I discovered that Bill owned great estates in Ireland, could trace his ancestry back to William the Conqueror, and had fought bravely with the Hussars in the Second World War. Dad did not mention any of that. That was him all over. He did not care about property and lineage. As far as he was concerned, that tall grandee was just his mate Bill, who got pissed with him in the Irish bar.

It was one of the great lessons I learnt from my father, although he never sat me at his knee and told it to me in words. I learnt it by watching him. He took people exactly as they were, and judged them for themselves, not for success, or connections, or cash, or social standing. (I know I have written of this before, so forgive me, but in some ways I can’t say it enough.)

He was impressed, of course, by the people he knew in his profession who were very good at their job. He could admire a great trainer or a world-beating jockey. But he had just as much time for a young assistant trainer, or a small permit-holder, or a youthful apprentice, as he did for the mighty titans who cleaned up at Cheltenham and got their name in the papers.

When I was young, I thought everyone was like that. It was what I was used to. In the way that you start out thinking everything your parents do is normal, I was quite surprised that not everyone sang Irish songs and told antic and slightly dodgy jokes and threw open the doors of their house to all comers. So it came as a shock to me that there were people in the world who minded very much about the things my father did not even notice, like status and money. Funnily enough, even though I like to think of myself as quite worldly, even though I’ve been round the block more than once, I am faintly shocked by it still.

That’s the legacy my dad left me, and I think it’s a pretty good one. Judge humans on how they act, whether they are kind or funny or interesting or interested, and let all the rest go hang. It’s a really good way to go through life, and the lovely thing about my father was that he did it quite naturally, without thinking. For him, it was like breathing out and breathing in. I wish I had thanked him for that great lesson, but I never did. I suppose I thought that he knew, but I wish now that I had put it into actual words. Maybe that’s the other small lesson that I think of today: always say the thing, before it is too late.

Anyway, today is dedicated to my late, lovely Dad.



Now for the pictures, which are of the garden:

The most elegant delphinium:

20 June 1

The new cotinus tree, which is settling in beautifully:

20 June 2

20 June 3

I’m not crazy for pale pink in the garden; I mostly prefer dark blues and purples and whites, with the odd dash of singing scarlet. These rambly little hedge roses were planted right at the beginning, before I really knew what I was doing. I am rather fond of them now:

20 June 3-1

20 June 4

A festival of honeysuckle:

20 June 5

20 June 6

20 June 7

A perfect party of astrantias:

20 June 8

20 June 8-1

20 June 9

20 June 10

A most delicate gathering of salvias:

20 June 11

20 June 12

20 June 13

You can see here the wonderful markings on the bark of the salix, which never ceases to make me smile, and the beautiful silvery grey-green of their little leaves:

20 June 14

20 June 14-1

20 June 14-2

The hellebores are starting to look a bit faded and dusty now, but they have been flowering since February, so I am just amazed they are still here:

20 June 15

The pretty new lavender, against the granite of the shed:

20 June 16

The Pigeon, on the mend, on the mend:

20 June 17

20 June 18

(Can you see that her nose is once again shiny and wet? Always the best sign.)

And the return of the hill, against a very typical Scottish summer sky:

20 June 20


  1. Your posts are always so moving, I'm glad the dog is catching her sticks, great news.

  2. Your father sounds heavenly. So glad the Pigeon is feeling better. Rachel

  3. Lovely photos, lovely Pigeon doing better and a lovely tribute again to your Dad. I think that really is a wonderful legacy to have given you. I wish more people could pass that on.

  4. I miss my dad, too. The very best to you and Pigeon.

  5. I think that's a truly wonderful legacy to have left. He sounds like a remarkable man.

    So pleased that the Pigeon is in stick-catching form already. Look at her lovely ears! You know how fond I am of them.

  6. Love the tribute to your Dad.


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