Wednesday, 1 June 2011

My own private memorial

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

At precisely 2pm, when the organ would be swelling and the vicar clearing his throat, ready to start my father's memorial service, I marched into my garden with a shiny new spade under my arm, a bucket in one hand, and a cherry tree in the other. The spade was for digging the good earth; the bucket was for compost to season that earth; the tree was for my dad.

It’s funny, because he wasn’t much of a tree man. But he bred a tree girl, after all that.

It’s one of the best things I ever did. Some of my brilliant ideas turn out to be a bit ropey, once they get out of my head and into the world. But this one was even more marvellous in its execution than in its conception. I had to dig hard. The ground was tight with roots, and hard with slate. I had to bash away with the spade, and then get in with my hands, pulling up the old slabs of slate and the wicked twisting origins of the ground elder. I thought of choosing an easier place, but then I thought, no, this is right, it should be hard. (How do gravediggers do it, I wondered; they must be fit as butchers’ dogs.) I put The Saw Doctors on my iPod, because everyone knows that The Saw Doctors will save your life, and I shouted along to Michael D Rockin’ the Dail.

I had thought of trying to find some of the old songs my father used to sing, The Outlaw Reparee or Black Velvet Band or Blowin’ in the Wind or The Leaving of Liverpool, but there was no time. The dear old Doctors would do, because they are Irish, and they make me smile, and they were the soundtrack of my formative years.

I laughed as I listened and sang, because I thought of everyone gathered in their proper black, probably singing Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, in a formal place of Christian worship. My Irish uncle would be in his black silk top hat. He is a man of exceptional tailoring. And here was I, in my filthy old jeans, and my bashed up old gumboots, my hands black with earth, singing The Saw Doctors at the top of my voice.

I laughed, I cried, I planted a cherry tree.

Then I sat on the ground, with The Pigeon by my side, and looked at it for a long time. I thought of my dad. My sister said of him, a few days ago: he was not like anyone else. The Man of Letters said, soon after he died: they don’t make them like that any more; where will those wild, eccentric men come from now? A racing man I ran into when I was in the south, who had been a steward with my dad at Bath racecourse, said: Oh, I hated stewarding, and then your father arrived, and it was a party. He smiled, remembering. Your father, he said, made everything fun.

I sat, and listened to more music. These were not the hymns that they would have been hearing in that church in Lambourn, but they are sort of hymns to me. I listened to Nick Drake singing Hazy Jane, and David Bowie singing Oh You Pretty Things, and Van the Man singing Chick a boom, and Bob Dylan singing Simple Twist of Fate.

A high wind blew up, out of the south. It’s unusual; our winds normally come roaring in from the north-west. I thought of something a nice man called Hugh said at my cousin’s funeral. We walked out of the church together, and the wind was blowing, and he looked up and said: That’s right, a good wind to blow the spirit up to the sky. That’s right, I thought, sitting on my mossy grass, in my dear garden, looking at my dad’s little tree, feeling the wind at my back: you can blow his spirit up to the sky now. Now he is blowing in the wind.


Here is the tree. It is a prunus Kojo No Mai, and it grows wild on the slopes of Mount Fuji. For some reason, I love that fact:

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I planted some nemesia and some salvia as well:

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The Pigeon lay on the grass and watched:

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And over us, like the rock of ages, hovered the hill:

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As I let this moment settle, I think of the thing of planting a tree for someone. I don't know why it feels so wonderful and right, but it does. I think: I would like someone to plant a tree for me. Then I think: we should all plant a tree for each other, not just when people die, but when they are alive, for love. Everyone could plant a tree for everyone else, because, as John Donne said, no man is an island, and then we can save the world.

You see, this is why I am not going out in public just now, because these are the kind of crazy thoughts that are swirling round in my head. You can't just go marching up to people and say: plant trees for love. You can't just be making statements, as my old dad used to say, like: The Saw Doctors will save your life and the trees will save the planet. That is why I am keeping to the safety of my quiet room, just now.

Although, I also think: if I were to say things like that out loud, it would have made my dad laugh. He was not a man of literature, and my bookishness always puzzled him, rather. But we shared a sense of humour; I think I got mine from him. Oh, he would say, you do make me laugh. Oh, he would say, you do cheer me up. I could not do much for him, in the later years, when his body was wrecked, as all those falls caught up with him, and every bone ached. But I am glad I could do that.


  1. This is exquisite. I'm so sorry for the loss of your father. What a beautiful living, breathing, growing testament to his spirit. Long may he be blowin' in the wind.

  2. Utterly wonderful, Tania. Just perfect.

    Planting a tree for someone: could there be a better memorial?

    [Did you locate that book? You made me think of it in some distant post, months and months ago. The Man who Planted Trees by Jean Giono. It contains your spirit, and (even though he wasn't a tree man) probably your father's.]

    Oh, and my purple salvias, here in Norfolk, are looking just like yours.

  3. I thought of you too dearest cuz, especially when said Irish uncle tottered in - late as usual, and as suspected in mourning suit + topper. I did my best to brighten the day up with a turquoise jacket as I knew that the greatest Uncle would appreciate a bit of colour in the sea of black and grey. It was a lovely service, with a definite Kindersley undertones and you were most certainly in our thoughts. I love the tree and know he would appreciate it. All our love xxx

  4. I suspect Blake might have been the kind of man who'd sail up to people and say things like, we should all plant a tree for someone.

    What you did was completely perfect and I am so glad you feel the better for it.

  5. This is beautiful. What a wonderful tribute.

  6. I'm still laughing -- aloud -- here alone in the apartment. At first I cheered your chosen memorial, then when you got round to why you ought not yet to be going out in public...well, you served up a good dose of laughter, at least for this old crone. I hope it made you feel as good as it did me.

  7. Just right. What a wonderful testament, Tania. Thinking of you x

  8. So perfect, and what better choice of music.
    Thinking of you and the darling Pigeon everyday.

  9. It is a beautiful idea - to plant a tree I mean. One I am going to copy.

  10. This is so beautiful. Thank you, Rachel


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