Tuesday, 30 August 2011


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Warning, I am afraid, for length. And strong human emotion.


Today was the most extraordinary day. I woke still feeling ropey; stumped downstairs crossly; walked out not because I wanted to, but because I had to. It’s not fair on the dog, otherwise. The only thing that made me smile was that, as I furiously jammed my earphones in my ears, the Pigeon started jumping up and down on the spot and giving me her most eager and questing look. She knows the iPod means a walk. How clever she is, I thought, to know that. It’s not really that clever. It’s the simple correlation that many mammals work out. It’s Pavlov. It’s not remarkable, really. But just then, it felt like a sort of miracle of brilliance to me.

Stomp, stomp, stomp, I went, out into another bloody low grey day. But as I crossed the cattle grid and started to lose my crossness and actually see the trees and the moss and the old stumps which I love and the very last of the chanterelles, I looked up, and focussed my eyes, and saw the blue of the wooded hills to the south. They were blue as blue, deep with dimensions, a singing colour that defies words.

And for some reason, they made me think of the last of those funerals in May. In that strange three weeks, there was first my dad, then my dog, then my cousin, and then a friend. I wrote of her only very briefly, out of a sense of propriety; it was not my very own grief; that loss belonged to her family. There was a proper sense of not intruding. But I thought of her, most vividly, quite unexpectedly, today.

She was one of those people to whom one is connected through a hundred different threads. There were family connections; I was at school with her brother, whom I adored; there were many, many mutual friends. In our twenties, we spent glorious holidays together, in dusty old houses in Italy; there were long perfect summers and wild weekends in the house of one of my relations. The reason I thought of her today is that the last time I saw her was in Scotland, up on the Spey, at exactly this time of year, when the blue hills looked just as they did today.

Oh, I thought, suddenly, she should have been here to see this. It’s stupid and wrong and inexplicable that she is not. She was forty-two. I heard her laughter in my head, as true and filled with life as if she were here beside me. She was always laughing. She had a wonderful, antic, giggling laugh, that gurgled out from the back of her beautiful throat.

It was the most lovely meeting, that last Scottish encounter. It was quite unexpected; I drove up to Speyside, and there she was. We had not seen each other for ages, and we sat in a big, square room, looking out over the Cairngorms, with the Beloved Cousin, who was also there. Most of the party was out fishing, so the three of us could sit, and catch up. We talked and talked and talked; gossiping, laughing, remembering. We had so many stories and joys and sorrows and fuck-ups and absurdities in common, from that mutual past; it was as if we were re-running the film of our lives. It was one of the best mornings of my life, and such a simple thing: three women in a Scottish room.

I had to sit down on the bridge. Whack, whack, whack, it came, the sorrow and regret. Bloody hell, I thought, I hope a dog walker does not walk past now, to find me sitting on the stone parapet, weeping like a loon.

And, I thought, as I stood up, and and and, I think the swallows have gone. This seemed the final, crushing blow. I had thought they had departed last week, when my sister and I sat on the bench outside my house and talked of our father, in the low evening light. ‘Oh,’ I said, suddenly. ‘The swallows are usually here now. They must have gone to Africa.’ But then, the next day, I went out to the south meadow to see the sheep, and there they were. It was not just my swallows, but a whole gang of them, thirty or more. The ones from my mother’s shed must have come up to join them, and the ones who nest in the old palace that some long-dead eccentric built for his cows. The wind was blowing, and they were doing astounding acrobatics against it, swooping in twists and circles and looping loops. They were doing the very hard, athletic, low flying that always makes me think of Spitfires. They are mustering, I thought, ready to go. They are doing their last serious manoeuvres, getting their muscles up to scratch for the three thousand mile trek south.

This morning, I did not see them, and this, what with the friend remembering, seemed the last straw. I felt like a wailing child: but I wanted to say goodbye.

And then, like a miracle, as I trudged back to my front door, there they were, swinging low over the grass, their pale breasts flashing like a sign. Ah, I said, out loud, they are still here.

A little later, I decided to get the sadness behind me in the best way I know: the making of a chicken soup and a soda bread. I baked and cooked; I listened to the news from Libya; I came back slowly to the world.

Then a programme came on, after the news. It was one of those things that Radio Four does at lunchtime; they take a piece of music and people talk about it. My heart sank rather. Those programmes can be dull, worthy, schedule-fillers. I must finish this and get back to my work, I thought. Then my attention was riveted. First of all, the music itself was ravishing and haunting, written by an Estonian composer of whom I had never heard. Then, the steady Irish voice of a woman from Omagh came on. She was speaking of her daughter, who had loved this piece. I knew, before she said it, what was coming next. It was the day of the Omagh bomb. ‘She lost her life, and her friend too,’ said the mother. It was so matter of fact, so understated: not she was blown to smithereens, or murdered, or exploded. Just: she lost her life. They played this beautiful piece of classical music at her funeral, a glorious, simple combination of violin and piano. The mother remembered it. She remembered thinking that her daughter had made a good choice. But I can’t listen to it now, she said; nor can my sons.

So then I cried for that brave Irish woman too, and for my dad, for good measure. Get the damn tears out, I thought, because they don’t do you any good, stuffed down inside in your belly. Get them out in the air.

At the start of all this, I wrote that I wanted a manual. I still think that, sometimes. I said that I would probably have to write it myself. If I were, I would say that the one thing that has surprised me the most is that there is no gentle, sensible curve to grief. I did think it would fade and gentle with time. This is not the case. What does happen is that normality comes back, pleasure returns; one may laugh and joke and feel keenly the delight in things. A balance starts to emerge. But I would also say: watch out, for the four month mark. Just as you might be getting a little complacent, thinking you are past the white water, it will come and smash you. It does not diminish. If anything, it is stronger and harder now. I would say: don’t fight it. I would say: let it in.

I would say: don’t make any plans, for the four month mark, thinking you will be back to usual. In some ways, I wonder if nature is very clever. It is as if she knows that strength will have returned, by that time, which it does, and then you are, paradoxically, robust enough to take the real, shattering stuff, that comes up out of your feet, pins you against the wall, knocks the breath out of you. Just as you think you are fine, you find yourself fighting back tears in the Co-op, because a kind lady at the checkout asks you how you are, and you have no simple answer to that question.

In some ways, I feel that nature is paying me a compliment. She knows I am strong enough to survive. So now she is wheeling out the big guns.

So I go slowly. I always come back to that. Go slowly, go gently. Make the chicken soup, make the soda bread, watch for the swallows, laugh at the Pigeon’s funny little face, do work, consider the trees. That will do, for now.


Here is today’s walk:

Past the burn, which, despite the dour day, was still glittering with what light there was:

30 Aug 1

And the magnificent beech hedge:

30 Aug 2-2

These were the blue, remembered hills:

30 Aug 3-2

30 Aug 4-2

30 Aug 5-2

As I shook myself out of a sort of staring trance, I turned to find the Pidge looking back at me, as if to say: come on, we have places to be:

30 Aug 6.ORF

I am very busy, and have to get on:

30 Aug 7-7

Wild grasses, bending graciously in the breeze:

30 Aug 7-2

A festival of trees. Note the black Scottish summer sky, just above. And yet there were shafts of light, coming from somewhere:

30 Aug 8-2

The final chanterelles:

30 Aug 9-2

30 Aug 10-2

My favourite old fallen tree:

30 Aug 11-2

Pigeon drinking the burn:

30 Aug 12-2

The elegant sheep:

30 Aug 13-2

30 Aug 14-2

Then back inside, and baking. I did two kinds of soda bread; a neat, flat little loaf, and some rolls:

30 Aug 15-2

30 Aug 16-2

30 Aug 17-2

And then ate them with my chicken soup. Today’s version was an old-fashioned kind, with carrots, leeks, courgettes, and a scatter of sliced spinach leaves:


I know I am a bit nuts when it comes to chicken soup, but I really did feel life and strength flow back into me as I ate it.

More Pigeon beauty, because that too brings life and strength:

30 Aug 20.ORF

And the dear old hill, rather mauve today:

30 Aug 23-6


  1. Friends who don't grow old bring a real lump to the throat. Last week, St Andrews was on university challenge with a good looking team member, whose father was a St As contemporary of ours and godfather to the biggest boy. The boy on the team had the look of his father at that age, and i cried; his father died a few years ago. I sobbed into my ironing, totally oblivious of Paxman's silly questions. Tears for my time at St Andrews and a fabulous friend and godfather.

    I love the chanterelle pictures, have you found blaeberries this year?

  2. I think the manual is much needed...
    Thank you for the pictures, the City is nothing but grey today and the green so welcome, as the Pigeon always is.
    And your soda bread looks good enough for the Great British Bake Off (BBC2). I'll be watching it later if I can locate the remote (that needs to be in the manual too, the constant mislaying of things).
    Take care x

  3. Eat chicken soup, listen to Van the Man, have a large vodka.... whatever gets you through the night.... and the warmth and empathy of all of your dear readers..

  4. Dear Tania, thank you for being brave enough to write this down, and for reminding us that through the worst of everything, there is always the hill, and swallows, and chicken soup and of course the Pigeon. I hope you write the manual. x

  5. Of course, of course, of course there is no gentle curve to grief - by its very nature it rears its head at the most unexpected of times... and undoes all of us completely..... I so hope that you will find some small comfort in that you are not alone... Be well.. x I so admire your courage...

  6. We saw our swallows sitting on the wire this afternoon, maybe 40 or 50, preening and warming themselves and I told my little girl that they were going to Africa and would be back!
    Your posts are so moving, and I know that when I need them they will be my manual.

  7. What I admire the most Tania is the fact that you weather this storm and know as in really know that you will be alright. I think it's an incredible testament to character that you know this. Your Dad would I am sure be proud. Lou x

  8. Tania: one part of me thinks "write this book, we need it, please", and in the next breath, I think "but you have written it". Thank goodness, I have not yet had to deal with as many blows on the bruises of the heart in quick succession as you have - my sorrows have, so far, managed mostly to come single spies, not in battalions - but when and if the time comes, I will return to these entries and remind myself of the wisdom, the honesty and the courage they display. Thank you in advance for the day that they are needed.

    PS: but if you do ever choose to put them into a nice neat package, we won't complain. Especially if you illustrate it with your photographs.

  9. I'm counting on you to write the manual, and do a beautiful job of it, right down to the recipes for soda bread and soup. You know, you already have it partially written, right in the blog.

    I love that you talk about stumping and stomping: it's both visual and kinesthetic, and illustrates your state more simply and directly than if you actually described it.

    Also, I love how nature can seep into us and heal us, if only we allow it.

  10. All of them unforgettable......and bread is food for the soul...thanks for brightening my day, I awoke to the wind in the trees and it unsettles me.....beautifully written.

  11. Well, actually i think Cassie has just reinforced what i said earlier about collecting all the photographs and musings and putting it all together in book form - because that would be a lovely thing.... cos I have the book Jasper Conran Country and - all due respect to Jasper - I think your pictures and comments are more beautiful by far...

    ps Is Cassie a journalist ? she expresses everything so beautifully...

  12. I love the burn. Thank you for the picture!

  13. beautiful post Tania. Thank you for sharing this journey.

  14. Tania, I think grief has a way of settling in and becoming part of us. I think it becomes somewhat easier to acknowledge as time goes by and to find it doesn't always have to knock us around so hard.
    You are honest and courageous, and wonderfully generous to let us in at this time.
    Take care xx

  15. One always wants to be warned of deep human emotion. Would that it were always possible.

  16. All sorts of things trigger grief, I welcome it now knowing and finding comfort in the fact I haven't forgotten. That too will come but by the sounds of it you are doing fine, roll with it and give pigeon a huge hug!

  17. This week I have had to start coming to terms with some grief and reading your blogs on this has been so very helpful. My fateher nearly died (I am lucky he is alive) and weirdly that led to grief, a lovely family friend died and then a very close family member. I keep dreaming those I love are dying. And then I read how you let the gried flow, nurture yourself and allow it to run its course and know I should do the same. I should allow it the room it needs to take while keeping on. This is what you have taugth me. Thank you.

  18. I cried, reading this post. But they were good tears, those tears.

  19. Dear Anonymous: I am very flattered! No, I'm not a journalist (nor do I write professionally in any sense): my business is in organising & decluttering (and a bit of geekery on the side). You've made my day!


Your comments give me great delight, so please do leave one.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin