Monday, 21 November 2011

Family life

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

The writing of the blog gets later and later. This is the thing that amazes me about family life: what the geek character in a glossy American thriller would call time suckage. I write that not in a tone of disparagement, but of awe and wonder. Awe is an overused word; but I do remain in awe of those of you who look after the families.

Perhaps I should explain for those of you new to the blog that each November, I come to the Beloved Cousin whilst her husband is in South America for his work. Together, we do the domestic life, with three children from twelve to three. I tend to take over the cooking, because that is what I love.

What astonishes me is the amount of co-ordination that is needed. We spend a great deal of time making lists. Then I usually lose or forget my list and have to make a new one. Menus are also interestingly complex. All the food groups must be represented. Someone does not like cheese; someone else cannot eat fish. We can’t have chicken on Thursday because we had it on Tuesday. Also, there are an amazing amount of errands that must be run. At home, I just have myself and The Pigeon to look after; I write my book and indulge my passion for American politics. Here, I realise the great gift of time that I sometimes take for granted.

Today was not an especially crowded day, on paper. Yet, it ended up so busy that by seven o’clock, when the children had been fed and bathed, I had not stopped for a second to listen to the news. That is why The World has been rather absent from this blog for the last couple of weeks. I am normally a fiend for current affairs; now, the Cousin comes downstairs and says: ‘The stock markets have gone apocalyptic again,’ and I feel the shock of insulation. For all I know, the revolution could have happened, crowds with pitchforks could be walking down Whitehall, and all I would be aware of is that we must get the Chemistry revised for the Godson’s exams tomorrow.

For all that, it was a day of small, but potent pleasures. I saw some lovely people who knew my dad in his youth. They spoke of him with such admiration and fondness; they remembered his great racing days, his courage, his brilliance on the back of a horse. It was keenly bittersweet. I was able to talk of him without a tremor in my voice, but as I type this now I feel a little flayed, the grief still near the surface even after six months. I spoke to my friend the Man of Letters this morning, his voice strong and reassuring down the line. His theory is that it takes a year, to feel normal again. I quite like that theory. It means I don’t have to bash myself about for having moments still of sudden, streaming fragility.

In the evening, my sister’s dear face appeared on the Skype, which is still a kind of miracle to me. I got news of the Nieces. We made some Christmas plans. In the removed from the world state I am in, I vaguely hope there still will be Christmas by the time I get home.

I speak to my mother, who kindly informs me that she is making sure the autumn leaves are being cleared from my flowerbeds, so I do not come back to dead, brown mulch.

I think: people are very kind.

My conclusion from all this, because I like to have a conclusion, is that you are a bit of a miracle, all you family people out there. Especially the single mothers and fathers. The old platitude of not enough hours in the day comes bashing home when I see what is required, just to keep the charabanc on the road, at close quarters. It is a platitude because it is true.

One of my feminist crossnesses is that the people who do not work outside the house, mostly especially women, get described as not having a job. Well, it’s a job. It might not be commuting, and nine to five, and involve secretaries and meetings and conference calls, but it seems to me being a good parent demands being a major-domo, a shrink, a nurse, a cook, a cleaner, a washer and wiper, a driver, and a planner.

I know it’s a choice; I know it’s a joy. Those small people give you rewards of the heart which you would never get from a boss. But it’s work, all the same. Sometimes I think there should be a red carpet for the parents, an Oscar ceremony for the fathers and mothers. There should be a glittering night when a crowd gathers to pay tribute to those who are raising the next generation. It’s a huge thing; respect should be paid.


The photographs today are very odd indeed. There was no time to take the camera outside, and it was a rotten old day anyway. But I made the mistake of mentioning my new hair a couple of days ago, and some of the Dear Readers requested a viewing. At first I thought: oh no, I can't put up my silly old face.  Also, I rather like the anonymity of this blog; you know my name, but mostly you do not see me. There is a sort of safety in that: the bad hair days and mornings when I wake up with cross, puffy eyes are not recorded. I freely admit it's a bit of vanity thing; and I do like the idea of my words speaking for themselves.

Yet I find it oddly hard to refuse the Readers, because you are all so kind. So I took a couple of pictures, most abashed and feeling rather foolish. When I looked at them, they made me laugh, so here they are.

My expressions are rather mad because I took them myself in a looking glass in the Cousin's back hall. It's the thought process which I find funny, so that's why you are getting a series. I am angling the camera up, so you can't see it, and just pressing auto-focus, and hoping for the best.

So: slightly serious face:

21 Nov 1 21-11-2011 13-16-46

Oh, hello, I'm Joyce Grenfell:

21 Nov 3 21-11-2011 13-17-47

No, no, but remember to SMILE for the Dear Readers:

21 Nov 4 21-11-2011 13-17-53

No, come on, proper big smile:

21 Nov 5 21-11-2011 13-18-06

(That is what the cousins call my crazed Buddhist all creatures are wonderful smile.)

Now feeling like a complete idiot, because what am I actually doing?:

21 Nov 6 21-11-2011 13-18-46

My lovely old hairdresser did do a good job, though, didn't he? He's been cutting that hair since it was blonde, which is a very long time ago indeed.

And now for a proper face:

21 Nov 11 29-10-2011 14-22-25

She has no doubt at all that she was built for a close-up.

And finally: small housekeeping note. Because of the time thing, I am rudely not replying to your kind comments. I read and love them all. Forgive the omission.


  1. How lovely for your cousin to have you to stay while her husband is away. I always found those weeks the hardest, despite the business and routine, when my boys were small.
    Love your hair!

  2. I am not a stay at home mother but I do get mad when people presume that they have lots of free time and leisure because nothing is more stressful than running a home and making sure that everything is ticking over - and ensuring that homework is done and things taken for handiwork for school means planning/thinking/imagining ahead so that you have all the unimagined for stuff available when the children need it!

    BTW thank you for the photos. Lovely.

  3. The annoying thing about housewifery is that one can't knock off at 5 and not think about work til the next morning.
    Photo's don't look as demented as you imagine. Great corsage, where's that from?

  4. So glad you're having a lovely, if busy, time.

    I LOVE the hair. I have to admit that I thought, at first glance, that the splendid corsage was a teddy bear in your arms... ;)

  5. Oh, puh-lease. Serious? Your eyes are brimming with laughter, rather a giveaway that you are trying very hard not to giggle at taking pictures of yourself.

    I imagine The Pigeon having a chuckle too. Ha-ha-ha, now YOU are on the other side of the lens. If only it could be her paw on the shutter release.


  6. Gorgeous hair! And gorgeous you! You have that divine complexion that suits the red.
    I couldn't stop laughing at the photos (with you, not at you...) because I would be just the same.

  7. Thank you for the pat on the back...yes, it is a JOB, un-paid (in money anyway) and unending. My mother warned me about the unending I get it.

    Wonderful and Pigeon look like you were separated at birth.

  8. As mine are older now (17, 17 and 12) and I don't have to bath (!) or entertain them so much, I am still rushing around after them and they become more emotionally draining!

    Gorgeous photos but I now have to readjust my mental image of wholesome, country good looks to knockout and sophisticated. I wish Pigeon could caption them.

  9. Great hair, and you also have very nice shapely eyebrows. I am more envious of these than the hair as mine grow sparser and thinner and more indistinct by the year. Soon I shall need to have new ones tattooed on else I will be as unable to convey surprise, delight or thundering fury as an over-botoxed Hollywood resident.

  10. Tania...tried to comment on this last night but couldn't from my phone - meh. But just to say - the photos of you are fab - especially the last one! You are my favourite writer; I realise this as I look forward to what you write every day. And the fact that you take your hat off to mothers just confirms is staggering how much work there is to be done! All good... Lou x

  11. It always impresses me when people who do not have children of their own appreciate how much they fill up one's life and potentially take it over (at least for a while). So thank you for realising, and for telling us! I agree wholeheartedly with the Dear Reader who says that offspring become more emotionally demanding as they get older. I have been going through a very demanding time recently with a twenty-one year old offspring!
    The photographs are great - love the Joyce Grenfell one - and your hair is fab! Hope you enjoy the rest of your stay with the Dear Cousin; I'm sure she knows how lucky she is to have you to step in and cook delicious things for her and her family!

  12. How lovely, I am reading this from my desk and your writing and pictures are my daily pleasure (and I have no guilt at all!). Your hair looks gorgeous and it is lovely to see you every now and again. Makes me want to pop round and have a cup of tea and put the world to rights - what a funny intimate world the internet creates - I feel like a friend although we have never met!. Back to the legal world in Lincoln's Inn alas instead. Also thank you for the comments re raising families it makes it all so much easier if people understand the very chaotic nature of it - whether it is your full time job or in addition to another form of work.


  13. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    I love the sequence of photos: from the studied expression of the first one to the gradual progression the last two, smiling warmly and a bit gamine.

    I rather love the idea that you are looking at us, your Readers.
    It makes it both so intimate and generous.

    And I love your new haircut and your sense of colour!

    Cristina :)

  14. You're very pretty!

  15. Firstly, I love this post. I lost my dad in 2008, and went through the same thing. My grandmother is dying as I type this, and all that is coming back, thoughts of family, what it means, etc.

    Secondly, GORGEOUS HAIR! And, has anyone but me noitced that you resemble the lovely actress Diane Lane? Strikingly!

  16. The Pigeon has the most wonderful smile - and yours isn't bad either, with humour and intelligence gleaming through :)

    The hair is splendid and I'm somewhat jealous, even though short hair doesn't suit me at all!

    Like you, I am in awe of parents. There is so much involved in the bringing of small people into the world. Having lived by myself for quite some years, I still find having to run the household MUCH more demanding now that there is another person in it (the Beloved Spouse, who is vaguely housetrained, but has appalling domestic blindness... and the enviable ability to do what he wants to do before tackling his share of the household chores).

    So how much more is there when there are children as well? Huge amounts.

    In the words of the Sentimental Bloke, "I dips me lid"

  17. Your hair is fabulous!
    Thank you for posting these photos.

  18. You also look amazingly like Annette Bening here:


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