Posted by Tania Kindersley.
Through chance and happenstance, I have a couple of friends who have Done Very Well. You might think it would be the university I went to, a famous breeding ground for politicians and plutocrats and poets. In fact, my most celebrated friend, The Actor, was introduced to me at a rackety party given by The Younger Brother.
I was nineteen and being pressed up against the wall by a notorious producer, who was the least safe in taxis man in London. The Actor was adorable and very polite and kind, so I asked him if he would mind pretending to be my very jealous boyfriend for the evening, to fend off the tentacle arms of the amorous older gentleman. He did the most perfect job, and we have been friends ever since. He was doing rep in Colchester at the time, and I saw him through his years at the National and the RSC. I watch him up on the glittering screen now, all polished and brilliant, but I remember the time when he snapped his Achilles tendon during rehearsals and lay, desolate, in a hospital bed as his big breakthrough part went to someone else.
The fame thing is odd. I had not seen him for a while until this last southern tour, and perhaps, in the back of my mind, I was slightly afraid that the terms of our friendship might have shifted, now he is in the papers. It’s not as if he spends all his time going to parties with Sienna Miller, but he is very, very successful, in a way I am not.
I need not have worried. He took me for the finest lunch, in a most venerable London institution, where I was particularly delighted to watch a small field mouse appear on the Persian rug, and wander happily about under the mahogany tables, beneath the serious gaze of the 19th century portraits. The Actor and I did not stop talking until three, when he had to go for a meeting.
Everything was the same; none of the external stuff mattered a whit. We still had twenty-five years of history; all the love was still in its place. We beamed at each other with ancient fondness, and I made jokes about when he shall get his Oscar. (I had a bet with myself, when he was in his thirties, that he would get it when he was 53. I have a few years still to go before I may collect.)
The other friend who has gone on to become successful is someone I have known since I was three. We went to tea parties together, and ate bridge rolls and iced gems. My mother thinks it is not at all surprising that he has done so well, since she remembers him as a very courteous and extremely well-dressed little boy. He lives now in a rather remarkable place with his very elegant wife. I have not seen them for a long time either, partly because of the distance thing, but partly because they have moved into that other sphere that worldly success brings.
Anyway, the point of all this shaggy dog story is that I got a lovely invitation from them, for a party. It would be a gathering of the old friends, quite small. I was delighted, and incredibly touched to be asked. Oh yes, I could not think of a nicer thing. I would leap on the train, my mother would have the dog, I would paint my lips and put on my party frock.
But as the time grew near, I suddenly waxed doubtful. Storm warnings had come in; I had horrible visions of being stranded in the south, 600 miles from The Pigeon and my Christmas preparations. I had terrible intimations of the East Coast line being shut down. At the last minute, I lost my nerve, and chucked. I am a terrible chucker, as I get more and more anti-social in my old age, but this was not the kind of invitation one passes up lightly. It was not just the joy of seeing the old friends, but also that it was being held in the kind of place one only goes once in a lifetime. But I just could not leave Scotland.
Last night, as the party went on without me, I sat on the sofa with my dog, drinking Guinness and watching re-runs of Kauto Star winning his finest King George in 2009. (I must admit that if I can’t go to an extraordinary social occasion, that is my idea of a perfect night.)
Today, I put on my gumboots and stomped up to see The Younger Niece. The sun was shining, and the winter light was the colour of amber. The Niece and I talked for an hour and a half about every aspect of her first university term. I listened and laughed and gave her a little good auntly advice. It was very gentle and sweet.
I walked home. I thought: I should now have been waking up in The Groucho after a glittering party. Instead, I am marching past the burn in my old cardigan with the hole in the elbow, and my ancient tweed coat with the missing buttons, and my muddy boots. I kept hearing, for some reason, the voice of Kevin Kline in my head. It was the moment in The Big Chill when he gets cross with William Hurt and says: ‘This place means something to me. I’m dug in.’ You see, I’m dug in. I look at the trees and the hill and the wide sky and want nothing more.
I think I’m explaining all this because some people do think my life a little peculiar. One of the old friends recently said that he thought I was hiding away from the world. But this is the world, to me. It’s not the gleaming, worldly world, of important people, doing serious things; of glamorous gatherings and antic conversation. It’s not the textbook version of ambition and success. But it’s still and beautiful and it’s mine.
On the walk home, thinking all these thoughts, wondering if I was turning into a crazed person, I looked to the left. There, standing like a statue, gazing due south into the sun like a sentinel, was the heron. I had not seen him for weeks. I watched him for a moment, both of us caught in a perfect moment of stillness. Then he gathered himself, took to the air, described a perfect arc to the east, and floated away into the trees.
It was as if someone had given me a present. I thought: if I’d been in the south, I would never have seen that. I don’t really believe in signs. But it felt like a sign.
Pictures of the day.
Beech avenue in the amazing light:
Trees and hills:
One of my favourites of the young beech trees. I love the way they cling onto their leaves throughout the winter, even though they are deciduous:
And the moment of the heron now. The pictures are not that good, a bit out of focus, because I was just madly snapping before he disappeared, but you can get a sense of the wonder of what I saw:
Don't you love how in that last one, he almost looks as if he is part of the trees?
And now for more wonder: the Younger Niece. I usually don't put faces on this blog, because of some privacy thing, but since she and her generation are all over Facebook, she does not mind. (Occasionally, when I see her Facebook pictures from university, I put on my PG Wodehouse Aunt Hat and say things like: 'you know, one of you might want to be Prime Minister or Archbishop of Canterbury or the Head of the IMF one day'. She laughs like a drain when I say things like that.)
Here she is, the darling, giggling because I am making her pose:
And another beloved face:
And the most loved hill:
That's an awful lot of loveliness. I think: I may be a little bit stuck in the hills, right now, but they damn well are alive with the sound of music. Even if it is music that only I can hear.