Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Of blackbirds and green velvet coats


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

It is a bright, shiny, sunny day. The Pigeon and I walk round the block. At the bridge, I cry. The tears seem to come at a regular time now; it is just after nine. I quite like the idea of this. If I know when to expect them, then I can just do the thing, get it all out, and then get on with my day. It’s a balance, I start to realise. You can’t just tick the bloody box and think: now I’ve done that. You can’t do grief. You have to let it live in you.

The secret, I think, and I am only starting to see this very dimly, is that you learn to make room for other things. The sadness, the gaps left behind by the people (and dogs, for I am missing my Duchess sorely as we take what was her favourite walk) shrink into their proper place, so that the joy and delight and laughter may come back in.

As if to prove this amorphous thought, just as I am rather clumsily wiping my cheeks with the back of my hand, I see a baby blackbird. It is hopping and singing and eating delicious worms. I stop, stock still, entranced. It is so tiny and perfect and brave, out there in the green grass, all on its own. It draws itself up very tall, and looks straight at me, as if it were Queen of the May.

There is my talisman, I think. If I can still be excited by seeing a small, ordinary bird, then all cannot be lost.

The lambs have moved from the south meadow, and I miss them. I miss their antic jumping and baa-ing. Everything is very quiet and green. I sit down under a gnarled old chestnut tree, leaning my back against its rough bark, feeling the reassuring solidity of the earth under me. The Pigeon comes and settles herself against my legs, sitting like a sentinel, on watch. I look out over the wild grass and think rambling thoughts.

I am wearing my very favourite, very old, green velvet jacket. I got it from Johnson’s, a great men’s clothes shop which used to sit on the curve of the King’s Road at World’s End, over twenty years ago. I loved that shop. It had polished wood floors and racks and racks of proper tailoring and a slight hushed air. I always loved buying men’s clothes in my twenties. I have two old school double-breasted coats from them, in thick velvet, one bottle green, one dark blue, the blue of midnight and the navy. Also a long-skirted almost Edwardian coat with double pockets and wide lapels in a moss green tweed.

I think about my old green coat. I have worn it in Venice and the Italian Lakes and the Hebrides and the far west of Ireland, that part of Connemara where the road signs are all in Irish, so that you can get lost in a heartbeat. It has driven up the long glittering road to Big Sur; it has been to the mountains of Yosemite and the vineyards of Napa and the long shadowed canyons of Manhattan and the sunny hills of Sauselito.

On my iPod, Van Morrison starts singing St Dominic’s Preview. I smile. That was the very song that my friend Sophie and I used to play, over and over, when we were doing long, laughing road trips in California, a hundred years ago, when I was wearing this very coat. I still have the pictures.

For some reason, this feels both comforting and profound. The coat is very worn now. The sun has faded the colour over the shoulders, and the lining is torn. It is no longer the sharply tailored article that first came out of that great shop, which no longer exists. It is a bit baggy and out of kilter. But it and I have history, and just because something gets a bit bashed up does not mean I don’t love it any more.

I’m not quite sure what any of this means. The form of the blog now is that I sit down to write, because I must write, the daily bulletins must be posted, and it’s a bit hit and miss as to whether anything makes any sense. I must string words together, because that is what I do.

The thing that is haunting me is that it is my father’s memorial service tomorrow and I am not going. I can’t. I have hit the wall. There is absolutely no physical way that I can get in the car and bash down the M6 for the third time in a month. There is no emotional way I can sit in the fourth church in four weeks and think of someone who is no longer alive. For some reason, the thing has been arranged to come very quickly after his death. I see now why people have memorials six months or so after. The loss then is in its place; the layer of skin that has been stripped away has begun to grow back. One may sit and celebrate and remember with ease and laughter. It is still too soon for that. It would be another of those hours of sitting up straight with the mad staring eyes, open very wide to try and stop the tears falling.

I know that it is the right decision. It is the only possible decision. But I also know that tomorrow I shall wake up and be filled with a sudden, wild regret.

Still, I said goodbye. It was a fine farewell. It was a good funeral, with just the correct balance of love and solemnity and smiles and grace. This one will be a much bigger affair, planned more like a party. I am not ready yet for a party. Perhaps I shall have one of my own, in September, when I am ready, even if it only takes place in the privacy of my own head.


Here is my blackbird:

31 May 1

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Here is what I could see while I was sitting under my tree:

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Back in the garden, the dog roses are out:

31 May 9-1

The first honeysuckle buds have appeared:

31 May 9-2

The blowsy old oriental poppies, which I used to loathe and now adore, are doing their best imitation of alien creatures from another galaxy:

31 May 9-3

Do let's hope they come in peace:


I love this little plant, and cannot quite remember its name. Could it be nepeta? I know one of you will know:

31 May 9-5

And finally, these beauties arrived this morning, bursting into flower overnight. They are from bulbs, and I have no memory of having planted them, although I have a terrible habit of buying packets on a whim, throwing them into the ground, and then erasing all recollection from my mind. Whatever they are, and wherever they came from, they feel like magic to me, because they were not there yesterday, and today they are, like an amulet or a sign:

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The view to the south, with the light falling over the curving hills:

31 May 12

The Pigeon, so beautiful I had to take her twice:

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Today's hill, in panorama:

31 May 16

Monday, 30 May 2011


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I eat bacon and soda bread toast for breakfast. I have a small moment of panic when I temporarily mislay the Marmite. A house without Marmite in it is unthinkable. I read in the paper a restrained and touching piece by a father who has just lost his son in Afghanistan. At the end, he writes:

'But, God knows, I loved you Sam and always will. And, if a faraway nondescript patch of rock and dust has claimed your flesh and blood, it can never claim your spirit, never destroy the bonds we had.'

This makes me cry. I had read the obituary for Marine Sam Alexander in the Helmand Blog, which I follow, a couple of days ago. When the deaths of the young soldiers are reported, it always makes me shed a silent tear. Now, they touch me in a very slightly different way. It is not that I can ever know what it is like to have a child shot to death or blown to bits. I cannot imagine the courage of Stuart Alexander, who, in the raw ravages of his grief, can still compose lovely sentences in honour of his son. But after the three funerals of May, I am closer to death. I am in the park.

I start to understand that tears are a daily, usual thing. They are not finite. They come and go, and I learn to let them, and not be frightened.

I manage some ordinary tasks. I get the MOT done, with the help of the dear Stepfather, who kindly takes me to the garage and talks to me of politics, which is my favourite diversion. A gentleman comes to see about the broken boiler, checks the pipes, sucks his teeth, shakes his head, and goes away again. I put on another cardigan.

I go to my desk and do my work. The Co-writer calls and is calm about deadlines. She is very, very good at that. I continue to panic for two. Miraculously, and without quite meaning to, I seem to write 1248 words. I stare at the screen in amazement, interested that my brain appears to be working again.

Outside, I run into the Man in the Hat. Our dogs play together for a while, making us laugh.

In the world, it is reported that Sir Vidia Naipaul and Paul Theroux have made up, after their long literary quarrel. It was at the Hay on Wye festival, where I used to go when it was three tents and a handsome Welsh poet. Apparently, Ian McEwan acted as go-between. I think: silly old men. I think: really, life is too stupidly short.

Pictures, as is now customary, are of the green growing things:

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30 May 9

30 May 10-1

The Pigeon:

30 May 10

And the hill:

30 May 12

Sunday, 29 May 2011


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I am cross and tired and sad.

The very fact that I may admit that is a small triumph. What I would really like to say is oh, you know, I'm fine. Look me, being fine. Watch me being marvellously good at being fine.

Oddly, I know that underneath everything, I probably am fine. Feeling sad and tired does not represent a failure of the human spirit, but a reality of the human condition. We can't all be bluebirds and butterflies every damn day. This is not a piece of musical theatre. It is real life.

The sun shone hard and the wind blew. On the radio, someone said that there were blizzards in the North-West. Blizzards? In May? I thought: oh I do hope there is no one up on those mountains with the snow coming in and no hat.

Here are some pretty pictures, to make up for everything:

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The Pigeon was looking particularly beautiful today. She has perked up a bit, and I think the Older Niece's vitamins are doing a sterling job:

29 May 10

The wind blew her ears up in the air, which made me think of Snoopy, and made me laugh:

29 May 11

And the coos stared at us in astonishment:

29th May 1

The hill:

29 May 13

Thank you for the lovely comments, which arrive each day, to make me smile and keep me going. I talk often of the kindness of strangers, and this is it, in its full flowering. It also keeps my faith in human nature. Everyone always says the internet is such an angry, intemperate place. Not in this little corner, it isn't. Here, it is the place where we may remind each other we are not alone. So many of you have gone through similar things to me, and generously send your empathy through the ether. It is the true sense of community, and it astonishes and delights.

Saturday, 28 May 2011


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Sorry about radio silence yesterday. The day got away from me like a loose horse.

The nieces came, and the Man in the Hat. I made chicken soup and broad bean salad with feta cheese. I cooked and cooked. I thought: if I can feed my family then all manner of things shall be well.

Today, the sun shone. The wind blew. The sheep and cows grazed the green grass. The Younger Niece and I went for a walk, and talked of the past.

I used to be dismissive of family. All that blood being thicker than water; yada yada yada. It's a lot of reactionary nonsense, I used to think. Now, I fold myself inside the family, to feel safe. It is where I do not have to prove anything, or explain anything.

Also, they make me laugh.

The laughter is still a bit ragged. It comes out in sudden, too loud bursts, as if shot from the stomach. But it is laughter, and I do not take that for granted for a single moment.

Light and shade, I think; I must not forget that the two can co-exist.


The tremendous news is that I found the camera cable. My eye is out a bit, so the pictures are not marvellously good. Here are the flowers I arranged for the nieces' visit:

28th May 1

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This is what we saw on our walk:

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The Pigeon:

28th May 10

The hill:

28th May 11

Lovely comments on Thursday, so kind and wise. Thank you for them all.


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