Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Good Things

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Sometimes I like a nuanced, suggestive title. Sometimes not. Today, not. It’s Good Things or bust.

Here is the thing I think about grief. It’s all right, as long as there is still room for the good stuff. I am lucky: these are profound sorrows, but they are not obliterating. I heard a woman on the wireless today who was widowed at a young age; her husband’s heart just stopped ticking. She said that at the beginning she could not taste anything, see anything, think anything, do anything, feel anything. She was so articulate and interesting, ten years or so on, and so without self-pity. But it was a terrifying description.

I can write this. I can get up in the morning. I can cook and love my dog and laugh great shouting belly laughs. The Brother is back on the compound, and he and The Sister came round last night for half an hour.

‘The death and oblivion stuff,’ he said. ‘Are you having trouble with that?’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I am damn well having trouble with that.’

Then the three of us laughed and laughed and laughed. I don’t even really know how it started. It was something to do with Finland. And the Bishop of Stockholm. (The Brother has just come back from a Scandinavian tour. Oh, he says, I do love the Danes.) I think he had startled the Finns, which is not surprising, and suddenly it was the funniest thing that had ever happened, anywhere, ever.

So, you see. Good Things.

Then, just now, the Co-Writer called.

‘I’m sitting on a beach reading a rather good book,' she said.

‘You don’t mean,’ I said. I started yelling, partly from excitement, partly because the line was not very good. ‘You can’t mean?’

She rustled the manuscript down the line.

‘Can’t put it down,’ she said.

She has, of course, serious points to make. There is bagginess, some repetition, and, apparently, some intemperate ranting.

‘Surely not,’ I said, ironically. ‘You amaze me.’

But the main, amazing, wondrous thing is that it seems it is not the 93,000 words of absolute buggery bollocks that I feared.

This is a very, very good thing indeed. I can start sleeping at night again. It still means that there must be a final 30 day work storm, because even though she did not run screaming from the room, there is still space for improvement.

The other Good Thing was that she paid me one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever had. It’s very vulgar to retell compliments about oneself, but I’ve been crying a lot in the last week, missing my dad and my dog, and feel rather bashed about by sadness, and strained from work worry, and still a bit weak from laryngitis, so I’m going to indulge myself. Then we shall say no more about it.

She said: ‘The thing about you is that you are so culturally adept. You have a great cultural hinterland.’

She is not a gushing sort of person. She keeps her powder dry. So when she says something kind like that, she really means it. I became immediately incoherent, and not very adept at all.

I don’t know why it gave me quite so much pleasure, but it did. I grew up with horses and cows and dung and muck heaps. My academic achievements came from graft, rather than a dancing brain. I think I sometimes feel I am still playing catch-up, in some nebulous way. I’m always thinking Must Try Harder. I always wanted to be a cultured sort of person, not in a swishy, snobby way, but in a low-key, bone-deep manner. And it seems that is how she sees me.

And that is all very unBritish, and primed with vulgarity, and perilously close to showing off, which is what I was told off for when I was small, so you must push it at once from your minds.

And since I am being unBritish, may I just say how extraordinary you Dear Readers are. I’ve banged on a bit lately, skirted the shores of self-indulgence, and you have met me with vast reserves of wisdom, kindness, and sympathy. You are bloody brilliant. And that may be the goodest Good Thing of all.


One of the Dear Readers very sweetly asked after Virginia the Pig, and so I went down this morning to see her, and here she is, with her most peculiar boyfriend (he is the rarest of rare breeds, but really quite odd-looking, one must admit):

31 Aug 3

31 Aug 1

31 Aug 2

These are also dedicated to my friend Amber, who loves pigs.

Turned round to see the Pidge staring at me as if to say: what are you doing with those crazy old pigs?:

31 Aug 4

Then back down the beech avenue we went:

31 Aug 5

31 Aug 6

I looked out over the lovely young trees:

31 Aug 7

Went back in, and plumped up the cushions. My poor old sofa has actual holes in it, so I am currently covering it with blankets. Not very House and Garden, but I quite like the different reds:

31 Aug 8

Favourite medicine bottles:

31 Aug 9

Made some lemonade with ginger and mint, for health:

31 Aug 10

Turned to find the Pigeon staring again, as if to say: what are you doing, taking pictures of cushions when you could be throwing a stick for me?:

31 Aug 11

Went back outside to examine the pot table. This little lavender was almost dead, after last winter’s snow and frost, so it gives me almost more joy than anything else to see it so full of life:

31 Aug 12

31 Aug 13

And, there in another pot, were some radishes. I had put the seeds in week ago and then forgotten. I picked one. It was an actual radish. I have never had any luck with seeds; the rabbits get them or I forget to water them and it’s all a disaster. But I GREW A RADISH:

31 Aug 14

31 Aug 15

The Pigeon was posed for her close-up:

31 Aug 20

Love the noble profile; slight pity I cut the end of her nose off, but you can’t have everything:

31 Aug 21

And the hill:

31 Aug 23

Bonus Post. Of pure rage.

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

OMG, OMG, as the young people say. And: WTF, WTF. Which does not stand for World Trepanning Federation, but What The Fuck?

I just took one small break in my working day, and discovered, not something marvellous about the human spirit, or inspiring about the capacity for endurance, but that a company called JC Penny has produced a t-shirt for girls which says, on the front, in swirling, cutesy letters: I’m Too Pretty to do Homework.

I did not believe this at first, so I actually went to the website and looked it up. It is here, if you want to see the flabbergasting proof.

Did the Pankursts march in vain?

Can we rise up in outrage?

One of the things I think, particularly at this time of year, when the exam results come out and the scramble for university goes on, is how incredibly lucky I was to go to Oxford. I know some people like to sneer a bit about it, and say it’s not really all that, but it was all that to me. I loved it, and it gave me a gift worth more than emeralds. Twenty-six years later, I still think with fondness and delight of my favourite tutor, Mr Stuart, who taught me the fascinations of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.

I got there not because I was particularly brilliant, but because I was a swot. I worked my arse off. And that was thanks to Miss Holder, who, when I was eight to twelve, drummed into me the importance of the work ethic, week after week. It was thanks to Mr Woodhouse, who, when I was fifteen and sixteen, taught me how to frame a historical argument, and made us all write endless timed essays in class, so that our brains were trained like greyhounds. I got there because I damn well did do my homework, and it was one of the best things I ever did.

So, JC Penny, I don’t really know who you are, and I am sure you are a perfectly respectable company, but TAKE THAT BACK.

And that is the end of my allotted amount of outrage for the day. There will be a proper blog later, when I have talked myself down off the ceiling.

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

Monday, 29 August 2011

In brief

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

New regime not going awfully well as I feel entirely seedy today. Back aching and head all swimmy. Incredibly annoying and pointless. I squint at my reading and make not much sense of it.

So no proper blog today, for which many apologies. But some nice flower pictures to divert you:

30 Aug 1.ORF

30 Aug 2.ORF

30 Aug 3.ORF

30 Aug 4

30 Aug 5.ORF

And, oh hello, who is this raving beauty?:

30 Aug 11

30 Aug 12.ORF

Rather faded hill:

30 Aug 14

Even on a cross, not feeling awfully well day, there is always one ray of sunshine. I just realised that I thought all day it was the 30th. Just now, I discover it is the 29th. This feels as if someone has given me an extra day, as if I had crossed the International Date Line. For some reason, this fills me with exhilaration. A whole EXTRA DAY.

And now I am going to eat some soup and stump off to bed at six like an old lady.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Sunday Pictures

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

There was a very touching message yesterday from one of the Dear Readers, who is a Briton living abroad. Apparently, my pictures remind some people of home. So these are particularly dedicated to my ex-pat readership. And most especially to my friend T from Strathdon, now in North Carolina, my very old friend S, in Santa Monica, and one of my favourite bloggers, Miss Whistle, in California, whom I know has very happy memories of Scotland.

Although, I should say, that for those of you feeling homesick, Scotland is freezing today. The sky is black, the wind is whipping out of the east, and my sister reports there is snow on the high hills. In August. I am writing this swathed in scarves. It was too horrid to go out with the camera, so this is a selection from the last few days:

28 Aug 1

28 Aug 2

28 Aug 4

28 Aug 5

28 Aug 8.ORF

28 Aug 9.ORF

28 Aug 9.ORF-1

28 Aug 10.ORF

28 Aug 11.ORF

28 Aug 12.ORF

28 Aug 13.ORF

28 Aug 16

28 Aug 17

28 Aug 18

I know I should not really single people out, because every  one of the Dear Readers is precious to me, but there is a young reader all the way down in New Zealand who has such an affection for the Pigeon that her picture has been printed out and stuck on the fridge. This was possibly the thing that made me smile the most this week. It is at times like this that I really wish dogs spoke English, so I could tell the Pidge of her far-flung fan club. Anyway, to the dear Kiwi reader - these are specially for you:

28 Aug 19.ORF

28 Aug 19.ORF-1

28 Aug 20

And the dear old hill, because there must always be the hill:

28 Aug 21.ORF

And now I am going to make some chicken soup.


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