Tuesday, 17 January 2012

A tonic

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

The Pigeon and I went out early. It was minus 13 last night; we were officially the coldest place in Britain. This morning, it was still frigid. It was that kind of suspended, magical weather. Everything was white with frost, but a low, still whiteness, not the antic glittering sort that comes later when the sun is high.

The sky was not cloudy so much as hazy; there was no sunshine yet. A sense of mist, rather than actual mist, hung over everything. It’s very hard to describe, but that is the best I can do. There was a humming blueness to it all too: the frost was slightly blue, the trees had blue in them. It felt as if everything had stopped, as if nothing else existed but this stalled, pristine place.

In the end, I started throwing a stick for the dog almost to prove we were real. I needed movement. But it was breathtakingly beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful morning I ever saw. It was so other.

Just as I came in, the first of the sun appeared. Now, as I look out of the window, there is none of that strange blue magic left; everything is vivid and yellow with light. The sunshine lies across the grass in great golden slabs; it has even conquered the frost, so only traced ghosts of the whiteness remain.

I did some work, thought some thoughts, ate some eggs, drank some coffee. I still felt a bit bewildered and stuck. Then The Younger Brother called, his voice stuttering and echoing and swerving down the long distance telephone line.

I told him all of it. I did not make a drama. I just said: this is what I am feeling, and this, and this and this, and here is where it hurts. This is the bit that is painful, and that is the part that is confusing, and this is the balance I am trying to find, and that is the bit which is quite fine. It was like an almost detached status report.

He listened very carefully. Then he gave me his. It was almost identical, except he is currently crosser than I. He is so cross that he ran around his room this morning shouting expletives and words I cannot repeat because we are still in family viewing time. Then he said: ‘And I stopped and looked at myself in the mirror and realised that I was really angry.’ He’s pissed off about everything, from dad dying, to Rick Santorum talking insanity, to the people on a dollar a day. He’s quite cross with Mr Murdoch. He is enraged by failed political systems.

‘That is excellent,’ I say. ‘Everything covered.’

Then he says: ‘you know, we are very lucky that we can feel all these things.’

We talk about several different subjects then, from the psychology of fear to the Republican primaries to the importance of authenticity. I circle back. ‘The thing you said that makes me smile,’ I say, ‘is that we are lucky to feel all this stuff. I think you are right. It is luck. It’s a little shift in perspective. It makes me feel better. I think it is wise.’

‘Thank you,’ he said, politely.

Then we talk about kindness for a while. ‘Sometimes I think it is the thing that counts the most,’ I say.

He brightens. I can hear him brightening, seven thousand miles away. ‘That’s just what the Dalai Lama says,’ he says.

‘Me and the Dalai Lama,’ I say. ‘Two minds with one thought. Write it down, write it down.’

This is our special joke, because the Dalai Lama travels everywhere with scribes, and when he says something which sounds ephemeral their hands pause over the page, not sure whether to record it or not, and he waves at them and says: ‘Write it down, write it down’. For some reason, this story tickles me very much.

Anyway, kindness. Me and the Dalai, and EM Forster too, who wrote ‘Kindness, kindness, and yet more kindness.’ It’s the thing from which all else flows. I think.

It was a good, honest conversation. I sometimes forget how much conversation can make things better. A sense of communion and sanity returns, through the fragile medium of talk. It’s a sort of miracle, really, when you think about it.

Just as I am writing these last words, I hear a squeak and a rattle and a laughing voice. IT IS THE WINDOW CLEANERS.

This feels like a sign. I adore the window cleaners. There are three of them, from the same family, father and sons, and they are the happiest, nicest, funniest men in Scotland. I sometimes think I pay them cash not for clean glass, but for a tonic to the spirits.

I have just been out to get my fix of smiling chat. Now, back at my desk, I can hear them talking and laughing. They laugh big, deep, belly laughs, as if they think the world is a pretty wonderful place. They clean the windows like lightning; they are amazingly efficient, but they still find time for a joke and a laugh. There they are, out in minus nine, with their hats on, laughing like they have the best job in the world. They are a three man fillip, and I love them for it.


Today's pictures, of the frozen world:

17 Jan 1 17-01-2012 10-47-58

17 Jan 2 17-01-2012 10-48-09

17 Jan 3 17-01-2012 10-48-25

17 Jan 5 17-01-2012 10-56-11

17 Jan 8 17-01-2012 10-59-34

17 Jan 9 17-01-2012 10-59-58

17 Jan 10 17-01-2012 11-00-42

17 Jan 11 17-01-2012 11-00-46.ORF

17 Jan 12 17-01-2012 11-00-51

17 Jan 13 17-01-2012 11-01-26

17 Jan 14 17-01-2012 11-01-58

17 Jan 15 17-01-2012 11-02-52

17 Jan 15 17-01-2012 11-04-06

17 Jan 16 17-01-2012 11-04-25

Pigeon having fun with stick:

17 Jan 19 17-01-2012 10-56-39

17 Jan 20 17-01-2012 10-56-59

17 Jan 21 17-01-2012 10-57-03

Please please please throw it again:

17 Jan 22 17-01-2012 10-57-50

PLEASE? If I look extra adorable and slightly goofy?:

17 Jan 23 17-01-2012 10-58-44

Blue hill:

17 Jan 25 17-01-2012 15-00-24

Lovely comments from the last couple of days; sorry have not been replying; my time management is all to pot.

Thank you for them.


  1. The photo of the bridge is straight out of Narnia...

    word verification: lahaba...kinda describes my day, with the emphasis on "HA"

  2. Christine Knight17 January 2012 at 15:35

    Wonderful pictures! Made me feel cold, which is lovely because it was 36 degrees in Singapore today. And lovely words- yes, being able to feel angry is actually a privilege.

  3. You, the Dalai Lama and Jewel - "In the end, only kindness matters". I would like my epitaph (how does one even have one on scattered ashes?) to read "She was kind".

    Your first photo of the bridge is so beautiful I have (with your permission) copied it to my vision board of the New Year. Speaks to my heart.
    Dogs and stick-games are the best fun.

  4. I loved the Dalai Lama story - it made me laugh in my bed and I sent it to all the sisters. Wonderful first picture of the bridge and the light in the frost.

  5. This post is just the tonic I need at the moment. Wonderful description of our frozen Scottish landscape with pictures to match too. I too am in a January fug and seeking some balance restoration too! A small comfort is knowing that it does pass on its way, as all things do

  6. I have been away form the blog for awhile, but what a happy return. We experienced the same crisp morning with my daughter this morning. She is 6 and just could not believe that every leaf has a special coat, and the air has a taste and your breath is white. We experimented with blowing air on the frozen branches and seeing them change to normal.
    So happy to have returned to be among your local readers.

  7. Beautiful photographs, thank you. Conversation is indeed a wonderful thing, helping us to in put things in perspective. It is easy to lose perspective when one has a million thoughts spinning around inside one's head.

  8. Pat - so glad you liked the magical bridge.

    Christine - so odd to think of 36 degrees.

    Jacqueline - very flattered you would copy the photograph.

    Peabody - so pleased Dalai Lama made you laugh.

    Jill - I always forget about things passing, but I think they really mostly do.

    Marianna - so lovely to have you back. Very sweet word picture of your little daughter.

    Jennifer J - oh, oh, the million thoughts. Sometimes I wish there were an off switch.

  9. Beautiful pictures as always :) The window cleaners sounds wonderful too.


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