Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The old king and the young king; or, family life

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Those of the old familiars amongst the Dear Readers will know about my sojourns in the south. I suddenly thought perhaps I should explain for those of you who are recent to the blog.

My most Beloved Cousin is married to a man who has to go abroad in the winter for his work. It is a pure climate thing; his professional life does not happen in frosty old Blighty in the winter months. So, each year, around November and February, he goes to South America for a few weeks at a time. It is at these times that I pack up the car, make a bed like something out of the Princess and the Pea on the back seat for the Pigeon, and charge down the M6.

I settle in, with The Cousin and her three young children. There is The Godson, who is the oldest, and then the two little girls, my small relations, and their two enchanting black dogs, who are spookily like my own Pigeon and her sister, the great, departed Duchess. We have made this a tradition for about the last five years, and each time it gets sweeter and more happy. I am a huge believer in the extended family.

In terms of blood, it is quite stretched. The Cousin and I share a great, great grandfather. But we have spent the last twenty-seven years of our lives being friends, as well as relations, and in our more sentimental moments, we like to think that perhaps that blood is bit thicker than water.

Often, I arrive after The Old Fella, as I have taken to calling her husband, even though he is really not that old, has gone. He drives off to Heathrow, and I pitch up the next morning. But sometimes we overlap. This is one of those lovely times. It is very touching watching him go through the rituals of goodbye. The tiniest cousin is three, so that is mostly hugging. The middle cousin is nine, so tonight, he sat with her patiently, and went through her guitar practice. He listens to her intently, nods his head, makes suggestions about chords; he encourages; he takes her seriously. It is frantically touching.

With The Godson, who is really quite grown-up now, it is the playing of games. Chess, sometimes, or, for a special treat, one of those computer things I do not understand. They are playing this now, as I write. It is the stage in men’s lives when it is the old king and the young king. The boy is getting really good at things, good enough to beat his dad. As I type, I hear him saying: ‘Dad, I am going to whup your ass.’

Whup your ass???’ I say, in my most great-aunt-ish, PG Wodehouse cloven hoof-ish, Lady Bracknell faced with a handbag-ish voice. ‘That’s no way to talk to your father.’

The Godson ignores me. He gives a sliding, sideways smile. He knows better than to listen to me when I use that voice.

‘You’re going down, Papa,’ he says.

Papa is taking it seriously now. He is leaning back and forth. They are way beyond the stage when the father graciously loses, to save the child’s pride. I remember, suddenly, my own father thrashing the hell out of me at Monopoly. He always did it with such deprecating charm. ‘Oh, darling,’ he used to say, with a dying fall, as I landed on Park Lane, which he always owned. ‘I’m so sorry.’ And then he took all my money.

Back in the immediate present, the father is playing for his life. ‘Yes, yes, some of that,’ says the Papa. ‘You like that?’

The Godson’s eyes widen. He realises he is in for a serious battle now.

There is a pause. I have absolutely no idea what is going on. I have never owned a video game in my life. The nearest I get to it is playing a freakishly difficult form of solitaire on my computer.

The Godson’s voice pipes up.

‘Dad,’ he says. ‘Why are you not using your drone?’

Yeah, Dad, I think: why are you not using your drone.

I don’t know why I think this is all so enchanting, but I do. There is a strange thing that happens when you decide not to have children, as I have. People think it is because you disdain family life, because you are bored by children, because you cannot see the point. On the contrary, it is exactly because I see the point so acutely that I decide against. The way I see it, the analogy I always come back to, is that just because I have fingers, it does not mean I can play a Schubert sonata. This lot do Schubert. It is a glorious thing to watch.

When I say that, I don’t mean it is picture book, magazine perfect, movie glossy family life. It has its up and downs, as all families do. Sometimes, people are grumpy and scratchy, but the really revelatory thing is that is not the end of the world. Five minutes after any human scratchiness, there is howling laughter. They know each others’ foibles. They tease and rumble and finish each other’s sentences. There is a deep history here, the kind that a family builds over time. I admire it in the keen way that you admire something you know you do not yourself have the talent to do. I keenly appreciate that I am part of it, twice a year. What there is in this house is an awful lot of love.

Perhaps I am finding the Old Fella’s last night particularly touching this trip because my own dad is gone. I am a huge admirer of fathers with their children at ordinary times, especially the fathers of my generation, who are so different with their sons than their own fathers were with them. But this time the arrow is tipped with poignancy, because I can see with acute clarity, the shared heart that exists with the papas and their babies.

The battling pair are finishing now.

‘Yes. YES. Victory,’ says the father. ‘Even with the worst choice of weapons.’

‘Fluke,’ says the boy, saving his amour propre. ‘Pure fluke.’

‘Two all,’ shouts the Papa.

‘There has to be a decider,’ I shout, all traces of Lady Bracknell gone.

And there will be. I put my money on the Godson. I think there may just be a new king.


Rather few pictures today, on account of it being awful outside. I attempted to take some arty pictures of fruit, I'm afraid.


21 Feb 1 21-02-2012 18-11-27

21 Feb 2 21-02-2012 18-11-36

21 Feb 3 21-02-2012 18-17-34

21 Feb 4 21-02-2012 18-17-37.ORF

21 Feb 5 19-02-2012 18-08-00.ORF

The dog pictures are not awfully good, because I took them inside, with a low light. But they were too sweet not to show you.

Pigeon, looking very serious, because, if you look closely, there is a tiny biscuit at the bottom of the picture, and she is waiting for my signal:

21 Feb 10 21-02-2012 18-12-52

Completely fagged out now:

21 Feb 11 21-02-2012 18-16-17.ORF

Doing special blinking:

21 Feb 13 21-02-2012 18-16-59.ORF

And that really is enough of that.


  1. I ...LOVE ... YOUR ... WRITING!

    Thank you, a beautiful tribute to the everyday minutiae of family life - "they do schubert" - brilliant!

  2. Sharon- what an absolutely lovely, lovely comment. Thank you so much.

  3. Lovely post Tania...so real and comforting. And the pictures of Pigeon are the icing on the cake! ~Tammy

  4. Tania
    I love your words, as always. But I am sorry, you are rubbish at taking pictures of fruit. I had to laugh at the randomness of it.

  5. Oh how lovely. Not sure my child-free friends see our family life as a Schubert sonata-still they do come, bless them, so perhaps it's not as bad as I think?

  6. LOL, as long as you have pictures of The Pigeon, you are allowed to shoot all the fruit you want. Just don't quit your day job.

    Wonderful description of family life as seen by someone who chooses not to have children. Yes, it is understood that every day isn't perfect and the people aren't perfect. But when you don't live in it every day, you can see so clearly the special joy that is there.


  7. Wonderful as always.
    Adore the incredibly arty second hyacinth picture.
    Love the Pigeon.
    So glad you're enjoying.

  8. I am also one of those who have decided not to have children. You have perfectly summed up, or at least partially described, the complex feelings that go along with it.

    I do, however, play Beethoven and Chopin... so I have contributed somewhat. 8-)

  9. I've been away and am catching up on your last posts (such a pleasure). Today's one is particularly lovely. You can truly feel the love you have for your cousin and family. And not in a yearny type of way; in a wonderful, involved part-of-it-all type of way. They obviously love you back just as much. :)

    I don't know how you could deny Pigeon anything with that face. Gorgeous! xx

  10. I like your still life of clementines and lime: all proud, shiny and cheerful in their bowl.
    Just fitting the mood of today's post. :)

  11. Oh how wonderful. I hope to have a family one day and I hope we can have a home as filled wiht love as you describe. I also love the picture of the Pigeon and the biscuit.

  12. That was such a beautiful description. I remember playing board games with my parents (Dad particularly) but I can't really remember who won or lost. I still play chess with my Young Man who shows no mercy time after time. I always lose and sometimes get quite cross that I do. But then I read this and it Is past the point where he makes allowances to save my pride...so thankyou for writing that so I could realise it.

    Those citrus fruit are glowing - what a good antidote to all the rain and wet outside at the moment.

  13. As one who is new to your blog, I loved reading this post. You paint such lovely pictures of simple domestic life. Enjoy your visit.


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