Thursday, 16 February 2012

Small things

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I have now started today’s blog three times.

I was going to write about death. (I know you are devastated that I decided against that.)

Then I was going to take a swing at evolutionary biology, and whether humans are genetically wired to incline towards pessimism and paranoia. The thinking behind this goes: it was the ancestors who were convinced the woolly mammoth was after them, and were certain they could hear it coming, who survived, and passed on their slightly gloomy but effective genes. The blithe, bonny ones, who were too busy gazing at the sky to hear the mammoth, or who were so optimistic that they were convinced the mammoth really wanted to be their friend, got eaten.

I simplify horribly, of course, and I have no idea whether ancient humans were in fact eaten that much by mammoths, but take it as an illustrative metaphor. Besides, I like writing the words ‘woolly mammoth’.

Then I decided that was too complicated and would need further thought, so I thought I might write about soup. I was going to give you a recipe for yellow split pea. But that seemed suddenly rather paltry, so I stopped.

Perhaps, I thought, I should write about the small things.

I said yesterday that I am starting to have the suspicion that the answers to the big life questions might lie in the very small things. I’m not sure I quite phrased this quite correctly. It is a new theory, and I have not yet shined it up.

I thought of the small things as I went to the flower shop and bought my mother a fold of hyacinths, newly arrived from Holland. (I would like to know what it is about the Dutch which makes them the queens of the floral, but that really is another question.) It suddenly seemed symbolic, almost an act of defiance. The economy continues to teeter and shiver; Greece is still in all kinds of trouble; even mighty Germany is shrinking, like something out of the Wizard of Oz. I should be economising and counting every penny.

But it seemed like an act of faith, a marker of optimism, that for ten of my Scottish pounds I could buy my mum a glorious fold of spring flowers. They do nothing, they fix nothing, they explain nothing. They are exactly what they are: aesthetic, frivolous, pointless. I can almost see the strict and the sensible wagging their fingers at such reckless extravagance. Yet ten pounds for naked pleasure seemed like a good bargain, in dark days.

Then I went home and stared at the snowdrops for a bit. They nodded their heads, shyly. They cannot explain fiscal policy or guess whether Iran will get the bomb. They have no clue as to the meaning of life. They just exist. They grow bravely out of the cold ground and delight the eye.

New clumps of mauve and purple crocuses are appearing, almost minute by minute. They too have no purpose except sheer loveliness.

Then I threw the stick for The Pigeon. In my small garden, brown with winter, invaded by moles, there was a sudden explosion of joy. An old dog went from mooching about with no apparent purpose, to bunched, muscular determination.

It’s almost as if her entire confirmation changes; her body tightens, her head lifts, her ears go up, her eyes open wide. She grows a little taller; everything about her is suddenly on the vertical. She bounces up and down on the turf.

She stares, with laser focus, on my hand, dodging a little from side to side, trying to anticipate which way I am going to throw. Every faculty is sharp and quivering. When the throw comes, she is after the projectile like a shark. I’m not sure I ever saw a breathing creature want a thing quite so much.

Every day, this simple, tiny, entirely unimportant thing makes me laugh. It also impresses me. I have a great deal of respect for the athletic abilities of my canine. I’m not sure I do anything as well as she chases a stick.

So, I come to the small things. I’m struggling a bit at the moment. I’m struggling with my work, I’m struggling with intermittent insomnia, I’m struggling with mortality. (I actually said, to a complete stranger, not long ago, as my opening conversational gambit: ‘I’m having a bit of trouble with the whole life and death thing. How about you?’ I think he was expecting me to ask what he did, or what he thought about property prices, but he dealt with it manfully, although I saw the fleeting glint of fear in his eyes. It was such a very unBritish question.)

This is nothing more than the human condition. It’s what everyone struggles with. I don’t like to talk of it too much; I certainly cannot complain of it. It’s just that I really, really would like to know the meaning of life, and I’m getting increasingly annoyed by the fact that I may never work it out.

That’s why I stare at snowdrops. That is why I delight in my dog and her stick. That is why I carefully make good soup. I know that it is not so much that the answer to everything lies in these small things, but that perhaps in appreciation of them lies the greater point.

You see what I mean about it being a half-baked theory?

And even as I write all this, I think: oh, come along. Just get on with it. Perhaps one does not need to know the point. But curiosity is my besetting sin. And when I am not making soup, I do really quite enjoy a little wrestle with an ontological problem. Some people enjoy crochet, or chess; I like wondering what it’s all about. Everybody needs a hobby, after all.


And now for the pictures of the day.

The gentle hellebores are out:

16 Feb 1 16-02-2012 13-15-41

16 Feb 2 16-02-2012 13-15-52

16 Feb 5 16-02-2012 13-15-58

Newest clump of crocuses:

16 Feb 6 16-02-2012 13-16-12

16 Feb 7 16-02-2012 13-16-38

Snowdrops in the wild garden:

16 Feb 8 16-02-2012 13-18-58

16 Feb 9 16-02-2012 13-19-16

And now for an unfeasible amount of dog pictures. I give you due warning.

Ready for stick:

16 Feb 10 16-02-2012 13-20-40

Yes, I am ready:

16 Feb 11 16-02-2012 13-21-01

After a certain amount of throwing, she lies down and demolishes the stick. Those of you concerned for canine digestive tracts, do not fret. She does not eat the thing, she neatly chews it up and spits it out, so she is left with a small pile of wood. I have no idea why she thinks this is fun, but she does. She looks very like her sister here, who enjoyed the same thing:

16 Feb 15 16-02-2012 13-19-31

See how cleverly she holds the thing in her paws:

16 Feb 17 16-02-2012 13-19-42

I became slightly obsessed by the paws:

16 Feb 17 16-02-2012 13-19-58

Then back to throwing again. Come on, come on:

16 Feb 17 16-02-2012 13-21-43

You really can't fool me; I am watching closely:

16 Feb 15 16-02-2012 13-21-29

If I should take too long about it, she sits down and puts on her goofy face. I can't really get enough of the goofy face. It cracks me up, every time:

16 Feb 18 16-02-2012 13-21-57

Right. That really is quite enough. Those people who think blogging is ephemeral or self-indulgent have no idea what they are talking about. Eight dog pictures is merely public service. Where would the sum total of human happiness be without that Pigeon?

Rather out of focus hill. But the colours are pretty today:

16 Feb 20 16-02-2012 13-24-16


  1. You have made me conclude that the meaning of life is trying to figure out the meaning of life. While, of course, reveling in all things beautifully meaningless.

    1. Jacqueline - what a lovely, poetical comment.

  2. I will follow your progress on this thought. When I am able to settle down and let appreciation for 'small things' permeate through me, I know---KNOW---I am on the right track. Those little gifts are very close to the heart of things . . . they may not be the answer, but for sure, they are the avenue to it.

    Love the opening gambit to a stranger, LOL. Even if you weren't already memorable, you can be sure that he will certainly remember you!


    1. Bird - I like the idea of the small things being the avenue.

  3. Tania ~ I enjoyed your post and must say it was timely. I have been searching for meaning and answers lately but struggle because I have not found them. My son recently said to me, "it means nothing". Maybe he's correct, that there are no answers to some of the paths in life. It may just be the little things along the journey that hold the answers. Pigeon is a beauty! ~Tammy

    1. Tammy - what a lovely comment; thank you. And you have no idea how much I appreciate compliments about the Pigeon. :)

  4. pigeon's goofy face is superb, she looks resigned, chagrined and hopeful all at once!

  5. I have been reading your column for some while now and have never felt courageous enough to comment but as a belated new years resolution and the fact that underneath your comments box it states that 'your comments give me great delight' I feel I should actually post something back just so you know how much I love reading you and hope you get a little delight in knowing you are greatly delighting me.
    I don't know what the answer is to the meaning of life. I've given up on that one and just try to find the joy in every day. Pithy but true!

    1. Sally - how absolutely lovely that comment is. I AM delighted. Do so understand the shyness thing though; I feel it with other blogs, where I am very reticent. Which is nuts because I know how much I love getting comments. Anyway, thank you so much for your very kind words.

  6. On and off, all my life I have struggled with serious depression that boils down to my fear of not knowing what it is all about, and more importantly, not being able to be in control because of that not knowing. If I think about the big questions for too long I feel like I am on the edge of a very dark abyss down which I may possibly plunge, and not return.

    I do not know the answers. I do know that when I think about the glory of a spring morning, or the fact that my cat's stupidity can reduce me to tears of laughter, or my children's thoughts can open up the world to me in a new way, things are better. I know that when I make good food out of simple ingredients, enjoy warm bread slathered in salty butter, read something beautiful (like your blog), life becomes better, no matter what.

    I do know that my life is a lot more tolerable and I am a lot more tolerant when I look to the small stuff. Even though, every now and again I like to stare over the edge of the abyss and shout my questions into the void, just to see what happens.

    Thank you for your post.x

  7. Katy - What an absolutely wonderful comment. It is this kind of thing that really does make me take my hat off to the Dear Readers. Thank you.

  8. I laughed out loud when I saw the goofy face. Love it!

  9. I, too, have been struggling with the life/ death thing most of my adult life (I put some blame, at the beginning, on Walt Disney's animated film "Peter Pan" in which the tiny fairy Tinkerbell is resurrected by a round of soundly clapping hands...)...
    As for the so-called simple things, I think of "bread and roses" (and cannot remember the original context...was it the socialists or a theater company? La Mama? Or something/ someone else?).
    Your Helleborus is incredibly beautiful!
    One thing about animals is that, as far as I can figure, they are always in the present. They don't appear to be mulling over the past or worrying about the future. They are just THERE. (And there's certainly a lesson in that for me!)
    Finally (darting all over the place tonight, sorry!), the Pigeon "goofy face" is a CLASSIC. How she gets one lip to do that is beyond me. It's not possible to look at it without cracking up -- every time!

  10. Oh Hyacinths! I remember going on a school trip to Holland as an eleven year old where we drove through fields full of spring bulbs. My headteacher cried 'children! Smell the hyacinths' as we passed into the hyacinth field and we all jumped up and fiddled with the air-conditioning. They have the most heavenly smell in the whole world.

    Anyway, just to tell you that your hellebores look absolutely amazing - like a bookplate in a Folio Society edition. I often entertain myself with thoughts of my fantasy garden and hellebores are definitely in there!


Your comments give me great delight, so please do leave one.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin