Tuesday, 31 January 2012

In which I have absolutely no idea what I am talking about

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I have now started this particular post three times. I was, as promised, going to do world affairs. I contemplated taking a pass at the bankers. Then I got side-tracked onto religion and morality, and the confusions between correlation, conflation and causality. (Or, the three Cs, as I now like to call them.)

Then I started a little meditation on rage, and, more specifically, the curious problem of women and anger, in which I wondered whether the old imperative of sugar and spice still died hard. Finally, I switched tack, and produced a winding, amazingly pretentious, and positively embarrassing paragraph on ontology and abstract thought.

At this point, I said to myself: I never read such a load of buggery bollocks in my life. The poor readers. Delete delete delete, I went, jabbing my finger on the keyboard in self-reproach. It’s going to have to be dog pictures. Because I am just writing arrant nonsense today, and I should not be allowed out in public.

Then, just at the moment juste, the bing-bong of Skype goes, and it is The Younger Brother, somewhere in the East. (Thailand or Singapore, never can quite keep up with him.)

Love and trees, we shout at each other. (We always shout on Skype, partly because we are excited to hear each other’s voices, and partly because it is quite new technology to us, so we are like those Edwardians who always hollered down the novel and terrifying telephone.) Keep planting the trees, we decide. We always decide this, and it never fails to give us comfort.

The Brother starts hooting with laughter because someone has wished him an abundance of love on his Facebook page, for his birthday. His birthday is the same as mine; we were both born yesterday, within about half an hour of each other, but seven years apart.

‘I do think it important that love should come in abundance,’ he says. ‘It should be an abundanty thing.’

I think that abundanty is an excellent new word for the day.

Then we compare ignorances. This trope goes very simply, and is one we rather enjoy: the world is peculiarly strange, and we do not understand an inch of it.

‘They’ve run out of private jet berths at Hong Kong airport,’ he says, with weary irony. ‘Which is very worrying.’

‘But I thought the world economy was on the brink of collapse,’ I say.

He says that in Thailand, there is construction a go-go. Great condominium buildings are going up everywhere. ‘All the shopping malls now have a Dior and a Rolex,’ he says. ‘And they are just full of people buying stuff.’

We contemplate this for a moment.

‘I’m going to plant more trees,’ I say, finally. ‘In the spring, obviously.’

This is now my answer to everything. I start to fear it may become repetitive.

‘Yes, trees,’ he shouts.

In the end, we conclude that the best we may do at the moment is concentrate on the small things: family, friends, the people we love, the things we have a chance of understanding. I wonder if this is sensible reality, or a complete cop-out. I have a great fantasy that what I really love are the vast ideas. I even shouted at a poor fellow I had never met before in my life, not very long ago: ‘What I’m really interested in is the big stuff’. He looked bemused, and slightly alarmed, as he well might. I really must stop going about spouting absurdity at people to whom I have only just been introduced.

‘Don’t understand a word of it,’ says The Brother, quite merrily. ‘I am especially confused by those Republicans in the primaries who seem intent on bombing Iran.’

He wonders if it is a Religious Right thing. ‘There’s an awful lot of smiting in the Bible,’ he says.

‘I’m always struck by the amount of smiting,’ I say.

We circle back to our father, which is what we do when we talk together. We remember him taking us out to feed the horses when we were tiny children; we recall the smell of dung and hay and earth and leather that makes up life in a stable.

‘The good thing about Dad,’ says The Brother, ‘is that he really did not do any smiting.’

‘No,’ I say. ‘He certainly did not.’

Slight pause. ‘He did do lots of other things,’ says The Brother, doubtfully.

We laugh, a little rueful. He did do lots of other things. But just at the moment, we choose to remember that simple, easy man from our very early childhood, who took us out into the fields, rattling over the green grass in the beaten-up old Landrover, to feed the horses.

'We didn't ask him any complicated questions then,' says The Brother. I sense he is harking back to more straightforward times, which is I suppose a function of getting a year older. 'We didn't say what's it all about or what book are you reading?'

We leave unsaid the fact that our father, famously, did not read books. He read The Sporting Life and was done with it.

'We just fed the horses,' The Brother says.

'Yes,' I say. 'That is what we did.'


Now for the pictures. It was a low, dark day. The sky went from pewter to dove-grey to ivory. I think it may be full of snow, and I possibly should stock up on canned goods. But there was a melancholy beauty, even on a dim day:

Jan 31 1 31-01-2012 10-52-14

31 Jan 2 31-01-2012 10-53-29

31 Jan 3 31-01-2012 10-53-57

31 Jan 4 31-01-2012 10-54-01

31 Jan 5 31-01-2012 10-58-10

31 Jan 6 31-01-2012 10-58-24

31 Jan 6 31-01-2012 10-58-35

31 Jan 7 31-01-2012 11-00-36

31 Jan 8 31-01-2012 11-03-01

My poor little wintry garden:

31 Jan 10 31-01-2012 11-06-38

Off goes The Pigeon, determined, despite the frigid wind whipping out of the west:

31 Jan 13 31-01-2012 10-56-27

31 Jan 14 31-01-2012 10-55-12

And, ready for her close-up:

31 Jan 14 29-01-2012 17-04-15.ORF

Two slightly different views of the hill today:

31 Jan 15 31-01-2012 10-54-12

31 Jan 16 31-01-2012 11-00-56

Thank you all so much for happy birthday wishes yesterday. It really is most delightful, and very festive, to receive so many kindnesses through the ether. The lunch was tremendous. We looked out over the North Sea, which was glittering blue in the sun, and striped white with breaking rollers. I always forget how beautiful the view from the lighthouse point at Aberdeen is. It was a great treat and I felt entirely spoilt.

Monday, 30 January 2012

30th January

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Today is my birthday. There is a thing about not celebrating your birthday as you get older. What is the point, after all? Birthdays are about balloons and cake and conjuring tricks, which only really work when you are seven. Isn’t it a bit undignified, running around on a random day of the year yelling, metaphorically or literally: look at me, look at me, I was born?

Actually, I think no. Turns out social networking, that hideous, dry, clunking phrase for Facebook and Twitter and similar, is quite marvellous on your birthday. I started off feeling rather cranky and grumpy and ultimately ordinary; then there was a little Facebook flash from my cousin in West Meath and suddenly we were pinging bad jokes and naughty stories about Rudolph Valentino performing unspeakable acts back and forth and it felt like a party. People only have to write Happy Birthday with a little exclamation mark or kiss and the day starts to glint and gleam with promise.

It’s quite odd. One could see it all as very dry and distant; a few tweets, a sentence on a Facebook page; nothing to get exercised about. In fact, it is all very touching.

I’m doing this quick blog now because I’m being taken out to lunch, and afterwards I may be hors de combat. Also, there is snow, so I might be stuck in a drift. No time for elaborate words, or even pictures, but just did want to salute the Dear Readers and say that forty-five is not bad at all.

I’m starting to wonder why I made such a fuss in my head about the whole middle-aged, mid-life nonsense. Age is just a scratch on a page. If you’ve got love and trees and Pigeon (or equivalent) and readers and friends and hills and family and soup, the years are nothing.

Perhaps the only real difference is that now I make a little oof sound when I get up from a chair. ‘Oof,’ I say, out loud, as I stretch my creaking joints. I do not think I did that when I was twenty-five. Still, nothing a bit of downward facing dog can’t fix.

Some days, a photograph is so glorious that only one is called for. I think this is one of those days. So here are no trees and avenues and hills and lichens. Here is just my Pigeon:

30 Jan 1 01-08-2011 14-01-46

PS. You know that women the other day who told me that blogging was self-indulgent? I should make clear she was a very nice, highly intelligent person; it was just I slightly disagreed with that one statement. But the awful thing is that if she randomly stumbled upon today's post, she would have the shining satisfaction of being proved absolutely right.

Tomorrow, in penance, there shall be nothing but World Affairs. I might even have a little go at Mr Hester's bonus.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Sunday pictures

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Dreich old afternoon. Pigeon in slight disgrace, as she snuck down in the night and consumed an entire box of Bonios. I try to keep a straight face as I reprimand her for this egregious transgression, but I find the small bits of red cardboard all over the floor absurdly funny.

Last day of being forty-four. Not sure what I think about that. Age is biologically actual, but also a human construct. It is oddly relative. Forty-five is young for a prime minister but ancient for a tennis player. It's a good, sharp number, at least. I think I'll take it.

Besides, I happened to see press photographs today of both Diane Keaton and Helen Mirren. They are sixty-six, which is considered old for a woman (cloppety clop goes the high-stepping quarter horse that is the double standard) and perfectly antediluvian in Hollywood years. Neither of them appears to have had plastic surgery. They have lines on their faces. When they smile, the marks of past laughter appear, like mapped traces of joy.

They both looked absolutely marvellous, not just in terms of beauty. They looked happy and interesting and real. They are poster women for treating age as what it is, rather than something of terror and invisibility.

I thought: forty-five will be fine.


29 Jan 1 29-01-2012 17-01-21

29 Jan 2 29-01-2012 17-02-24

29 Jan 3 29-01-2012 17-03-10

29 Jan 4 29-01-2012 17-03-18

29 Jan 5 29-01-2012 17-03-10.ORF

29 Jan 6 29-01-2012 17-03-26

29 Jan 7 29-01-2012 17-04-33

29 Jan 8 29-01-2012 17-04-49

29 Jan 9 29-01-2012 17-05-09

29 Jan 10 29-01-2012 17-01-59.ORF

29 Jan 11 29-01-2012 17-04-10

That's all there was of the hill, today:

29 Jan 13 29-01-2012 17-00-48

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Of mighty horses

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

It’s been a curious week. The economic news continues to swirl about the plughole of catastrophe. The argument about benefits and bonuses rages on, with no resolution. I have been thinking about, and missing, my dad.

This afternoon though, was very simple. It was the racing from Cheltenham. In these lurching times, I see more and more why racing is a perfect sport. It requires full concentration. You have to study the form and weigh the odds. It carries great qualities in both horses and jockeys: courage, determination, a refusal to give up, a staunchness of the heart.

It is aesthetic. The animals themselves are things of beauty; watching a really good horseman do his thing is also a delight for the eye. And there is a very pure joy in watching a fine thoroughbred doing what it was bred to do.

I had two great treats. The first was a horse called Midnight Chase. He is one of my old favourites; I have won money on him before. More than that, I admire him. He is a bold front-runner, and he really loves his jumping. He hunts round at the head of the pack, sure-footed as a stag. The doubt about him is that he doesn’t quite have the turn of foot to be in the very top class, and he was up against some very classy horses in the three mile Argento chase at Cheltenham.

Cheltenham is a demanding track: it undulates wildly, which can throw even very good horses off balance, and there is the famous hill, which finds out any lack of guts or stamina.

I had a tenner on dear old Midnight Chase, almost for sentimental reasons. Off he set in front, ears pricked, somehow both steady and joyous. The other horses came at him, but today was his day, and he shrugged them off, and kept galloping strongly up the hill, not to be denied.

It was an utterly lovely performance: as bold and true and genuine as you will ever see on a racecourse. I shouted and roared. The Pigeon, as is customary, leapt off the sofa and starting barking her head off. She is not a barker; she is a quiet, relaxed dog, nothing neurotic or noisy about her. But every Saturday, when we watch the racing, and I start yelling Come on, my son, The Pidge goes into a frenzy of excitement.

If it is a particularly close finish, she starts jumping vertically in the air, all four legs off the ground at the same time, like a cartoon dog. So the race ends up with me shouting at the screen and laughing at my dog. Then I ring up my mother and we say, in unison: ‘Oh, what a lovely horse.’

Then it was time for Big Buck’s. The regular readers will know I have written of this horse before. He is an astounding staying hurdler. He has won his last fourteen races on the trot, an outrageous and vanishingly rare feat. He is a big, beautiful, bold horse. At the moment, he is getting ready for the Cheltenham Festival in March, where he will go to defend his World Hurdle crown.

The idea, at this stage, was that he would go and have a racecourse gallop. This is when the trainer, instead of just working the horse on the gallops at home, takes him to a local course, and gives him a breeze over actual racing fences. If it is a great horse like Big Buck’s, a small crowd of forty or fifty people will gather to watch.

However, not long ago, a little boy went up to the owner of Big Buck’s and asked for the horse’s autograph. (The very thought of this makes my sentimental eyes well up; the idea of the small chap with his ardent, youthful love for a racing star.) So, the owner, Andy Stewart, decided that the public deserved to see the horse, and entered him today at Cheltenham.

It was a generous thing to do. The horse is not up to his peak of fitness; there was the danger of terrible anti-climax. Essentially, he was doing a piece of work in public. If he were ever going to get beat, it was today.

I wanted him to win his fifteenth race in a row so badly I could hardly watch. I have no idea where this yearning imperative comes from. I have no connection to the horse, owner, trainer; they are all strangers to me. Yet I want it as if they were family. I think it is a salute to magnificence. It is quite unusual to see pure, untrammelled brilliance, in any area of life. I love to watch it, in all its simple glory.

So, off they went. There were some sharp, talented horses in the field. A couple of them roared off in front, obviously hoping to burn off the champion.

At one stage, Big Buck’s was ten or twelve lengths off the pace. He was lobbing along, jumping his hurdles neatly, almost dismissively. There was a terrible moment when they rounded the final bend, and he was still a long way back. He seemed to be doing nothing. I always forget that he does this in his races; he gets so relaxed he seems completely switched off, and you think he is going nowhere. Ruby Walsh shook him up a bit; still nothing. Oh God, I thought, today will be the famous day when Big Buck’s gets beat.

Then, suddenly, the mighty engine roared into life. It’s a fascinating thing to watch. It’s not a wild burst of acceleration, as some horses show when they come from back in the field. It’s a smooth, sustained unfurling of pure power. It’s like a Rolls Royce.

It’s not so much that Big Buck’s appears to be going forward, it’s that all the other horses look as if they are going backward. He reels them in, strolls past them, he is going, going, going, gathering all that beauty and brilliance into an unstoppable momentum. By the time he gets to the line, seven lengths in front, he has stamped inevitability all over the race. The monarch has asserted his class; he seems to take his place as if by divine right.

I whoop, I weep, I holler. The Pigeon leaps and barks. There is an electric burst of adrenaline and joy in the room. Everything else is forgotten. It is like a little, existential gift.

We go out into the gloaming and look at the hills, blue in the fading light. Everything is quite still. I replay the race in my head. I feel amazingly grateful for the high gloriousness of a really, really good horse, in his pomp. I am fortunate to have witness such a stirring sight.

I don’t believe in afterlives. But since I am in a magical mood, I wonder if, somewhere, my old galloping father is smiling.


Pictures of the day, in the blue afternoon light:

28 Jan 2 28-01-2012 17-11-53

28 Jan 2 28-01-2012 17-11-59

28 Jan 3 28-01-2012 17-12-04

28 Jan 4 28-01-2012 17-12-27

28 jan 5 28-01-2012 17-12-35

28 jan 6 28-01-2012 17-12-41

28 Jan 8 28-01-2012 17-13-03

28 Jan 10 28-01-2012 17-16-04

And talking of magnificent things of beauty:

28 Jan 14 28-01-2012 17-13-09

28 Jan 15 28-01-2012 17-13-14

The hill:

28 jan 15 28-01-2012 17-12-45


PS. Apologies for wild switches in tense. This is the kind of thing I tell my writing students not to do. I get so excited when I write about the racing that all grammatical rules go out of the window, and I'm too tired now to go back and correct the thing. I know the Dear Readers will understand. It is the literary equivalent of throwing one's hat in the air, which the crowds today at Cheltenham literally did.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Of goats and mountains and climbs

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

One of the things I like about the internet is that it is very levelling. There are no ivory towers out there in the prairies of cyberspace. (My only fear about this is that the levelling can go too far, and lead to abandonment of decorum, so instead of saying, ‘I’m not sure I quite agree with you,’ people scream ‘die, bitch, die’.) If ever I should get a bit above myself, I only have to look at the search terms which bring people to my blog.

In my hubristic mind, these might be Universal Verity, or Most Beautiful Canine in Existence. In reality, they include Goat Climbing Mountain.

I should be thinking about serious things like the morality of banking bonuses, and the tottering world economy, and whether poor Andy Murray shall ever stop being shouted at for not winning a grand slam. (I’m not very interested in tennis, but I find the Murray phenomenon fascinating. He works incredibly hard and is very talented; he is at the top of a highly competitive game; the three men who routinely beat him are titans; yet he seems unable to shake off the label of dour Scottish loser.) I should be contemplating big serious questions about government cuts and fiscal austerity and what is going on with Hungary and the IMF.

Instead, I am slightly obsessed by the whole goat climbing mountain thing. I don’t think I have ever actually written about goats. I may have reported on the half-joke plan that The Sister and I hatched in case the entire economy does, finally, implode. We are going to grow vegetables and keep goats. You see how cunning and finely conceived our plan is. Ha. The crazed bankers and know-nothing economists can do their worst; we shall have the goats to keep us warm. However, none of this involves mountains, or, in fact, climbing. How the Google gets to me from the clambering goats is a mystery.

I also love the idea of people sitting down and bashing ‘goat climbing mountain’ into a search engine. It’s either a Dadaist form of poetry, or someone is doing espionage. Goat climbing mountain could be Moscow Rules. Just as I imagine discreet operatives going up to each other in St James’s Park, which as everyone knows is where all the spooks meet in their lunch break, and saying ‘The geese are flying south for winter’, so I could see that ‘goat climbing mountain’ is clearly code for Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The other, even more perplexing search is: girl fawn Maddow. This is code so abstruse that even Bletchley Park might be left wondering. I do write about Rachel Maddow quite a lot. I love her. The love might, I suppose, sometimes pitch over into fawning. But I do not think, at 44 years and 362 days old, I could be described as a girl, even by the most unreconstructed patriarch.

I don’t know. Perhaps Rachel Maddow secretly has a thing for fawns. The most brilliant thing about this odd search is that now, every time I watch the coruscating Maddow show, I shall think of baby deer. Which is probably a very good antidote to the latest loon thing Newt Gingrich is saying.

The sun is fading now, and the last of the frost lies still and white on the cold grass. It’s been a long week. I have, as is so often the case, not done quite enough work to satisfy. I bash on and bash on and think: come on, come on, not there yet. More, more, I think.

I have thought a lot about my father. In yesterday’s life post, I wanted to say: remember your dead well. Then I thought: that is a stupid thing to say, of course we all remember our dead. I don’t need to write that down. But then I wondered whether there is a part of mourning where one shies away from thinking of the departed. There is a childish, magical part of the brain that wonders: if I do not think about them, perhaps they will not really be gone.

On my desk, I have a photograph of the first man who ever believed in me as a writer. Since, at the time, I was writing books so bad that I need to invent a new word for execrable to describe them, his belief was a real leap of faith. He was not a relation; he had no skin in the game. He was an artist, who, for some reason, picked me up, and encouraged me. I was twenty. I knew nothing. But he treated me as if I were Virginia Woolf.

He died, much too young, from AIDS, many years ago. Every day, I look at his picture, and feel gratitude, and wonder what he would make of it all. I remember him well.

One day, I think, I shall be able to look at a picture of my dad in the same way, with glad remembrance, rather than a tearing in the heart.


I know it may be rather vulgar to keep harping on about this, and it could sound like the worst kind of pandering, but the Dear Readers have really been magnificent this week. And now I know I have the goat mountain Maddow fawn people on my side, I believe I can do anything.


Pictures of the day.

It was another afternoon of astonishing light. Most of these pictures are of the hills and trees I can see when I look due south. I hope they are not too same old, same old. But there is something about the Scottish light, seen at that angle, that is so magical I can't quite get over it:

27 Jan 1 27-01-2012 16-00-51

27 Jan 2 27-01-2012 16-01-17

27 Jan 3 27-01-2012 16-01-31

This one is completely out of focus. But these are two of my favourite little birches, and I rather love the blurred effect, as if they are in a painting:

27 Jan 5 27-01-2012 16-02-26

27 Jan 6 27-01-2012 16-02-33

The old iron fence. I can't get enough of that, either:

27 Jan 6 27-01-2012 16-03-08

27 Jan 7 27-01-2012 16-13-19

27 Jan 8 27-01-2012 16-05-51

27 Jan 9 27-01-2012 16-05-51.ORF

The beech avenue, from a low angle. (More attractive crouching from me, as The Pigeon looks on in bemusement.):

27 Jan 10 27-01-2012 16-14-11

This happy face is because I bought her a new ball. I know I'm always banging on about how all you need are free sticks, but sometimes I like to get her an actual bought object to have fun with:

27 Jan 15 27-01-2012 16-10-47

Here she is, with the bright orange thing in her mouth, doing what I used to call 'bottom in the air', but which I know now from the Dear Readers is actually a serious yoga pose called 'downward facing dog':

27 Jan 16 27-01-2012 16-11-10

27 Jan 17 27-01-2012 16-11-18

27 Jan 17 27-01-2012 16-11-24

As my friend The Playwright says: do admit.

The hill:

27 jan 17 27-01-2012 16-15-12

Now I really am ready for the weekend. Happy Friday.


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