Thursday, 31 March 2011

Bonus Post: an apology, and a recipe.

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Wrote today's blog rather quickly with brain slightly fogged from work mania. Suddenly realised it might be open to misinterpretation. I do not want to sound rude to all the Daisies out there. Daisy is the prettiest of names, which is why I spend years wishing I was called it. I just wondered if, because of its very prettiness, it might lead to incorrect assumptions on the part of other people.

As penance for causing possible offence, here is the recipe for the ratatouille, which I had promised but forgot to post:

This was a very plain, classic version. There are as many ratatouilles as there are cooks, so this is not definitive, just mine. I took: two courgettes, one fat aubergine, four cloves of garlic, and two red peppers. Purists would probably insist on onion; for some reason I avoided it. I cubed everything, and then gently fried it all for a few minutes in a big pan with a little olive oil. You need to move it all around with a wooden spoon, and keep the heat low, or the garlic will burn. Then I covered the lot with water, and simmered it very, very gently for forty minutes.

Keep an eye on it, because the water will reduce. Towards the end, you need to give it a stir, from time to time. What you are aiming for is a lovely mush.

Then, I put three big tomatoes in a deep bowl, covered them with boiling water, and left them for about five minutes. This is simply a way of getting the skins off. This is important, because if you chop and cook, little bits of tomato skin will curl up in the ratatouille and ruin the texture. So: slip off the skins, roughly chop, and add to the pan. Turn the heat to medium and cook, stirring gently, for a final five minutes.

To finish, I added a handful of torn basil, a pinch of dried chilli, and a dash of grassy extra virgin olive oil.

And that's it.

I did not take a picture. Here is a photograph of the dogs instead, because, as you may have guessed, I have come to the conclusion that one cannot ever have enough dog pictures.

31st March 14-1

What's in a name?

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I do not often listen to the Jeremy Vine show, because I am usually working at noon, but today, for some reason, I was making tomato soup. I had a sudden imperative for old-fashioned cream of tomato soup, like you had when you were a child. And since I cannot cook without sound, and since it was the dead hour on Radio Four (I am sure the people on You and Yours are very nice and perform a valuable public service, but that programme makes me feel as if the cells in my body are dying, one by one), on went Mr Vine. It was something about salt. I don't know; the government is cross with salt, or some local council is trying to ban it,  or some such.

'And we've got David Davis to talk about it,' said Jeremy Vine.

That's curious, I thought. Since David Davis returned to the freedom of the back benches after his failed leadership bid, he has become a much more interesting politician. He is a prone to a bit of bombast, and is marvellously convinced of his own rightness, but he usually avoids pablum and dullness. My ears pricked up. I did not know he had a thing for salt. He is more famous for his stand on civil liberties, and his new and unlikely friendship with Shami Chakrabarti.

It took a moment to realise that the mildly dull fellow down the line was the wrong David Davis. It was in fact David Davies, the MP for Monmouthshire. He said: 'It's nanny state political correctness gone mad,' without irony, and was gone.

How awful for him, I thought. Even with that extra e, the pronunciation of his name is still the same as the more famous David. He will always be the Other David Davies. It made me think how maddening it must be to have the same name as a famous person. It's not just that every time you meet someone you will get a variation on the same gag. It's that, with the dominance of the internet, you must feel as if sometimes you do not exist.

I imagine that almost everyone has guiltily Googled themselves, at one time or another. (Sometimes one is punished for such narcissism; I once did it late at night and found a whole messageboard set up to trash Backwards.) But at least when I search for my own name, the results are about me. Imagine you are called Robert Smith. You will find millions of results for the lead singer of The Cure. Actually, my local member of parliament is called Robert Smith, and to be fair to the Google, he does get one hit. As far as the internet goes though, he is the other, lesser Robert Smith.

Years ago, I met a lovely, funny man at a wedding called Jeremy Thomas. He told me he had a terrible time because he shared his name with the producer of Bernardo Bertolucci's films. He was always known, even by his friends, as 'the wrong Jeremy Thomas'. Once, in his wilder days, he had decided to take advantage of this, and managed to blag a lunch with Warren Beatty. It took Beatty about fifteen minutes to work out that this was, in fact, the entirely incorrect Jeremy Thomas, who had clearly never met Bertolucci in his life. The actor rose, said he was going to the lav, and never returned to the table.

Names matter in the oddest ways. There is a story going round at the moment that Ed Miliband is trying to get people to refer to him as Edward. It is a gravitas thing, apparently. My guess: it won't take. The bloggers are already having fun by starting to call Ed Balls 'Edgar', even though his real name is also the much less amusing Edward.

I used to hate my own name. I wanted to be called something interesting like Etta or Ruby or Daisy or Nancy. 'I see,' said one of my snob friends, when I told him this; 'housemaids' names'. (I think he was joking.) One of the things I loved was making up exotic names for the characters in my novels. In my early, awful, idiot days, I used to give them names like Venice and Alabama. Once I created a character called Nancy Spain. I thought it the most perfect name ever invented. My agent gave me a quizzical look, when she got the manuscript. 'Is this on purpose?' she said. It turned out that Nancy Spain was in fact a very famous journalist in the 1950s, of whom I, in my callow twenties, had never heard.

(Interesting bonus fact: she died in an aeroplane crash on her way to the Grand National, and Noel Coward said of her: 'It is cruel that all that gaiety, intelligence and vitality should be snuffed out when so many bores and horrors are left living.')

I was thinking of all this as I walked the dogs up the beech avenue this morning. I wondered how much names are destiny. I thought: perhaps it is a good thing I am not called Daisy, after all. In my more absurd moments, I have dreams of being une femme sérieuse. Daisy, although a lovely name in itself, sounds too frivolous and ephemeral, with its echoes of F Scott Fitzgerald. Could you imagine a high court judge called Daisy? I remember having a shiver of disappointment when I discovered that James Joyce's wife called him Jim. TS Eliot somehow sounds much more sonorous and weighty than Tom Eliot. Imagine if Prince William of Wales was known as Bill. It would not do at all. Prince Bill just sounds silly. King Bill is even worse, making one think of some bogus country and western singer, a little down on his luck.

Well, that's my musing for the day. Rather long and unfocussed, I'm afraid. Tomorrow I shall be all pith.

Now for the pictures. More dull weather, yet the colours were extraordinarily vivid.

The beech avenue, looking more like October than March:

31st March 3

My current favourite tree:

31st March 6

The view south:

31st March 7

31st March 9

A black-faced gull, wheeling about over the meadow:

31st March 11

31st March 12

This hellebore is growing wild, on the wall outside my house:

31st March 1

That tiny little black speck you see is the Duchess, moseying her way up the avenue:


And regal, in her close-up:

31st March 2

The utter sweetness that is her sister:

31st March 5

I can't stop taking pictures of the philadelphus, as it burgeons into spring:

31st March 14

Two shots of the hill today, from a slightly different angle than usual, against a flat, white sky:

31st March 8

31st March 10

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

In which Sarah is very naughty

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

At her work, my co-writer sits next to a man whose writing I very much admire. He is interesting and thoughtful and can turn a lovely sentence. His knee does not jerk. I rather foolishly told her on the telephone today how much I liked his last column.

'My friend LOVED your last column,' she bawled, across the room.

'Stop,' I said, blushing. I started to laugh uncontrollably, like a girl. 'I did love it though,' I said.

'Love from SCOTLAND,' Sarah yelled.

Even though I have a reasonable understanding of modern technology, I am sometimes slightly amazed that what I say up here, as the crocuses grow and the oystercatchers sing, comes out in a newsroom six hundred miles south.

'I'm going now,' I said, firmly.

Two hours later, she calls back.

'I've sent that man whose writing you like to the blog,' she says.

'Oh no,' I say. 'But it's all about dogs and trees at the moment. I haven't done a serious political piece for days.'

'I did warn him about the dogs,' she says.

'Oh dear,' I say.

'Can't help it,' she says. 'I am feeling impish.'

'You most certainly are,' I say.

There is an oddity about the way this blog has developed. I don't really care about numbers, but I do occasionally look at them. It's the old competitive streak, which must always win at Scrabble. I am rather gratified to see how the graph goes up and up; I get now in a week what I once had in a month. But all the same, it is a very, very small thing.

I love that it is small. It makes me feel happy and safe. There is the kind coterie of regular readers, who make my soup and care about my dogs. Occasionally, I read about those professional bloggers who have hundreds of thousands of reader and make real money out of the thing and get profiles written about them in the New York Times, and feel a twisting stab of envy. Then I realise I would hate that kind of success. What I love about blogging is the intimacy. You can't be intimate with a hundred thousand people.

So the thought of a serious, national columnist reading this tiny enterprise is quite terrifying. This is, of course, entirely irrational. Some of you probably are serious national columnists. I write books which are reviewed in the newspapers. I am not shy about that. But this is different. It is where I can put whimsy, and snowdrops, and the beloved canines, and recipes for soup which I made up in my head. It is a tiny, personal, delicate thing. I have absolutely no idea how that happened. The unlikely thing is that I am rather glad it did. Like Bagehot, I am not going to shine too much daylight on it. I rather love the mystery.

And now, I am going to make some ratatouille. Whilst of course contemplating the geo-political ramifications of the Libyan rebels' retreat from Ras Lanouf.

Now for the pictures. It was another low, dirty day. 'Ah, but it is dreich,' said my favourite newsagent, with a disdainful sniff. Still, there were some lovely green things, all the same.

The first leaves are unfurling on the dog roses:


The philadelphus is verging on bushy:


I have no idea what this is; some kind of shrub on my walk. But rather fetching:


The old beech leaves are still hanging on:


And here is an arty close-up of the beech hedge:


The snowdrops have almost gone from my garden, but they are still blooming in the wild places:


There has not been a good tree trunk for a while, can't think why not:


The Sister's poodle is staying while her humans are away, so there is now a pack of three:


The Duchess, doing grand yet wistful:


The Pigeon doing her usual 'if I just stare at you long enough, perhaps you will turn into a giant biscuit' face:


No idea what the poodle is thinking about. The perils of inflation, perhaps:


Today's hill, labouring under the unrelenting dreich:


Tuesday, 29 March 2011


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Or, in which my brain goes phhhttt. This may be a continuing theme for the next few weeks, as deadline time is approaching and I am in a constant state of nervous exhaustion. This is a Good Thing, because it means I have done something each day. It is good productive nerves rather than bad unproductive ones. But still, it leaves me incapable of speech or thought by this time of day.

I did 1051 words today, which was slightly unexpected. I had slept badly for the last two nights and feared it might be one of those days when I must do a great deal of research. Even though this is work, it does not feel like work because there is no word count by the end of it. At this stage, obsessive counting of words goes with the territory.

I did do one miraculous thing. I finally worked out a way to get salt and pepper squid to be really crispy, something which has eluded me until now. I have managed to get suspicion of crisp, but not the full crunch. (How like a horrid advert that sounds.) The secret is: cornflour, and really, really hot oil, hotter than you think, so hot it is about to burn. It was nearly as good as E&O, with the added advantage that I did not have to look at very, very thin ladies who never eat carbs while I ate it. (For those of you not familiar with West London: E&O is that maddening kind of restaurant where the food is remarkably good, but the clientele is quite annoying, and the staff is a little too conscious that they work in a place considered trendy. It's the kind of joint I long to march into in my gumboots, with actual straw in my hair.)

It was another low, still day, the kind of weather which is neither flesh, fowl, nor good red herring. It was the kind of day when you have to look quite hard for the beauty, as everything seems a little drab and flat. But of course once one focuses in the eyes, there it all is.

The growing things in the garden:






The wider view:




I went down to see if the daffodils on the avenue were showing any signs of life. Not much, yet:


The Pigeon came faithfully with:


The Duchess did not join us for the daffodil hunt, because she was off sniffing for moles. I regard this as a VERY good sign:


This next one may be what the internets call Cute Overload. I call it too much beauty:


See how the Duchess looks so much brighter? I am starting to think the whole vet visit freaked her out a bit, and obviously any stress is not good for someone with a heart condition. She has had a lot of extra care and attention since then, and the love of half the blogosphere from the dear readers, and she seems much happier today. I keep my fingers cautiously crossed.

Coming back to the house, I wondered about the daffodils. I had seen one in flower on Saturday and was frantically excited. It is not so much that I love daffodils; I am not mad for yellow flowers. It is that, along with the oystercatchers, who are careening about over the south meadow, singing as they go, they are the real harbingers of spring. So I was rather disappointed to find that my one daff was clearly an outlier. And then, then, I saw these:



Definitely, definitely spring. Although, having said that, we shall now be snowed in for a week.

Today's hill:


Thank you again for your extraordinary response to Sunday's post. I always worry when I talk about the dogs, thinking it will put people off, especially if they are cat people, but the dogs posts are always the ones that get the biggest postbag. Of course I think the Pigeon and the Duchess are the two most delightful, fascinating creatures known to woman, but I would not necessarily expect anyone else to agree. I can't tell you how much it warms every last cockle of my heart to find how you dear readers respond to them. Although you should not encourage me too much, or it will be all canines, all the time, and you'll never get a good meaty political post ever again. And I know you would consider that a terrible shame.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Monday in brief

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Some days, I somehow manage to avoid the radio entirely. I have been reading and working. (996 words of book.) I look up at almost six o'clock and find I have no idea what is going on in the world. I find this both disconcerting and oddly calming. Instead of pondering geo-political developments, I go outside to look at my new fruit trees, which have just arrived. There are cooking apples and eating apples and plums and pears and cherries. I feel as excited as if someone has just given me a prize. The poor old eucalyptus might have died in the winter storms, but I have plums and pears.

Am still slightly overcome by the cascade of kindness which greeted yesterday's post. You are a most remarkable group of readers. After Sunday's attack of melancholy, I am now back to determined but tempered optimism. The dear dog, as if sensing this, appears much more cheerful, and spent her afternoon flirting with the kind gentlemen who came to dig in the trees. (I would so love to pretend that I did it myself, in true bucolic fashion, but, like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie, especially not about trees.)

The weather is very low and still. There is an odd feeling that time has stopped. The only hint of the world outside is the sudden roar of a fighter jet, coming low over the trees, probably from Lossiemouth, headed for who knows where. The bright deserts of Libya, perhaps.

Things are slowly growing. Today's pictures are of the growing things.

28th March 1

28th March 3

28th March 5

28th March 6


And other things of ravishing beauty:

28th March 8

28th March 9

28th March 10

The hill today, even in the low light, was a thing of splendid colours:

28th March 7


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