Wednesday, 30 November 2011

In which I am too ill to avoid controversy

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I am ill in bed and cross. It’s not really a proper illness; it’s a mild glandy thing accompanied by a wave of exhaustion so corporeal I cannot stand up. So, in the end, I gave in. I made some tomato soup for the children’s lunch and then I collapsed.

After some very unsatisfactory broken dozing, the kind that does not refresh or restore, but just makes you fretful, I thought I might cheer myself up by ordering some nice cut-price DVDs from Amazon. They would be there, waiting for me, when I got home, and I could watch them over Christmas. I have hardly been to the cinema this year, and anyway, a lot of the good films don’t get as far as Aberdeen (that brilliant documentary about the banking collapse was on for two performances; the brother-in-law and I had to drop everything and race into town like maniacs to catch it).

Anyway, I thought there must be some excellent, grown-up films with people like Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson in that I have missed. I turned to the Top Twenty section. And no, there are no grown-up films.

Shall I tell you what there is? Harry bloody Potter.

There is Harry Potter 3D, Harry Potter 2D, Harry Potter 7D, Harry Potter blu-ray, whatever that is, Harry Potter box set, Harry Potter every which way but loose.

I have not said this before because I love my Dear Readers, and I do not like to upset and confound you. By the law of averages most of you must love Harry Potter. The Beloved Cousin adores Harry Potter. The Godson thinks Harry Potter is magical. He is one of the boys JK Rowling got to read. My Political Operative once spent an entire summer holiday on Colonsay reading that Harry Potter that was the size of a small encyclopaedia, whilst I crossly read Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman. (You can tell I am a riot on holiday.)

Everyone I know bloody loves Harry bloody Potter. So I pussy-foot around, and say how much I admire Joanne Rowling, with all the being a single mother and writing in cafés stuff, and keep very very quiet about the truth.

But I can’t hold it in any more. The truth is: I hate Harry Potter. I am not indifferent or unmoved. I don’t think it is all quite fine but not my thing. I hate all of it. I hate bloody upright Harry with his stupid soppy glasses, and Hermione with her two expressions, and Ron with his comedy hair.

I hate the exclusivity of it all, like it’s some clever club. I was taken to the second last film, last year; I am a godmother, I do these things. I had only read the first book, and seen the third film, both of which had bored me rigid. I genuinely once had to ask my co-writer who Voldemort was. She had made a joke about ladies looking like Lord Voldemort in Backwards.

I said: ‘I do not know who that is or what he looks like.’

I said: ‘Should we not take it out, because some people might not get the reference?’

She gave me the kind of look people reserve for those who are very slow indeed. ‘Everyone will get the reference,’ she said. The thing stayed in. I’m still quite grumpy about it.

Anyway, I don’t bloody know who Lord Voldemort is, let alone the fleshcreepers or the anteaters or the transformers or whatever those screaming evil spirits are. You would think that the film-makers might have realised that there would be godmothers or aunts or grandmothers like me, and put in a little précis or potted history or at least some explication, somewhere, in the second to last film, a film so screamingly, agonisingly, nail-pullingly dull that I would have to invent new words for boredom.

But no, they did not. Everyone will get the reference, see? So not only did I have to sit through a plot so thin you could see through it, twists so laboured they cranked and creaked, characterisation so flimsy it practically fell over, and dialogue so flat it made Norfolk look like Tibet, I did not even understand a quarter of it, because everyone was talking of things about which I knew nothing.

Harry looked moody and bored. Ron looked confused and dogged. Hermione looked very, very pretty. They seemed to go camping, for a very, very long time. Helena Bonham-Carter got to do some marvellous dramatics, which was the one high point. The lighting was muddy and dour; the sets militantly fake. Robbie Coltrane, another of the few high points, was dead. There was a revolting little naked elf sort of creature, like a skinned Chihuahua, who also died, in what was supposed to be a very touching moment, but I found even duller than the rest of the dullness. Oh my God, it was boring. It actually hurt my eyes. I am being literal. My eyeballs ached.

Now, you may loathe lots of things which I adore. You may hate This Week with Andrew Neil, or the novels of Nancy Mitford, or the paintings of Stubbs, or The Today Programme. You may think the BBC is a viper’s nest of ghastly right-thinking, and you will find lots of happy people to agree with you, at county dinners and on the comments pages of the Telegraph. You might hate 19th century history, despise Scotland, have no interest whatsoever in trees, and all that is fine. None of those come freighted with value judgement, except maybe the Scottish one, because it makes you look a bit xenophobic.

But if I admit to hating Harry Potter, then I am a ruthless killjoy who does not want children to read and hates single mothers. I am out of step with perhaps 98% of the great British public. I am crossing swords with a global audience. I am mean-spirited, unimaginative, and generally rather unpleasant. Because everyone loves Harry Potter. Really nice people love Harry Potter. Harry Potter is a nice thing to like. JK Rowling is a lovely person who gives money to charity. Every single British national treasure has acted in the films. The books have made more money than the Bible. I am just sour grapes and bile; a Scrooge for our times.

And maybe that’s why I’m so cross, apart from the glands. All art is a little bit subjective, although I would argue there are objective lines which may be crossed. You, personally, might hate Picasso, but you can probably admit that he has reached an objective level of skill and brilliance. It’s just not your skill and brilliance. I can see that Nabokov is a literary star, I happen not to enjoy reading him. But with this Potter thing, you are not allowed to be subjective. It is as if one is living in a Potterish North Korea: Dear Leader says you must love Harry Potter or die.

People do not say each to each, when it comes to this particular series, they just think you are mad or wrong or sour or all three, should you offer even the mildest dissent. I resent that. I am furious that even as I type this I think: oh, I’m going to get fury now. I will make the Dear Readers sad and cross. Perhaps I should just delete the whole thing and put up some nice pictures of The Pigeon instead.

I do feel quite relieved, though, now it's out. I’ve been carrying that dirty little secret with me for years, ever since I read The Philosopher's Stone to see what all the fuss was about, and felt dismayed at the flat prose and dull plot. I felt the first jerk of me falling out of step with popular opinion.

What can I tell you? I’m not trying to be difficult. I just hate Harry Potter. I wish people would rediscover KM Peyton instead, and the children would read Flambards, or Lorna Hill would come back into fashion and everyone would read the Sadler's Wells series, or someone would remember how brilliant Noel Streatfeild was. I wish there was not only one game in town.

Stopping now. Really do feel most weak and peculiar. The Pigeon is snoring at my side. The lovely thing about her is that she really does not give a damn. Potter, Schmotter, is what she is saying in her doggy old head.

Usual apology for lack of pictures; too weak and other for taking photographs today. So here is the one compensation:


Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A day in parliament

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Goodness, I am an old lady. Two lunches and one dinner in London and I am a wreck. (That reminds me, I must take my iron tonic.)

There are so many things I want to tell you, but I cannot fit them all into one post. Perhaps just one parliamentary sketch.

Those of you who read regularly will know I am a politics geek. Luckily, one of my very old friends, one of the ones who goes back 26 years, recently became a politician. He is known in these pages as the Political Operative; he has been a councillor, started a think tank, and now is on the back benches. He is very tall and very clever and I love him.

We were fixing up a lunch when the possibility arose of a ticket to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. To most people, this would be a form of punishment; to me, it is like going backstage at The Rolling Stones. I am not sure I could have been more excited by any other invitation. I hung, on tenterhooks, wondering if such a miracle might be possible. Eventually, the confirming text came. I was in.

I was so thrilled, I dashed out to buy a special pair of House of Commons boots. I rang my mother: ‘I decided,’ I said, ‘that the suede shoes with the pom poms that cost fourteen pounds from Dorothy Perkins in Cirencester would just not cut it, in the House.’

‘No,’ she said gravely. ‘They certainly would not.’

‘And I do need some winter boots,’ I said. (This is empirically correct.) ‘And,’ I said, ‘I’m doing my bit to keep the economy going.’

‘Yes, you are,’ she said, staunchly.

The boots are very splendid indeed. They are black patent, to the knee, with two shiny silver buckles on each side. As an added bonus, the man in Peter Jones, who sold them to me, was the nicest fellow in London. He told me all about the joys of working for the John Lewis Partnership, and how he felt part of a family, and how good the company was. A tiny little silver lining of good news, in the dark doominess that is Blighty PLC, I thought. I slightly longed to tell him I was taking the boots to the Mother of all Parliaments, but I decided it might sound a bit swanky, just when we were getting on so well.

I did very much love getting into a cab and saying: ‘The House of Commons, please’.

I loved smiling at the stern policemen on the door, and making little jokes with the security people at the X-ray machines.

The Operative came to collect me, and we walked through Westminster Hall, the high, dim room at the heart of the whole place. Nothing much happens there any more, except for the odd state occasion, but it is nine hundred years old; it is where the entire shooting match started. It is the mighty room in which Charles I was tried.

I said, as we walked through: ‘You can just smell the history.’

I said: ‘Does this make you think of what it is you are here for?’

The Political Operative, who is less starry-eyed than I, laughed, and said, ironically: ‘You mean executing kings and not being very nice to the Catholics?’

‘Yes,’ I said, going with the joke. ‘That's it. That’s the important stuff.’

He left me for a moment in the central lobby. ‘I’m going into the Chamber for prayers,’ he said. ‘Back in five minutes.’

I stood up straight in my new House of Commons boots. Crowds were milling about, talking, gazing, meeting. There was a school party, a group which looked like tourists, some youthful types whom I was sure were special advisers, older, respectable looking people, whom I thought might be proud mothers and fathers of MPs. Suddenly, there was a great shout: ‘THE SPEAKER. Hats off for the Speaker.’ On cue, the two bobbies by the statue of Gladstone took off their domed helmets.

I had never seen this before. The whole place felt quiet. The Speaker walked through, preceded by his officials in their black uniforms, holding the mace. The old Speakers used to dress up in eighteenth century type dress, with lace jabots and stockings and breeches; this new one did away with all that, and just wears a sort of donnish gown. He smiles and nods to left and right; he looks exactly like a popular lecturer in geography at a provincial university, the sort of character Malcolm Bradbury used to put in his novels. But the ceremony remains, and I know some people might think it outdated and odd, but it has something wonderful about it.

Then, the Operative came back and took me up to the gallery. There were more tremendous officials, in white tie and black tails. They were very charming and also very strict. I had bought my notebook, to record the Momentous Event, but you are allowed to take nothing into the gallery. It was just me and my brain cells.

The Foreign Secretary and his ministers were answering questions. I was rather impressed by the range. There were queries about the trade relations with Turkey, the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the governance of Egypt, the Iranian nuclear programme, Israel and Palestine, the situation in Somaliland. This is my democracy in action, I suddenly thought, in high excitement. This is not what you read about in the papers. Someone, in that palace of Westminster, really, really cares, and knows, about what is happening in Bosnia.

There was no knockabout, or shouting and pointing; the foreign officer ministers bobbed up and down to the despatch box, with their ring binder files, for all the world as if they were doing their geography prep. William Hague himself was a serious figure, fully in command of his brief, easy in front of the massed ranks.

The House was half full. I saw David Laws, scribbling away, as if he were doing a quiz. Rory Stewart, looking absurdly young, had the appearance of the cleverest schoolboy in the class, grinning and passing notes. On the Opposition front bench, Douglas Alexander had his arms crossed, and was making naughty in-jokes across the despatch box, as if teasing his opposite number. A faint ripple in the air occurred, as Dennis Skinner, the old Labour stalwart, came and took his place, swaggering in like a riverboat gambler.

As the time grew near for the Autumn statement, the place started to fill up. Some of the big beasts arrived. Ken Clarke, looking healthier and much more attractive and louche in life than he does on television, sank down onto the front bench. Yvette Cooper came in, very neat and contained. Alan Johnson and David Blunkett and Dianne Abbott sailed in. Alastair Darling sat down on the back bench, and fell to texting on his Blackberry. I never saw anyone so happy not to be Chancellor any more.

Nick Clegg and Oliver Letwin were having a tremendous chat behind the Speaker’s Chair. In front of the Speaker sit his three clerks, in their white horsehair wigs, looking for all the world like high court judges. There is a serious man at the Speaker’s side, who writes things down on pieces of paper, and passes notes up to Mr Berkow. The really funny thing is that at the edge of the great throne on which the Speaker sits are low ledges, and this appears to be where the cool kids sit. They are not official seats, but the naughty boys come and perch there, instead of going into proper places on the green benches, and it gives them an air of ownership, as if they were the kind who brought the teacher an apple at school, but still managed to be a bit funny and raffish at the same time.

Now there was an air of anticipation. Suddenly, the Chancellor arrived, followed by the Prime Minister. The Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Chancellor took their places. There was a moment of hush. Then they were off.

The statement itself was an impossible piece of rhetoric. The news is all bad. Growth figures are being revised downward; unemployment is being revised upward; the Eurozone smash is the elephant in the room. All policy aside, the Chancellor did pretty well. I was concentrating on the thing itself, rather than the wide ramifications, and he’s not bad at it.

What you don’t see on television is that, all the way through, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are staring beadily at George Osborne, shaking their heads ostentatiously back and forth, rolling their eyes, raising their eyebrows, doing what the hell are you on about faces. Then they nudge each other, whisper into each other’s ears, giggle like schoolchildren, write something on a piece of paper and point at it so the other can see. As if this theatre was not enough, the back benches are howling and oohing and ahhing; one or two backbenchers are just heckling constantly. ‘The Chancellor MUST BE HEARD,’ roars the Speaker. And: ‘One honourable member has done enough shouting for one day.’

Up in the Lobby gallery, the scribes are scribbling, at high desks, like Dickensian clerks. I get very excited about this too, and start doing parliamentary sketchwriter and pundit top trumps, with myself. There is Benedict Brogan from The Telegraph, Gary Gibbon from Channel Four News, the very tall and elegant figure of James Landale from the BBC. Michael White, whom I worship, the brilliant veteran from The Guardian who has seen it all, appears to be tweeting the whole thing on his Blackberry. James Forsyth, from the Speccie, is high up in solitary state in the far left hand corner, scribbling away in longhand and sending quizzical looks down on the chamber.

Quentin Letts of the Mail, with whom I have never agreed on anything, but who still makes me laugh, looks about ten years old in life, and comes and sits next to Simon Carr of the Indy. I wonder if they are having a competition about who can be funnier. (I wonder too if Simon Carr remembers that I once played croquet with him, on a rough lawn in Suffolk, a hundred years ago, and wonders what I am doing in my black velvet in the gallery.) I look in vain for my other favourite sketchwriter, the dry, wry Ann Treneman, but I cannot see her.

Down in the chamber, Ed Balls is on his feet. He is much bigger and beefier and crosser in life than he is on Andrew Marr’s sofa. Goodness, he is cross. It’s all a shambles, he says; if only they had followed our plan. When he says things about debt, the Tories on the backbenches all point their fingers, in unison, as if to say: well, who spent all the cash? I see Liam Byrne raising his eyebrows and doing pantomime no, no, no faces, and wonder if he regrets that note he left on the Treasury Desk for the incoming government, which said: ‘Sorry, there’s no money left.’

After it all, the Political Operative and I have a quick lunch in Portcullis House. I am insanely excited by the whole performance. The Operative, who knows that politics is real and difficult and complicated, rather rues the Punch and Judy aspect. ‘It’s not always very edifying,’ he says. I am rather carried away by the theatrical aspect, so new to me; to him, it is his daily bread, and he wants to make things work. He shakes his head. We use the word utilitarian more than once.

I have a very old-fashioned belief in the political system, in democracy, in the good faith of most elected representatives. Of course there are charlatans and shits and phonies, but there are also many good men and women who really do want to leave the world a little better than they found it. I may be wrong about this. I may have too much stardust in my eyes, a stupid naivety. The state of the nation now is a profoundly difficult one, and I, for all my historical knowledge and political geekery, would not begin to know how to fix it. I’m not saying those six hundred in the chamber are perfect, but I do think they are trying. I hope they are.

My final impressions –

Everyone says the chamber is much smaller than it looks on television, and it is. What people do not say is that it is much, much brighter than one expects. I suppose it’s for the television cameras; the lights are harsh and cruel and beat down on the gathered throng. The MPs are wedged up on tiny, narrow benches. There is theatre, and some silliness; there is also a sense of seriousness and history. I see, just from my three hours in that space that it might, indeed, be easy to get caught up in the Westminster bubble that the pundits write of with such scorn.

It is all very familiar, and at the same time, very alien. For someone like me, who has studied the Reform Acts and the repeal of the Corn Laws and Catholic Emancipation, it is filled with ghosts. The Operative and I even spoke of Spencer Percival, as we ate our lunch. I thought of Peel, and Gladstone, and Disraeli; of Canning and Castlereagh; of Palmerston and Wellington and Charles James Fox.

Oh, and it is, as that old, old complaint goes, very white, and very male, even now. At first, there is something smart and formal about so many men in their suits. After a while, you start thinking: but I can only see three brown faces. I can only see twelve women. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with an Anglo-Saxon fellow, but it would be nice to see a slightly more representative collection. I wonder what the schoolchildren think, when they come to visit, the new generations who are not used to pale gentlemen running the show.

But for all the drawbacks, it was a wonderful thing to witness in many ways, and I felt very privileged to have seen it.

And when I got back, tired from the train, there was the Pigeon, who cares more for biscuits than politics, jumping up and down on all fours, greeting me with the kind of joy that says: I don’t care at all who is running the country, you are my Queen of the World. Sometimes I think that’s what the canines are for.

One picture only today, but then, sometimes one picture is all one needs:

29 nov 1 27-11-2011 16-52-30.ORF

And may I say that as well as coming home to the dear face of the Pidge, I also came home to some astonishingly lovely comments from the Dear Readers. Your kindness, as always, is overwhelming.

Oh, and I should say: sorry this is so long. It's just it was so interesting to me that I wanted to give it all to you. I understand some of you will have no interest in politics and rely on your enduring patience.

Monday, 28 November 2011


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Away for 36 hours, so forgive lack of blog. I have to leave my Pigeon, which is almost killing me. I scold myself for lack of proportion. There are, literally, metaphorically, figuratively, worse things happening in Chad. I have become one of those women who never leave their dogs. (Men must do it too, but they keep quieter about it. Or something.) When I was young and ruthless I laughed at those dog people. Now I look into The Pigeon's eyes, which are now limpidly gazing back into mine, with a slight question mark, and wonder if I should just CANCEL EVERYTHING.

Admit, if you had to part from this face, you might think twice:

28 Nov 1 27-11-2011 16-52-35

Some foolish man said yesterday she looked old. Old, schmold. (It's still making me cross, even thinking about it.)

Running for the train now.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

A serious story, for a Sunday night

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I was going to write: it’s been a day of life, death, the whole damn thing. I was going to do the abstract thing. I did not want to put what has happened this day into specifics, partly because of the old privacy thing that I write about, partly because when you come up against the far edge of experience, words seem paltry and small.

Then, I was given permission, even encouragement.

So here is the story of the day.

Those of you who read this blog regularly will remember since May, after my father died, there were other deaths. There was another death of a good man, the stretched, disbelieving faces of the mourners, the stupidity of a fine fellow dying too young.

I have not written much about that since, but it has been in my mind. I have thought about the wife and the children left behind. I have wondered how you stitch your life back together, when the glorious, central tree in it has been felled.

Yesterday, the wife of the good man came to stay. I made a special Eastern soup, with lime and chillies and prawns and coriander and mint and shiitake mushrooms. We laughed and talked and ate and everything was amazingly normal, considering everything. We did not talk of mortality, or wild griefs, or the stupid losses that should not happen; she, and The Beloved Cousin, and I, were almost ostentatiously normal.

Today, a chicken was being roasted for lunch. I was making some of my special smashed olive oil potatoes with basil; I was stirring the good wooden spoon around the pan. The wife of the good man said, quite matter of fact: ‘I have breast cancer.’

I did not hear, at first. Perhaps I did hear, and could not believe. Suddenly, there was a conversation about Grade One, Stage Three; there was talk about oncologists, and the Marsden, and doctor’s appointments. And then someone said: it’s too fucking much.

How does that happen? You lose your husband, at a ridiculous age; you get through that, with astonishing grace and courage. You are just, just, getting through it, as much as you can get through anything like that. And then you go to the doc, and you get the news that you have a bloody tumour, and suddenly your own mortality is on the line.

I was not going to write about it, for good reason. Words are my business, but all day, as we have discussed it, I have been lost for words. And then the brilliant, beautiful woman, who has this terrible double tragedy, said: put it on the blog. She said: I’d love to know if there is anyone out there who knows about this. Is there anyone who lost their husband and then, five scant months later, got the breast cancer diagnosis. Is there?
She said: put the specifics. They got it early, but it's fast-moving. What does that mean? Does anyone know?

She said: ask them.

I wonder often what this curious enterprise is for. I often ask you, the Dear Readers: what am I doing here? Am I just clicking my teeth? Is it self-indulgence; is it just a few dog pictures and some absurd racing talk, and a bit of political geekery, and some blah blah about my garden and my love for Scotland and my hill?
It is a tiny thing; life is a great big buggery thing, often too big for me to capture. I sat round the kitchen table all day long, desperately trying to make sense of this thing that makes no sense – too much tragedy for one life, too many demands for one heart to bear – with these two wonderful women, and struggled to make a shape of it. I can’t work things out until I have written them, until I have typed them.

And then, the Extraordinary Woman (as I shall now always call her) said: write it. Put it out there.

I looked at her. I said: ‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I want to know what your readers think. I want to know if they have had anything like this.’

As I write this, she and The Beloved Cousin are talking. They are laughing; they are discussing family things. We gave the children the special green soup, and put them to bed. The dogs are slumbering. There is much in this house that is wonderful and normal. We are so lucky in so many ways. We have, between the three of us, had our share of sorrow, but we also have a lot of love and light. But now there is this new Thing.

I don’t know quite how to finish. I always want to give you a nice, neat final sentence, a thought that makes it all make sense. I don’t have one. I think I just press send, and trust in this wonderful readership, and see what happens.

Photographs of the day – I'm afraid are just all dog pictures. I'd love to do some trees and flowers and autumn colours for you, but I like to think the beauty of the Pigeon makes up for everything. It works for me, anyway:

27 Nov 1 27-11-2011 16-52-30

27 Nov 7 27-11-2011 16-51-54

27 Nov 9 27-11-2011 16-51-59

27 Nov 9 27-11-2011 16-52-39

I took these pictures as the evening sun was falling over the Beloved Cousin's house. I was tight with regret and shock. For ten minutes, I looked at this wonderful canine face, and felt better. I said, out loud: this is all too much, even for us. The Pigeon looked up at me, raised her ears, sniffed for rabbits, wagged her waggy old tail, and got on with it. Yes, I thought: we can all get on with it. We must all get on with it. We shall.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

No excuse at all

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

So sorry; there really are no words today. There was an awful lot of cooking, and errands, and a visit to the oculist. The hours just flew away, and all I can offer you is some flowers, and three dog pictures. I really would understand if you wanted your money back.

26 Nov 4 26-11-2011 16-33-38

26 Nov 5 26-11-2011 16-34-07

26 Nov 6 26-11-2011 16-34-33

26 Nov 7 26-11-2011 16-35-22

26 Nov 8 26-11-2011 16-35-31

The Pigeon, in two gracious poses:

26 Nov 1 26-11-2011 16-36-32

26 Nov 3 26-11-2011 16-40-24.ORF

This next one kills me. I took all three dogs out and made them pose. A very high wind blew up out of the west, which is why they are making those faces. I am slightly hoping that the sight of the Pigeon's ears might half make up for pathetic lack of blog:

26 Nov 2 26-11-2011 16-36-03

Shall do better tomorrow.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Not quite as thrilling on the page as it was in my head

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

The awful thing is that when I promise things, I feel I must deliver. But when I say to the Dear Readers, there shall be a tremendous meditation on friendship, I realise I risk the fatal mistake of raising expectations. A wise old shrink, of whom I was thinking only today as I walked past the Wigmore Hall, where we once listened to Louis Lortie play Chopin, told me that the number one, tip-top enemy of happiness was high expectations. (He did not, I think, mean be cynical and expect nothing; he did not want to encourage a race of pessimists. I think what he was suggesting was a cool dose of realism.)

So, when, two days later, I sit down to write, I think: what was it that I was going to say? And was it really so fascinating?

Then I think: ah, well, bash on, and hope for the best. I usually do hope for the best; it’s bred in the bone.

I had two particular lunches this week, with two very old friends. In the first one, we spoke of mothers and fathers, of children and relations, of families; we spoke, lightly, of grief and death. There were a few little diversions down memory lane, because we cannot resist those. The conversation touched, almost exclusively, on people; we spoke of feelings; we discussed the concrete and particular. It was all about the human heart.

In the second, we spoke of: the crisis in the Eurozone, Lehman brothers, the banking crash, what makes a successful business. We discussed ambition, and why it is that high intellect is almost always associated with political failure. We talked of the difference between Britain and America. We diverted, quickly and neatly, onto family matters, then moved back to Mrs Merkel and Mr Sarkozy. It all sounds very serious, but there were lots of jokes. (This particular friend is a master of irony.)

What struck me, afterwards, was the fact that the first lunch was with a woman, and the second with a man. Is that it? Were we simply living up to our stereotypes: the women speak of feelings, the men of world events?

Then I thought: no, that’s not it. The Playwright (man) and I never speak of politics. The Beloved Cousin (woman) and I sit up staring like loons at Question Time and This Week, and talk over breakfast of the state of the economy, as well as menu plans for the week.

What it is, I think, is simply that you have different friends for different things. One is not greater or better than the other; they are all vital for the jigsaw of our lives.

There is the one with whom you can discuss literature, the one who is obsessed with political matters, the one who loves abstract thought. There is the one who is utterly brilliant at gossip and the one who is a mistress of psychology and the one who challenges you and the one who will talk of domestic matters and the one who just makes you laugh so much you don’t know what your name is.

My friend The Entrepreneur, who has been with me since 1985, famously does not talk about emotions. The day after my father died, he called and said: You know I can’t do feelings, but I am going to ring each day and make you laugh. And that is exactly what he did. In that vivid season of mortality and sorrow, for ten minutes each day, he made me shout great belly laughs, which, looking back, is a sort of miracle.

So I think what I really wanted to say is that there are perhaps one or two who can do it all, but even with those extraordinary creatures there will be a gap, here and there. But mostly, you need different people for different things, and there is something wonderful about that.

You see, though, about the expectations? When I started having this thought, I decided it was a delightful insight into the human condition. In the end, it’s a terrible obvious observation. For some reason, though, I wanted to make it. Sometimes I just want to write things down, so they are marked in my mind. And, in the way of the blog, it’s always interesting to see what the Dear Readers think of the matter, and to gather the different perspectives, from New Zealand to the United States, and all points in between.

Or something like that.

The camera has not been outside today, but the Cousin and I bought some tulips and anemones, and arranged them, so I took many photographs of those:

25 Nov 1 25-11-2011 20-29-04

25 Nov 2 25-11-2011 20-29-07

25 Nov 4 25-11-2011 20-29-40

25 nov 5 25-11-2011 20-29-49

25 Nov 7 25-11-2011 20-29-58

25 Nov 7 25-11-2011 20-30-16

25 Nov 9 25-11-2011 20-30-41

Then I made The Pigeon pose in the back hall:

25 Nov 19 25-11-2011 20-32-23

25 Nov 21 25-11-2011 20-32-35

25 Nov 23 25-11-2011 20-32-52

Then the two smallest Cousins watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and I sang along to the bit about up from the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success, which I start to think is my theme tune, and the dear old Pidge went to lie down and listen:

25 Nov 20 25-11-2011 20-31-09.ORF

Look at her, with her paws delicately crossed, going moony over Dick Van Dyke.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Mostly visual

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

So there I had it, all planned, written out in my head in limpid prose, the perfect meditation on friendship which I promised you yesterday. Oh, it was going to be a dilly.

But sometimes one must admit to weakness, although it is a thing I hate to do. I am just too tired. My poor old fingers will hardly type; my brain has gone to mush. I squint hopelessly through my slightly smeared spectacles and search for words, and there are none left.

So there are just some slightly random pictures from the last week or so. At least you may have something colourful on which to gaze:

24 Nov 1 19-11-2011 16-56-08

24 Nov 2 19-11-2011 16-58-00

24 Nov 3 19-11-2011 17-02-06

24 Nov 5 19-11-2011 17-03-44

That last one is the miraculous chard, in the Cousin's amazing vegetable garden.

24 Nov 8 13-11-2011 16-10-23

24 Nov 9 13-11-2011 16-07-54

And The Pigeon, of course, who makes up for a lack of prose with her immaculate serious face:

24 Nov 6 15-11-2011 19-07-03

24 Nov 11 11-11-2011 14-54-33

And just one final thought, before my cerebellum switches itself off – the kindness of yesterday's comments was a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Thank you.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


Posted by Tania Kindersley.

In the last two days, I have had lunch with two of the oldest and dearest friends. I want to write more about that, partly because I find friendship fascinating, and it is still the poor relation, in the pantheon of loves, crowded out by the febrile drama of romantic love, and the stirring play of family love. Sometimes I think it is my most important. I am going to do that tomorrow, because it is getting late, and there is something else I have to recount.

But the one thing I will say is: the absolute miracle of 26 years. The ties of affection and history and memory and shared stories pull so tight that you can not see someone for months, or, in today’s case, two years, and you pick up exactly where you left off.

Today, I started talking before I even got out of the car, and was still talking three hours later as I pulled out of the drive to leave. I was as excited as if it were Christmas morning. I think it because I regard those friendships as a deep gift, and discovering they are as box-fresh as ever, despite time and distance, is as much of a thrill as finding the present you most wanted under the tree.

I’m putting off this friendship story until tomorrow, because there was something else I did today.

I went to visit my father’s grave.

It was the first time I had been back to the churchyard since his funeral in May. I had debated whether to do it or not, but it was the most beautiful day, and the road to my friend ran right past my old village, and the cross country route from my cousin’s house is the road of my childhood, filled with landmarks and memories. The stars seemed aligned; I like to think my empirical mind does not have room for fates and signs, but it did feel a bit like a sign. So I took it.

It’s the drive through the prettiest parts of Gloucestershire, skirting Wiltshire and South Oxfordshire, and moving into West Berkshire. It’s a country of rolling downland, and ancient copses, and lost flint villages, and folded hills, and sudden architectural gems. You go right past Ashdown House, one of the most glittering houses in the south of England.

I thought, as I drove, of the country in which I grew up. It was wide green downs, where the larks sang on the wing, with prehistoric barrows, chalk horses carved into the green hills, the lovely Wayland’s Smithy, where my brother used to run with our lurcher.

The funny thing was that this very morning, on Twitter, the trainer Jamie Osborne, whom I knew well in my teens and twenties, had posted a picture of his string of horses up on the gallops in Upper Lambourn. I had looked at it and thought: that is my childhood in one picture. Then, at eleven o’clock, I was guiding the car into the narrow lanes of Upper Lambourn itself.

I drove past the yard where I lived when I was eleven, with my first stepfather. I went past the stables of the trainers of my youth: Doug Marks, Fred Winter, Paul Cole, Charlie Brooks. I traced the road where I would peddle my bicycle down to the village on the Wednesdays when the mobile library would be parked up, and I was in a fever to change my books.

Coming down into Lambourn, I passed the church where we went to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, snaked between the two pubs where the lads from rival stables used to come out on a Saturday night and have ritual punch-ups, saw the white shop of the dear old saddler, Mr Wicks, where we went to buy tack, amazingly still there after thirty-five years.

On the left was The Lamb, the pub where, famously, no one ever drank, and then, up on its rise, the yard of the great Barry Hills, whose lovely Durtal I remember as the star filly of my childhood.

There was The Plough, the pub where I used to go as a teenager with a gang of raw assistant trainers. They were funny and wild and shy; sometimes I see them now on the television, all grown up, trainers themselves, leading in a classic winner at Newmarket or Epsom.

I drove by the ford at Eastbury, where we used to take my pony Seamus to teach him to get over his fear of water. (It was my mother’s brilliant idea, and it worked like a dream.) On the right was the stable of the lovely trainer Bill Payne, whose wife was my godmother.

Further up, there was the little house where Jeffrey Bernard lived for a while, in his pomp. He used to send himself a postcard every day, so the postman would have to drive up the steep dirt drive, and could then give Jeff a lift back to the pub. (He either could not drive, or was banned, or, in those days, could just not afford a car.) I was little, I did not know who he was; I just loved him. It was only much later that I realised that this funny, kind, swaying man who came to our house was a bit of a Fleet Street and Soho legend, who would be played by Peter O’Toole in the West End play, Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell.

Then I took the old, familiar turn into the village, left at the war memorial, and drove up to the church. Last time I was there, I was dressed in funeral clothes, tight with new grief, nodding with faint unreality at people I had not seen for years, my Yeats poem clutched in my hand.

The place was deserted, and very still and peaceful. I put on my gumboots and let The Pigeon out of the back of the motor. ‘Come on,’ I said, out loud. ‘Let’s go and see the auld fella.’

I don’t know what I thought would happen. Would there be sudden tears, the ripping off of the new scab of tearing regret, a vivid sense of the man himself, a terrible sense of what was lost?

In the end, it was wonderfully, beautifully, ordinary. There is no headstone yet. There is just a bit of rough, slightly raised sod, covered in ragged new grass, in a very small rectangle. It looked too small to contain a person.

He was not there. Of course he was not. It’s just a physical place, with some bones in it. He lives in the hearts and memories of those who loved him.

I knelt, and laid my hand on the grass. ‘You silly old fellow, ‘ I said.

My father was a champion, a Corinthian in his youth, a man who changed the chemistry of any room into which he walked. But he was also like me: filled with flaws and foibles and follies. So when I say silly, I mean it with all the ineffable fondness of which family ties are made.

Then a slightly odd thing happened. The Pigeon came and lay down beside him. She had been lying all morning, in the car; she could not be tired. But she stayed there for a while, and would not be moved.

It’s just coincidence of course; the new grass was probably vastly comfortable for her to rest her old legs. But it reminded me of that lovely bit at the end of the film of Out of Africa, one of my favourites, where Meryl Streep, playing Karen Blixen, says that someone wrote to her to say that two lions had been seen lying on the grave of her great love, Denys Finch Hatton. It’s one of those random associations; my dog is no lion, East Garston is not Africa, my dad was no Finch Hatton, although they shared some character traits. But it made me smile.

I stood up straight. The sun broke through the venerable yew trees. I said: ‘Come on Pidge, let us go and see the living.’

As we left, the church clock struck the half hour. I smiled. I got on the road, and went to see my old, old friend.


There are a lot of pictures today, not so much because I am waxing sentimental, although I do like the idea of a visual record of this day, but because this is one of the most beautiful graveyards I ever saw. It's not just because Dad is there, it's because of the aesthetics, too.

Walking in, this is what we saw:

23 Nov 1 23-11-2011 12-21-59

23 Nov 2 23-11-2011 12-22-46

23 Nov 3 23-11-2011 12-23-29

23 Nov 4 23-11-2011 12-26-00

23 Nov 6 23-11-2011 12-27-25

23 Nov 7 23-11-2011 12-27-52

23 Nov 9 23-11-2011 12-27-56

The very ordinary burial place, for a rather extraordinary man:

23 Nov 10 23-11-2011 12-23-42


23 Nov 11 23-11-2011 12-24-25

But there was a lovely spider's web, glittering with dew:

23 Nov 13 23-11-2011 12-24-36

The Pigeon, lying at his side:

23 Nov 14 23-11-2011 12-25-01

23 Nov 15 23-11-2011 12-25-06

23 Nov 16 23-11-2011 12-25-09

23 Nov 16 23-11-2011 12-25-36

Of course the irony is, and the thing that would have made him laugh, is that he never really liked dogs, much.

The view out over the fields and trees from his grave:

23 Nov 17 23-11-2011 12-26-07

23 Nov 18 23-11-2011 12-26-27

23 Nov 19 23-11-2011 12-26-30

And this was when I turned to leave, and the old girl would not be moved:

23 Nov 20 23-11-2011 12-26-50

23 Nov 20 23-11-2011 12-26-59

She does look a bit like a lion here, if I can say that without sounding too fanciful:

23 Nov 21 23-11-2011 12-27-07.ORF

And, what we saw on the way out:

23 Nov 22 23-11-2011 12-27-37

23 Nov 22 23-11-2011 12-28-01

23 Nov 23 23-11-2011 12-28-09

23 Nov 24 23-11-2011 12-28-11

23 Nov 25 23-11-2011 12-28-19

23 Nov 25 23-11-2011 12-28-49

23 Nov 26 23-11-2011 12-28-59

The clock striking the half hour:

23 Nov 27 23-11-2011 12-29-20

23 Nov 28 23-11-2011 12-29-25

The final sight:

23 Nov 28 23-11-2011 12-29-46

23 Nov 30 23-11-2011 12-29-51

23 Nov 31 23-11-2011 12-29-56

23 Nov 32 23-11-2011 12-30-01

I hope this was not TOO MUCH. I am aware that I sometimes skirt the wilder shores of self-indulgence. For which I beg your forgiveness.

But there it was, this thing that I wanted to mark. When I returned to the house, in the November dark, the Beloved Cousin was at the door, with her two girls. The middle cousin, aged nine, hurled herself into my arms as if I had been away on a great expedition. She was the very embodiment of life going on. Which is exactly what it does.

Oh, and since I'm on the subject, I suddenly realise I never gave you that Yeats poem I read at the funeral. It is one of his loveliest, and I just got through it before my voice broke.

At Galway Races:

There where the course is, 
Delight makes all of the one mind,
The riders upon the galloping horses,
The crowd that closes in behind:
We, too, had good attendance once,
Hearers and hearteners of the work;
Aye, horsemen for companions,
Before the merchant and the clerk
Breathed on the world with timid breath.
Sing on: somewhere at some new moon,
We'll learn that sleeping is not death,
Hearing the whole earth change its tune,
Its flesh being wild, and it again
Crying aloud as the racecourse is,
And we find hearteners among men
That ride upon horses.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin