Dispatches From The North

Tania Kindersley lives in the North East of Scotland with two amiable lab collie crosses and one very grumpy Gloucester Old Spot pig. She co-wrote Backwards In High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female, with Sarah Vine.

A question of taste

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 09 May 2012

I should give you fair warning: I am going to talk about china patterns. Really, if all you can think of is the French election and what is happening in Greece, I advise you to look away now.

A new thing I have discovered is that when I am having a complicated or unsettled day, I soothe myself by shopping for vintage china on Ebay. I have developed an urgent passion for delightful old plates. I like the crazing on them, the faint wearing of the pattern; new plates suddenly look flamboyant and vulgar. The searching is not just random browsing, but quite discrete and acutely focussed. I like, I discover, things from about 1870 to 1940. I do not want pointless articles such as trios (a tea cup with saucer and side plate), which are very popular. I want proper utilitarian soup bowls, pudding plates and dining plates. I may stretch as far as a platter or a tureen if I am in whimsical mood.

None of this is of any intrinsic interest. Middle-aged woman has Ebay habit, big whoop. But I am always riveted by those activities which make you reconsider small, taken for granted things. The china habit has been making me think about the mysteries of taste. Everyone agrees that taste is subjective, and probably comes from cultural influences. I could not tell you how exactly it is formed, or when, or why it may suddenly change, or which part of the brain it is connected with, or why it dies so hard. I find it fascinating that it may be at its most dogmatic around the most minute and completely trivial matters. (I hear the voice of my younger revolutionary self: how can you ponder china patterns when the world is so oppressed?)

To my surprise, I have discovered that I absolutely abhor a plate with a frilled edge. I’m not sure if this is the correct nomenclature, being no china expert, but what I mean is when the rim of the plate has vertical ridges all round it. This turns out to be a quite commonly found style, so many people must love it. Not only do I not like it, but I would be actively sad if I had a plate like that in my possession.

How can this be? No one took me aside in my youth, and said: ‘Whatever you do in life, never, ever, have a frilled edge on your plate.’ It was so not spoken of that I do not even know the correct descriptive term. Yet when my eye falls on such a thing, it recoils in horror. I also discover that I only like perfectly round plates, not the ones with slightly waved edges. I utterly reject any representation of fruit. Again, I have no idea why. I like fruit, I eat fruit, fruit can be an aesthetically pleasing thing. But not painted on a plate; not under any circumstances.

...
Tags: homeware, vintage

In mourning

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 02 May 2012

It turns out, I am mourning for my dog. I did not know that is what I was doing. I only worked it out just now, about twelve minutes ago, when I was walking round the field with my mare and I burst into tears. The mare took it on the chin. The man over the fence, spraying the weeds, looked faintly surprised to see a wailing woman leading a chestnut thoroughbred round in circles.

She will have died, this time last year, on the 5th of May. It was the night of my father’s funeral. Anniversaries, it turns out, are a bitch.

The date of my father’s death came and went. I was tense as a drum, but in the end, it seemed to be all right. Then I started behaving slightly oddly: erratic sleeping patterns, a tendency to get knocked to the ground by the smallest thing. A flat tyre nearly finished me off, two days ago. I stared out at the endless rain and the brown skies and thought perhaps I had spring fever. We have had no spring. The weather smashed the daffodils and stripped all the blossom off the trees with a ruthless hand; the garden looked drowned and demoralised. The tulips are refusing even to open. They just stand there, furiously, closed for business.

...

The Horse People

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 25 April 2012

There are horse people visiting. I am beside myself with delight. It means that the full beauty of the mare may be appraised by an expert eye. I find I crave an expert eye.

Getting a horse after thirty years of not having one obeys several laws of unintended consequences. One of them is monomania. I suppose I might have expected that, but I did not. I thought I’d just go for a ride each day, and have someone whose ears I could pull. Instead, I plunge into equine obsession. I am like the little pony girls who only read the Pullein-Thompsons and think that all other literature is bosh. (I actually was one of those little girls; clearly, that jodhpur-booted child still lives in me.)

So when the horse people arrive, I am in seventh heaven. I may speak the language of horse without having to stop and explain myself. There are little things I notice, too. I find an odd, keen pleasure in watching someone who knows how to approach an animal they have never met. There is a rather touching politesse in it. The thing is to come slightly from one side, so the creature can see you, with an open, relaxed body, and to hold out a hand so that it can be smelt. Some people do this with an open palm, some with a slightly curled fist, knuckles upward. The horse then can have a good sniff. Scent is very important. Then there is a miniscule pause, almost a little exchange of information, like businesspeople swapping cards. The horse will lower its head, almost give a small nod of acquiescence, and only then may one give it a stroke.

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In which I utterly fail to achieve enlightenment

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Sometimes, research takes me in odd directions. Just lately, I found myself reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. (This should not be confused with the famous and ancient Tibetan Book of the Dead, which I am strictly informed I may not understand unless I am steeped in Buddhist practice; it is much too complicated and subtle.)

In tremendous arrogance, I thought I knew a little bit about Buddhism. Instinctively, I liked the fact that it had no gods, but believed that everyone, with effort and practice, could achieve enlightenment. That felt nicely democratic to me. I knew a bit about mindfulness, and the thing of stilling the unquiet mind, often through meditation and concentration on the breath.

I knew, obviously, about reincarnation. Someone once asked me if I believed in reincarnation. I said, in my empirical way, that I had trouble with it because the numbers do not add up. If we are all descended from one mitochondrial Eve, then in order to get to the six billion souls that now exist, then an awful lot of splitting would have to go on. (I admit, I may be being too literal about the concept, or to have misunderstood it.)

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A new field

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 04 April 2012

It has taken two weeks for me to fall out with the livery people. Actually, it was not so much a falling out, as them developing a deep antipathy towards me. I thought I was being blithe and charming; in fact, I was clearly having the effect of nails down a blackboard.

It was on account of the rules being unwritten. I suspect that they are unwritten because, to the livery people, they are so blindingly obvious that they do not need stating. In a perfect storm of unwitting misfortune, I broke every single one within the first week.

Walking through the sawmill, for instance. Apparently this is so verboten they need new words for no. I saw the mill, and thought that for conditioning a new horse to a strange place, nothing could be a better test. The more weird things she can see, the more she realises they are not lairs for mountain lions, and the quicker she will settle. I was so proud of her as she bravely went past piles of logs, nameless contraptions, huge sheds, heavy machinery, saws and tractors. I was smiling and laughing. I waved at the sawmill gentlemen, wished them good morning, introduced the mare, made obligatory remarks about the weather.

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