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.

Dog days

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Thursday, 01 November 2012
My darling old dog is in her last days. She has developed an incurable condition and the vet has said the dread words: she shall have to be put down. It may be this week, it may be next, but it is coming.

I fall at once to pieces, overwhelmed by idiot grief. Her sister died last year, and the thought of an empty house, with no glorious canine presence in it, is almost unbearable. It never ceases to amaze me, the animal love. The four-legged creatures trot and canter their way into my heart, and set up shop there, and it doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself that it is not the same as a human, that there are much greater griefs out there, the sense of loss is dark and deep.
tania nov1
Then I pull myself together, because life must go on. In order to distract myself, I write some grant proposals for HorseBack UK, a local charity which I support.  It does sterling work with men and women who have been wounded in war. I can’t remember if I have told you of it before. It is an extraordinary organisation. The veterans come and work with American Quarter Horses, in the blue Deeside hills, and the combination of the beauty and peace, the equine therapy, and the fact the courses are run by those who have been injured on the front line themselves, produces an amazing healing effect. Working with the horses in particular seems to restore a sense of self. Men with no legs can get up and ride out into the hills; a veteran with acute post-traumatic stress told me the other day that he had his first proper night’s sleep in six months.

This proposal thing is a new kind of writing for me. My default writing mode is quite emotional and even, on occasion, a little flowery. If in doubt, I go for the poetical. If I can cram in some Shakespeare or Eliot, so much the better. But if you are asking a serious organisation (in the most recent case, the British government) for money, you can’t do hearts and flowers. In my own personal writing, I dare risk people thinking I am a bit of a flake, but if someone in the Ministry of Defence thinks it, then the jig is up.

I have to learn to rein in my excesses, and be businesslike and empirical. At the same time, because what HorseBack does is so out of the ordinary, I have to try to express that. The sentences cannot be bog-standard, because the organisation is not standard at all. I flip back and forth between the extravagant and the workaday; I ruthlessly examine adjectives for utility.

I am so impressed and enchanted by this operation that I have become quite zealous on its behalf. I dream of meeting a billionaire at a party, and so bewitching him with tales of horses and soldiers that he will at once donate half his fortune to the cause. This is unrealistic on several levels. I rarely go to parties, and I have never met a billionaire in my life. There aren’t too many of them running round the Aberdeenshire hills. Still, that appears to be my new dream.

In the meantime, I apply to foundations and government departments, hoping that if only I can get the words right, the cash may come. It is the most serious form of writing I have ever done. Until now, all that was at stake was my amour-propre. Now, something I type on a page may translate into an actual good, for actual humans, who really need it. It is the best corrective I have ever found for a burdened heart.

The old dog is sleeping beside me. She chased her stick this morning. As long as she does that, I know there is a little life force left. I shall make these last days as sweet for her as I can. I am profoundly sad, but she has given me so much joy. She owes me nothing. I wish she could live forever, but when the time comes, I must send her gentle into that good night.
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