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The Awfulness of the Collective We

Posted by Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 28 August 2013
Summer is almost over. Quite soon, I shall sharpen my metaphorical HB pencils and go back to school, and the radio schedules will return to normal, and the papers will stop commissioning silly season fillers. The worst summer holiday fillers are the ones about going on holiday. They are made more hilariously awful by being written by someone who is just off to Umbria or that fashionable bit of Cornwall, as if Craig Brown has decided to parody the entire middle class, in every single print article in every paper and gazette.

I don’t really get that exercised about this. I am my own parody, after all, with my thoroughbred obsession and my insane William Hill account. (Very happy and bulging after the bank holiday weekend, mostly thanks to man in form James Fanshawe.) But what does drive me nuts in the head is the creeping use of the collective We which infects these fluff pieces. I can’t tell whether it is on the march, or whether I just notice it more. The straw that broke this grumpy camel’s back was a sentence which went something like: ‘We can’t live without our iPhones and iPads, even when we are on holiday.’


As long as this little band is happy, I care nothing for shoes or bad hair daysAs long as this little band is happy, I care nothing for shoes or bad hair days
A furious klaxon went off in my head. What manner of fandangle was this? I had just come back from my own holiday in the Hebrides, where there was in fact no telephone signal, and I had experienced no withdrawal symptoms at all. I had done that great old school thing, and read an actual papery book. (I admit that I did find a place where I could get the internet, and used my computer to put up some photographs of Stanley the Dog getting his first glimpse of the sea, but that was more a public service than anything else.) I did not recognise this We of whom the writer spoke.

It was also quite hard to identify the We. Was it all humans? I imagine that shepherds in Orkney do quite well without iPhones. I would be surprised if the nomads of Mongolia yearn for iPads. Was it then just Ordinary Decent Britons? But surely there must be nurses from Hull and farmers from Shropshire and joiners from Lincoln who go perfectly happily on holiday without any Apple technology. Was it then simply the readers of that particular periodical? Even then, how could the writer be so sure that the entire cohort was addicted to Mr Steve Jobs and all his works? Think about it for even a moment, and the whole notion collapses into nonsense.

And the grooming which concerns me is that of this elegant ladyAnd the grooming which concerns me is that of this elegant lady

The Collective We is flung about with rash abandon. It is used to refer to the political classes, or the voting public, or women, or the media, or even sometimes, on a particularly mad day, the entire human race. It contains a sort of arrogance – I know what this entire assorted group is thinking and feeling and desiring. Its use for the ladies is particularly galling, since it plays to the worst stereotypes, weirdly perpetuated by females themselves. We all want to lose six pounds; we all have our little obsession with shoes; we all yearn for Mr Right. There’s a faux-chumminess in it, a bogus we’re all in it together. The implication seems to be that somehow fretting about cellulite or envying your friends’ more perfect lives is fine, because we all do it. In fact, the writers of these We pieces really mean I. They are usually speaking of themselves; the spurious We simply opens the box of stereotype and shoves everyone else into it.

I carry no desire for Mr Right, have no interest in shoes, and do not wish to lose six pounds. I go happily on holiday without an iPhone. I spent the last week obsessing alternately about the Ebor Festival at York and The Ashes. I suspect I am neither more nor less typical than the next woman. From a most unscientific straw poll, I found that there are many ladies out there just as entranced by Blowers calling every human he meets ‘my dear old thing’ and many who do not know what I am talking about. Imagine if I had written a piece, referring to my fellow females, which began: ‘We are all glued to Test Match Special this week.’ It would be absurd.

The awful thing is that I have a suspicion I may have fallen into the trap of the Collective We in my spotty past. I think I may have thought it warm and fuzzy and embracing. I hope not, but I cannot be sure. As I get older, I grow stricter and more empirical. Show your working, I want to shout, at all these strident collectivists. We, whether ladies, Britons or humans in general, are as individual as snowflakes.

An island holiday

Posted by Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 21 August 2013
Last week, I went on holiday. I went to the island of Colonsay. It was very heaven.

When I was younger, I fancied myself as a bit of an exotic. When I went away, I went to Malacca and Venice and Cochin. I stayed in one of those glorious old black-and-whites in Singapore and drank bloody bulls staring at the Bemelmans mural in the Carlyle. I was hysterically poncy, and I really ought to apologise to anyone who was there.

Stanley herding the sea.Stanley herding the sea.

Now I am a hoary old horse person, dug into the earth. Pretty much every article of clothing I possess has mud on it. I live in bashed-up old boots, and quite often have strands of hay in my hair. (So this season.) I don’t want to fly off any more to glamorous long-haul destinations. I just want to get on a creaky old ferry and see a good Scottish island.

The ferry itself is so hysterically old-school that at one point the ramp refuses to rise, and Stanley the Dog and I watch in interest as an operative in overalls climbs up a rickety step-ladder and starts hitting a random piece of metal with a hammer. It’s the ferry equivalent of kicking the television. Amazingly, it works, and off we rumble. Oban is, as usual, wreathed in rain and low clouds, but two hours out to sea, as the low hills of Colonsay come into sight, a shaft of wild sunshine dances out from the clouds and illuminates the sage green land. Ah, I think, I am back.

Kiloran BayKiloran Bay

I have not been for four years, and it’s like coming home. Everything is exactly the same. The forecast is, as always, dour and dreich. I have brought gumboots and a hat, to ward off the rain. The days when I used to pack bathing suits and sunscreen are in a distant past.

But, amazingly, the next morning the sky is a singing blue and the sun blazes out of a wild sky and the beaches are as gleaming as the Caribbean. All the beauty dials are set to ten. When the Hebrides are like that, there is nowhere in the world I would rather be. I take Stanley to see his first ever glimpse of the sea. He clearly thinks it is a living thing, and attempts to herd it, chasing the waves with faintly baffled determination. I breathe in the strong salt air, those winds that come all the way from Canada, and can sense every atom in my body reviving. I had forgotten about the sea.

Sea and sky as blue as the West IndiesSea and sky as blue as the West Indies

The pace of life slows and settles. My shoulders come down. There is nothing to do but read a book and look at the view and walk on the sand and have a picnic with old and dear friends. I eat langoustine and drink pints of Guinness. Across the sound, the blue hills of Jura wear their customary white hats of discrete cloud.

There are many lovely things about taking a holiday on a Hebridean island. One of the things I love the best is that I have to drive across Scotland to get there. Once you are above the central belt, crossing Scotland is no straightforward matter. There is no direct route. The most modern of technology and advanced of engineering skills cannot counter mountain ranges and long, black lochs. The tiny ribbons of road wind up and down and round the houses. Except, for long stretches, there are no houses. I actually counted the miles: at one stage I drove for thirteen of them without seeing a human habitation, which feels like a miracle in this crowded land mass. The wilderness is so proper that the radio suddenly disappears, with a fizzing phfftt. When you can no longer hear Radio Four, you know that you are out in the lost places. It was just me and the sheep.

Looking across to JuraLooking across to Jura

Now I am back to work, back to normal daily routine, back to rushing about with never enough time. But every so often, I get a little mental snapshot of the wild glory of Kiloran Bay, and the perfect week rushes back to me, and I think how lucky it is that I don’t have to cross oceans to see exotic beauty. One hundred and eighty miles across Scottish mountains, a few leagues of sea, and I am in another world.

A difficult subject

Posted by Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 07 August 2013
I’ve written here before about the work I do at HorseBack UK. It is an organisation which takes wounded veterans, puts them together with American Quarter Horses in the wide Scottish hills, and builds confidence and hope for a meaningful future. It’s very difficult coming out of the institutional nature of the services into civilian life at the best of times; if there are legs missing, or Post-Traumatic Stress so acute that sleep is a fleeting luxury, it is even harder. HorseBack addresses some of those difficulties.

I’ve been volunteering for them for about eight months. I am used to things which once disconcerted me. I’ve never been good at disability; I even dislike the word, although I cannot think of a better one. I had all that very British embarrassment when faced with a person with bits missing. I always felt as if I were in a Bateman cartoon, constantly on the verge of making a shattering gaffe. It’s a don’t mention the war scenario. Now, I am quite accustomed to talking to men with no legs. I know not to do the pity face; I no longer have the acute uncertainty of where to look.

But occasionally, even though I have grown used to the rhythms of military jargon, the sensibilities of those who have served (the blackest of black humour is a trademark), I get brought up short. This morning I spoke to a gentleman who said, quite matter of factly, as if he were remarking on the weather: ‘I was blown up three times.’ It’s not just that; I work every day with a Royal Marine who was blown up twice in Afghanistan. It’s that the being blown up three times was the least bad thing that had happened.

Not all of the veterans can tell you their story. Some of them still cannot give it words. It’s too hard. Some of them will, though. This particular story was so relentless, so filled with horror, that I did have to remind myself to keep my face still. They don’t want a big reaction. They don’t want open mouths and frowns of shock and wide eyes of outrage. As I hear things which make my very brain stretch and snap in incomprehension, I breathe slowly and stand still, and let the thing unfold. I think, and I am guessing now, that what some of them need is just to be heard, to have a witness.

I use my imagination for a living; it is the muscle I work every day. It’s in pretty good shape. What I am hearing is so far beyond my imagining that it makes my puny neuronal paths look like amateur hour. I keep my voice low and ironic and matter of fact. I nod and let the story come. ‘Sometimes,’ says the gentleman, ‘it is easier to talk to a stranger.’ At least I understand that. I want to say I am sorry, but that is beyond inadequate. I want to say I feel privileged that he chose to tell me all this, but that would sound girlish and stupid.

‘Everyone has a story,’ he says, at last. ‘Well, yes,’ I say. ‘But you sort of win the story Olympics.’ I pause. I say, with another dose of low irony: ‘It’s not a very pretty prize.’

The blue Scottish hills

As he tells me all this, we are standing in peaceful woodland, with the blue Scottish hills stretching away to the horizon. Every day, I go out under the benign gaze of these mountains, surrounded by quiet and beauty and the gentle sounds of nature. This morning, as I rode my mare, a buzzard was circling, letting out its mournful cry. The swifts and swallows flew low over the paddock, letting out their own sweet song. Crickets jumped in the grass, the dog found a thrilling stick, the horse let out a low, contented whicker. My daily life is about as far from the dust of Helmand as it can get.

I don’t quite know what to do with this sort of story. But I wanted to record that it was told. The war is not on the front pages any more. There are other more urgent headlines. But the fighting is still going on, its effect is still rippling out, the lives which have been changed by combat are still being put back together. There is that haunting line in the Ode of Remembrance which goes: at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them. I think it is important to remember.

A week of festivals

Posted by Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 31 July 2013
It is festival week in this house. There is the wonderful unfolding of Glorious Goodwood, the most scintillating gathering of top thoroughbred horseflesh since the Royal Meeting at Ascot. Each evening, the storied Galway Festival carrries on its joyful way, a giddy mixture of jumps, hurdles and flat, over one of the most eccentric racecourses found anywhere in Britain and Ireland. Up hill and down dale they go, with only the most balanced horses able to keep their galloping stride. The ongoing festival of the Ashes is about to get into gear again, and even in my own little village there is a party mood, as the green begins to prepare for our annual highland games.

Having a full highland games at the end of the drive is one of the most delightful privileges of living in this place. I can walk down with Stanley the Dog and find the quiet grassy space transformed into a wild medly of pipers, caber-tossers, hill-runners and Scottish dancers. All the clans gather, with their tents, and their quiet, unspoken rivalries: the Gordons eye the Frasers, the Hays stare beadily at the Farquharsons. (The ancient clashes and sackings and castle-burnings are not forgotten, despite the fact that everyone is very polite and smiling on the surface.)

The greatest moments are the two tours of the arena by the local massed pipe bands; when they march past you, you can feel your heart banging in time to the drums. I never thought I would find myself entranced by a hard-stepping phalanx of pipers and drummers, but each year I look forward to it as if it were Christmas morning.

In the middle of all this, I try to do serious work, and keep up with the voluntary job I do for HorseBack UK, just up the road. But even there the festival mood persists, as the dear old Scottish sun shines down and the new foal, almost three weeks old, is so inspired by the thought of Goodwood that she shows off her newly-discovered galloping skills, hurtling round her clover field as if she were practising for the Sussex Stakes.

I wish I could take the whole week off, deck myself in bunting, and become a one-woman festival myself. But I must sharpen my wits and concentrate and stick to my word count. It is quite hard, as the blue skies shimmer invitingly outside, and the best horses in the kingdom roar over the emerald turf in their jewel colours, and, just occasionally, I can hear the faint, distant sound of a lone piper, practising.

8th Music at Paxton Festival

Posted by Steve_Barfield
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on Wednesday, 24 July 2013
5 stars



The annual Music at Paxton Festival (19th-28th July 2013) has become one of the most popular and critically regarded festivals of chamber music in Britain and after visiting the opening weekend of the 8th Festival at Paxton House – perhaps the finest neo-Palladian building in Scotland – I was certainly not disappointed.

Paxton House itself is a rather beautiful example of the neoclassical style, a grand villa created in Enlightenment Scotland as  travellers on the grand tour discovered a new interest in the classical period. Begun by Patrick Home in 1758 the architects were John and James Adam of Edinburgh, it was later extended during Georgian times – while retaining its classical proportions – to create the picture gallery where the concerts take place. The neoclassical setting of Paxton’s Picture Gallery – hung with fine pictures from the National Gallery of Scotland – is the kind of grand salon for which such music is intended and this gives an entirely different atmosphere to the pieces you hear, when compared to viewing them in a large auditorium for example.

paxto-blog1


Fig. 1. The Picture Gallery, Paxton House.

Under the careful eye and ear of festival director Helen Jamieson this joyful celebration of music brings together keen young performers on the cusp of stardom, more established names and enthusiastic and discerning audiences into exactly the kind of intimate space where chamber music really shines. There is an exciting range of music in this year’s festival from things you might expect to hear like Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann to the wilder folk-inspired music of Dvořák, a celebration of the French composer Poulenc who dies 50 years ago, to period baroque works played by Florilegium and a new commission by Anthony Payne in the shape of an octet.

 
However, leaving aside the splendid setting, there is an array of virtuoso talent on display, coupled with some bold, inventive programming. Forsaking a simple medley of the old Romantic favourites, there were surprising, unusual pieces, as well as strong interpretations of familiar, well-loved work.

paxto-blog2

Figure 2. The Rhodes Piano Trio

Pianist Alasdair Beatson and baritone, William Berger, partnered in an opening concert of summer-imbued music with a strong folk element that seems so at home in the wild borders between England and Scotland. They performed songs by Ravel, Fara and Dvořák; Berger showed his ample interpretative skills in bringing these songs to life. It is fascinating to be close enough to the performers to see the expressions on Berger’s mobile face as he literally acted out the story of each song. 

 

In the following concert they joined the renowned Endellion Quartet. This saw performances of two works for string quartet and voice: Samuel Barber’s setting of Arnold’s melancholic poem Dover Beach and Respighi’s sublime Il Tramanto, which uses a translated text by the poet Shelley. Both of these are romantic works, whose seriousness of purpose lies in evoking the beauty of place and which worked extremely well with an audience surrounded by the green countryside of Paxton.

paxto-blog3

Figure 3.  The Endellion Quartet

The effective coupling of two of Schubert’s powerful meditations on death: Death and the Maiden and the String Quartet in D minor, D810 demonstrated the rapport between all of the different musicians and the Endellion Quartet’s ability to conjure up the powerful conflicts and changes of mood in the work. Although not a typical choice to be played together, this juxtaposition did a great deal to make me see their emotional affinities and in particular, the composer’s emotional ambivalence and struggle with his grief over a lost loved one.


On Saturday Beatson undertook a solo recital of Beethoven’s mysterious and musically revolutionary Sonata in A, op. 101, paired with Schumann Fantasy in C, op. 17 – Beatson’s musicianship was a striking as his moving, sensitive interpretation. It is easy to see why he is making such a name for himself on the concert circuit. The Rhodes Piano Trio followed this with a vigorous, and charismatic concert of music by Czech composers that made me rethink some musical assumptions and to consider in particular how the nationalist, folk-inspired music of the nineteenth century became linked to the more experimental primitivist modernism of the twentieth century.

paxto-blog4

Figure 4. Alasdair Beatson


Lastly, if you decide to visit Paxton for a few days, then nearby Berwick-on-Tweed makes for a quietly charming base from where you can explore the many, waiting-to-be-discovered pleasures of the English-Scottish borders. It is a rather forgotten backwater in parts but is full of intriguing places as well as unspoilt countryside. Berwick itself is a slightly sleepy town, where building seems to have stopped with the Georgian period and it allows easy access to the coast – Northumbria after all is filled with wonderful golden beaches and ruined castles – as well as the Tweed river which must be crossed to enter Scotland. The town possesses a set of largely intact Elizabethan defensive walls that can be walked, providing interesting vantage points on the town and some picturesque views of the sea.  Holy Island and Lindisfarne castle are not far away and there are boat trips to see Puffins and other sea life. Accommodation seems plentiful and I very much enjoyed my stay at Alannah House, a Bed and Breakfast set in a 300 year old building in Berwick and run by a very friendly and informative couple, Mr Stephen and Mrs. Lynn Flook (www.alannahhouse.com).

An odd snobbism

Posted by Tania Kindersley
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on Tuesday, 23 July 2013
In my little part of Scotland, there is a quiet pleasure in the arrival of a new prince. Balmoral is not far away; half the shops in the village sport By Royal Appointment crests above their doors. There is a long connection with the royal family in this valley, and an enduring affection. It is not gaudy or flag-waving, but more an acceptance of them as part of the fabric of these hills. The Queen is rumoured to love Scotland as much as she loves her racehorses and her dogs; there is an understanding that this is where a very public set of people can come and be left alone, and the locals take a gentle pride in that. Intrusive journalists and snappers are met with a blank stone wall, as if the very granite of the north-east is used to repel them.

Out on the antic prairies of the internet, the cross voices, as always, are lifted in dissonant song. I see one furious remark, from a disaffected gentleman. ‘Who are these 'well-wishers' who 'throng' outside Buckingham Palace at such a time?’ he writes. ‘Do they really exist? Why?’

I remember this exact thing from before the royal wedding. There is a certain kind of curmudgeon who finds it all too much. I remember too a roving reporter going into the happy crowds who had camped in the Mall, and finding a little boy, all decked out in his red white and blue. The small fellow was about eight, and he expressed his excitement and joy in clear, wondering sentences. He was unaffectedly entranced by the whole thing: the great event, the collective goodwill, the sense of occasion. The reporter went on to find jolly ladies who had set up tents and were making jokes about getting out the gin. It was all very British, slightly eccentric, and wholly delightful. How, I remember thinking, can anyone be cynical about this?

Of course, on paper, in strictly rational terms, the monarchy is absurd. Anything involving accidents of birth is. Although, in a sense, all humans have accidents of birth – you are randomly born clever or kind, sanguine or gloomy, tall or short. But still, being born to a palace and a crown is the accident to end all accidents. I was a tremendously bolshie republican in my youth, when I saw the world in clear terms of black and white. Now, I feel pleased and happy, in the same quiet way that the people of this valley do, at the arrival of a new baby I shall never meet.

It was the crowds that changed my mind. As I grew up, and stopped wagging my finger and being so ruthlessly judgemental, I came to see that there is a lot of simple joy in the monarchy. As ceremony followed ceremony through my formative years, I observed the happy throngs who would come out, with their flags and bunting and very British jokes, and think: how can I look down my nose at them? Because that is what a lot of these sneering voices are doing. They are not just attacking an institution, but all the ordinary people who celebrate it. They are mocking that small boy, his eyes dancing with awe.

These ‘well-wishers’, put into disdainful inverted commas, as if they are somehow bogus or misled, are exactly that. They are good-hearted people who wish a young couple and a new life well. They are not idiots or sheep. They come out because they want to express a benign, collective sense of hope and pleasure, and in uncertain economic times, that cannot be a bad thing. It may be very clever and lofty to look down from one’s rational pedestal, but it’s a cheap shot, all the same. It’s a mean-minded snobbism – look at the ordinary people, with their bread and circuses. It’s a self-regarding way of saying that the mocker is above the common herd.

I say: let the bells ring out, the flags fly, the crowds smile. Ordinary, decent Britons are having a fine summer of it: Wimbledon, the Ashes, a royal birth. These are all straightforward pleasures, a way of shaking the dust of gloom and decline off workaday feet. So much of the news is bad; dear old Blighty deserves her moment of rejoicing.

As I write, people are gathered patiently outside the Lindo Wing in the pouring rain, brollies up, banners of congratulation unfurled. Let the cynics curl their superior lips. I know whose side I am on.

The black helicopters are coming

Posted by Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 03 July 2013
One of the things I like about living in the north of Scotland is the peace. As the day closes and the night comes in, one can hear the cry of the oyster-catchers, the flinging whistle of the swallows, the rustle of the rabbits in the undergrowth. The most alarming sounds are occasional gunshots from the deep woods, and the frankly terrifying cry of the owls as they mercilessly slaughter small mammals.

Two nights ago, the deep quiet of our little village was shattered by the roar and hum of a low helicopter, hovering hardly higher than the Wellingtonias, with searchlights beaming down like something from a science-fiction epic.

The friend whose filly shares my field sat bolt upright at three in the morning, on account of the fact that her house was shaking from stem to stern. The friend, with no idea what was going on, raced down to the field in her pyjamas, intent on checking the herd. They have dealt with fireworks and people out lamping, but low-flying choppers was a whole new story. Miracles that they are, the three girls were standing calm but alert against the slope of the wooded hill, with my red mare in protective stance at the head of her little band. The friend, not thinking that clearly at 3am, then noticed that the helicopter appeared to be following her. Paranoia struck. If the police were on the track of a deranged serial killer, as seemed by now perfectly certain, what would they make of her, in gumboots and pyjamas and bed-hair, no doubt looking like the most intense sociopath?

Eventually, the chopper veered off. Down in the village there were police with sniffer dogs and divers out by the river and around the loch. As dawn broke, a huge manhunt was revealed to be underway.

I, of course, slept through the whole thing. When morning came, and I heard the lurid drama repeated – the entire village could talk of nothing else – I decided that it must be some terrible terrorist threat on the Queen, what with Balmoral being not far away. (I am oddly protective of the Queen in my middle age. I have become like one of those Gor bless you ma’am taxi drivers.)

In fact, the real story turned out to be much less dramatic and much more sad. An old lady with Alzheimer’s had wandered out in the night and got herself lost on the hill. Thanks to the great efforts of the searchers, she was safely found, and the ending was a happy one.

But it did make me think of the conspiracy theorists in America. I follow American politics keenly, and since the gun control debate has been raging there, all the extreme paranoiacs have come out of the woodwork. There is an actual idea, deeply held in certain peculiar quarters, that the government really is out to get the good citizens of the United States. Either that, or the New World Order is coming. Whichever it is, the proponents of these beliefs insist that this is why they must, must, must hold onto their guns. Because otherwise how can they shoot down the black helicopters when they come?

Luckily, our helicopter was not black, but benign. I shall not have to start stocking up on canned goods or train Stanley the Dog to attack government agents. The drama passes; the quiet returns; and once again the only evening sound is of the wildlife in the woods.

Back to reality

Posted by Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 26 June 2013
After the extreme highs and lows of The Royal Meeting - all the intense emotion, beating hopes, absurd bets, ridiculous shouts - I go back to my normal routine. The swifts are doing Spitfire imitations around the paddock, the ducks are teaching their young to swim on the burn, the baby rabbits are ruthlessly eating the garden and effortlessly evading the rather scattered hunting instincts of Stanley the Dog. After a week in front of the television, I emerge blinking into the light and notice that the peonies and the astrantias are out. The white lilac is still blooming, and the dog roses are suddenly in full flower. These things seem to happen overnight.

I return to my work, fingers bash bash bashing away on the keyboard. My week off has done nothing for my shaky time management, and I revert, as usual, to my customary half an hour behind. Everything seems very normal.

Then, at nine-thirty at night there is a heavy rap on my door and I find my neighbour standing outside saying those dread words: ‘The horses are out.’

I’m not sure we shall ever get to the bottom of it. Our famously placid herd, with whom we have worked so hard on desensitising that they will walk without a twitch over shiny tarpaulins, past flapping sheets, under waving flags, suddenly went so mysteriously loco that they completely smashed and trashed a section of sturdy post and rails. My two girls share a paddock with a little American Paint filly, and her owner rushes down with me in the bright Scottish night light to see the devastation.

The neighbour, amazingly, goes off to get serious joinery tools and manages to fix most of the fence before the light started fading at 11pm. The other neighbour roars up in his truck and hurries off to check the bounds for intruders or any possible thing that may have spooked the mares enough to produce such an uncharacteristic reaction. The Paint’s owner and I are torn between gratitude at such kindness and utter bafflement at how such a thing could have happened. The most inexplicable aspect is that the broken rails are forced and splintered from the outside in, not, as you would expect, from the inside out. The angles are all wrong.

Even more astonishing, the two big mares (the little one has not joined in the mayhem, and is found grazing peacefully inside the paddock as if nothing has happened) have only suffered a couple of surface scratches, nothing that can’t be fixed up with a good application of the miraculous Wound Cream which rightly carries the seal of Royal Appointment. The thing which finally makes us laugh is that having somehow barged out of their field, the errant pair are found by the top gate, trying to get back in, as if to say: so sorry, our mistake.

The two miscreants, safely back in the field, looking as if butter would not melt in their innocent mouthsThe two miscreants, safely back in the field, looking as if butter would not melt in their innocent mouths

All horse owners dread this kind of thing. Horse people tell each other grisly tales of this equine which ran all the way to the village trailing a bit of broken fence behind it, or that poor gelding which smashed its way through a gate in the middle of the night, or this accident-prone foal which got itself tangled up in electric fencing. Horses, so big and bonny and strong, half a ton of sinew and muscle, are also shatteringly fragile. One wrong step can bring them down.

We have been lucky so far, so our summer night drama came out of the blue, shocking us to the core. Thanks to whatever fates watch over the field, and the kindness of neighbours, the story ended happily. Although I realise that up till now I have perhaps been too sanguine and cavalier, and am contemplating laying in some strong brandy for any future emergencies. The horses can get by on love and reassurance and Wound Cream; I need hard liquor.

Consider the lambs

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Tuesday, 07 May 2013
I wanted to tell you, very much, about the lambs skipping in the fields. Then I thought: oh, don’t be ridiculous; everyone knows about the lambs. The creatures do not need to be described.

I suddenly realised that this is not so. I thought: most people now live in towns or cities. I like to check my working, so I looked up the figures. It seems that just over six million people make up the rural population. That’s a great many individual souls, but in terms of the demographics of dear old Blighty, it’s a tiny minority.

Since we are on statistics, my absolute number one favourite statistical question is this. Can you guess how much of this green and pleasant land is actually built on?

Tania Kindersley lambs

I’ll give you a minute, to calculate in your head. When Mark Easton of the BBC first asked this question, and went searching for the answer, I remember thinking of all the parks and forests, of the rolling wildernesses which are only ten miles from my front door. For built areas, I guessed about twenty percent. The actual figure is 2.27%.

There’s something here that is curious. I feel the implications sliding against each other like sandpaper in my mind, but I can’t quite come to any conclusion. About ninety percent of the population lives on two percent of the land. Can that be right? Does it mean anything? It seems incongruous and in some ways portentous to me, but I can’t quite work out why.

The point is, that if I write about skipping lambs, and how they really do gambol and shoot vertically into the air and do amazing bronco tricks when they are only days old, that is news, to quite a lot of people. They really don’t see lambs every morning.

Tania Kindersley lambs

Yesterday, the old farmer brought a three-day-old trio down to the south meadow. (There is the old farmer and the young farmer, father and son, whose family has worked the land round here for generations.) I watched him and his little grandson put the new arrivals into the field with the rest of the flock. The young boy, who could not have been more than nine, was dealing with one of the lambs who did not want to get out of the trailer. He picked the wiggling creature up in a sure grasp, front legs in his two certain hands, and deposited it onto the grass.

‘He’s got the touch,’ I said. The old farmer’s weathered face creased into smiles of pride.

We talked for a while about the winter and the weather and how the ground was still four degrees below what it should be. We are at last getting some sunshine and warmth now, but all those of us who rely on the green grass – him for his livestock, me for my horses – are counting the days. We calculate that we are about three weeks behind.

Tania Kindersley lambs

The country is deep in my bones. I grew up in it. I spent my childhood running wild in a farmyard and a stable. There were only two rules: don’t go near the grain dryer, in case we fell in and drowned in corn, and don’t approach the double door stable of Charlie the Bull. (Charlie needed two doors, because he was a mighty beast.) As soon as I was old enough, I rode pretty much every day on the wide downland that characterises the Lambourn valley. I was brought up with earthy smells: of dung, of hay, of horse, of cattle.

Scotland is a very different sort of country, but the smells and the sense of clean air and wide skies is the same. It runs in my blood in the same way. The city is the lovely, dancing, antic time of my twenties and thirties. Now, I come back to where I started: looking for the first blossom, listening for the call of the woodpecker in the woods, discussing the very temperature of the soil. This is my first language. When the mare whickers for her morning feed, it is the sound of home.

Dreams of green, green grass

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 24 April 2013
The talk of the village is the continuing non-arrival of spring. Even the vet is fed up. The vet is a very dazzling sort of professional indeed. He is a horse specialist, and has more spiffy kit and 21st century technology than you can shake a stick at. He can talk you through a scope like nobody else. When he is not being a vet, he rides and breeds polo ponies. He has a beautiful thoroughbred stallion, whom I am going up to photograph the moment the sun comes out. (This occasions about twenty-seven emails, saying things like: forecast suggests there might be watery sun around 4pm.) This gent is not a moaning Minnie or a negative Nelly. He is usually smiling, under his stockman’s hat. But even he suddenly exclaims: ‘I am fed up with this weather’.

The moment the weather is mentioned, the floodgates opened. We mourn the plight of the farmers, who roar around in their old Landrovers with bleak faces. Tales are told of entire crops having to be ploughed up because not a single sown seed sprouted. The ground is still so cold that even the potatoes have not put out a shoot.

At least the dear old blue hills still look stately under the threatening spring sky.

I met a grass specialist last weekend. In my old life, when I was running round the Groucho and those nice transvestite clubs in Soho which I preferred (best lipstick tips in London) I would have fallen on the floor laughing if you told me I would be riveted by a grass specialist. As it is, when I see him and he mentions, rather diffidently, his interest in grass, my eyes light up like those of a maniac. ‘Oh please,’ I say, trying not to sound too keen and crazed, ‘tell me about grass. It’s all I think about, aside from American politics and who will win the 5.30 at Punchestown.’

So then we talked about grass for an hour. It was one of the best conversations I’ve ever had. I’m not inspired to broadcast a wild meadow mix for the horses. But that is still a dream, since the coldness of the ground means that the little green shoots are still stuttering and debating and wondering whether it is all right to come into the world. I tiptoe round the field, bent double, my nose on the ground, searching for the verdant signs of life. There was a bit of jubilee yesterday, when I went down for evening stables to find the horses actually grazing. They were ignoring their fabulously expensive pile of hay, and had found some pasture. I whooped into the still evening air.

This is what such long periods of weather do to you. You become a grass detective. You tell endless stories of farmers in Wales pulling lambs out of snowdrifts. You study the two-hourly forecast until your eyes give out. I wonder sometimes if meteorology is character. No wonder the people of North-East Scotland are so tough. They deal in brevity; there is no floweriness or spurious charm here. By contrast, the easy-going Mediterraneans may be as they are because they knew pretty much every day would be a sunny day, and they never had to go and rescue the sheep from twenty feet of snow.

I refuse, unlike some people I know, to throw in the towel and fly away to find some warmth. Besides, I have to look after the horses. But I do dream of blossom, and leaves on the bare trees, and green, green grass.

The Western Way

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 10 April 2013
One of the things I like most about the work I do for HorseBack UK is that I get to meet a dazzling variety of people. One day, I may find myself talking to someone who served in the dangerous streets of Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles; on another, I may discuss all aspects of the art of farriery. Today, I met a remarkable woman who is a Western riding champion.

Western is not a discipline I know anything about. I was brought up with racehorses and show ponies. Western was something I saw in old films with John Wayne in them. It was as distant from the wide downs of the Lambourn Valley as science fiction.

They use Western riding at HorseBack for many reasons. One is that, for a beginner, or someone with serious physical challenges such as prosthetic legs, the saddles are amazingly comfortable and easy. They are big, raised fore and aft, so that they cradle the body, giving a wonderful feeling of safety. On a very basic level, it’s much easier for someone with no knowledge to get on and go.

HorseBack UK instructor Jess March shows off the Western styleHorseBack UK instructor Jess March shows off the Western style

This can give the impression that Western is somehow cheating, the mimsy province of the phoney cowpoke wannabe and the rank amateur. According to my riding champion, other disciplines like dressage can be very snooty indeed about the Western way. It’s not considered proper.

Proper be damned. I grew up with a bit of dressage and eventing, and know all about those. But my new exposure to Western has shown me that it is as delicate and nuanced as anything the English have produced. It may have its roots in ranching instead of the military, but there is nothing inferior in that.

The other thing that is enchanting about it is how relaxed and sensitive to guidance the horses are. They respond to the merest shift of the body, and move along gracefully on a loose rein. It is instructive that instead of talking of the canter, Western riders speak of the lope.

The Western saddle, in all its gloryThe Western saddle, in all its glory

I love the idea of loping. It opens whole new horizons of delight for me. I am seriously considering re-training my thoroughbred mare in the discipline. I think: how glorious it would be for her, after her years of racing and polo. We can become cowgirls together, and ride the trails of Scotland as if we were in the green grass of Wyoming.

Snow joke

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Tuesday, 26 March 2013
On and on goes the weather. The snow blows in and out, sullen and relentless. Every single conversation in my village centres around matters meteorological. People spar over their preferred forecast, and make gloomy long-range predictions. (No change till May, I heard someone say yesterday.) An ex-Marine I know who used to fly helicopters does not mess around with the namby-pamby civilian weather maps, with their little cloud and snowflake symbols, but goes straight to the hard-core professional numbers, where he can interpret isobars and barometrics. Even he, a hardened professional who complains of nothing, is a little baffled and battered by this endless bombardment. ‘I’m blood fed up,’ he suddenly shouts.

tania march26 Our brave old telegraph poles, which are staunchly holding up against the weather
The snowdrops have disappeared completely and some puzzled daffodils are just poking tentative green shoots through the icy white. The horses wade carefully through the dirty snow and sucking mud, comforting themselves with the good hay. They are actually staying very calm and fatalistic, although I do think my dear mare must be dreaming of the southern springs she used to know. There’s no question of doing any actual work with them, the ground is too treacherous, so we just feed them and gentle them and hope for better days.

I make a bewildering variety of soups, in a last-ditch effort to stay warm, and feel passionately grateful that the power is still on. The poor people of Arran have been without electricity since Friday, and despite a team of 150 engineers being shipped in to the island, there is no end in sight. Astonishing pictures of buckled pylons and twelve-foot-high drifts litter the internet.

Even with my radiators blazing and my boiler cranking away like a Trojan, my house still carries a chill. I think of the old, fierce winters, the famous freeze of 1947, when snow fell every day from January 22nd to March 17th. There would have been hardly any central heating in those days. I wonder how the poor people of Blighty managed. They would have been exhausted from the war; rationing was still in full force. They must have had to call on every last ounce of Blitz spirit.

One of my neighbours is so beaten by the cold that she finally snapped, got on the internet at midnight, and booked a ticket to Majorca. I look at their forecast. Twenty toasting degrees. I can hardly even imagine what that must feel like.

Still, there is proper British stoicism to draw on. The stoic runs through the character of North-East Scotland like the granite that is so much a feature of the landscape here. I admit that I have been freely resorting to cake. No doubt a little whisky may also be prescribed. But there’s nothing for it but to keep bashing on.

In which weather takes on vanity, and weather wins

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Thursday, 14 February 2013
The snow comes barrelling in again, this time, rather oddly, on gales blowing up from the south. There is no warmth in them, whatever their origin, and wind-chill now becomes a subject of intense importance. I try not to moan about the weather, and fail. An amber warning is out for the region, and many conversations now revolve around the correct application of layers. Layering is the only way to keep warm, at this stage, and must be taken very seriously.

Working with horses in these elements means that all vanity is fled. It really is what the business types call a Zero Sum Game. Either I can keep my equines warm and fed and comfortable, or I can look respectable. There is absolutely no way to do both. Clothes, boots and often face are spattered with mud; every woollen article I own has little bits of hay clinging to it. Due to the crucial application of a hat to fend off the blizzards, my hair has become unspeakable.

My current sartorial look, seen when giving the mares their morning haynets. The hat, of which I am rather fond, came from the tremendous N. Armison and Sons of Penrith, established in 1742. I'm not sure the hat was designed for feeding horses in the snow, but it does the job very well.My current sartorial look, seen when giving the mares their morning haynets. The hat, of which I am rather fond, came from the tremendous N. Armison and Sons of Penrith, established in 1742. I'm not sure the hat was designed for feeding horses in the snow, but it does the job very well.

In the equine brochures which now thump through my letter-box, people who have clearly never been through a Scottish winter show off all kind of horse-wear, in varying states of pristine immaculateness. I gaze at them with a hollow laugh. My default mode now involves low-level dirt at all times.

Funnily enough, I think this is rather a good thing. It’s nice to brush up well, every so often; to put on one’s lipstick and get out a velvet coat or a shiny pair of shoes. Occasionally, I do manage to graduate from mildly damp socks. But so much of the media seems devoted to telling women that they should aspire to impossible levels of loveliness. We must be willowy and elegant and perfectly dressed, like this film star, or that model. It’s rather lovely when that simply is not an option. I do not have to feel like a failure in the glamour stakes, because there is no question of even making an entry.

I do dream of spring, when I no longer shall have to tog myself up like the Michelin man. It shall be rather charming to cast off the exclusive scent of wet horse. (Not exactly Chanel No 5.) But in the meantime, I quite like that fact that there is no room for vanity. I am a creature of the earth, just at the moment, stomping through the mud, head bowed against the wind, getting the important things done.

In which I contemplate the weather

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Monday, 10 December 2012
I scan the horizon, looking for weather. I scan the internet too. I am old school and new school. After many days of investigation I have found the best weather forecast, with helpful two hourly reports and a seven day long-range prediction. The only problem is that it changes from moment to moment. Yesterday, the seven days were: sleet, sleet, light snow, fair, light snow, rain, fair. Then it changed to mostly fair. At one point, someone at the meteorological centre got a bit giddy and put up some yellow sun, admittedly hedged with cloud.

All this is because of the horse. In my old life, I did not worry about the weather. It was wet or cold or frosty, or it was not. It only meant that I might have to wear a hat. Now, the weather is stitched into the very sinews of my life. It dictates how much hay I need, and what rugging programme should be implemented. The detachable neck, the under-rug, the mediumweight, or the serious winter heavy?

There are people who are frightfully butch about rugs, and insist they are the work of Satan, and that horses should be allowed to revert to their natural state. The animals will grow good long coats; they will build up a clever insulating barrier of oil against the skin which acts as a waterproof. It is unnatural, even unkind, say these zealots, to cover the poor animals in heavy clothes.

I see photographs on all the absurd horse sites I follow on Facebook of glorious equines, quite rugless, frolicking in the snow. But these are usually native breeds, hardy Icelanders, sturdy mountain ponies or the Highland strain. My darling mare is descended from three Arabian sires; her ancestors started out in the high, dry desert plains. Admittedly, the thoroughbred foundation sires were sent to good Irish mares, who must have had a bit of bone and toughness about them; that is where you see the strong steeplechasing horses come from. But still. I am not sending my delicate lady out naked into the Scottish winter.

I think that I am a bit like a farmer now, reliant entirely on the whims of weather. It has been bad lately; I struggle through wind and ice and snow to get the outdoor work done. People talk doomily of Siberian fronts bringing the most bitter winter for a hundred years. How shall the mare and I get through that, I wonder?

There is a faint hysterical edge to the meteorological reports. Channel Four is even running a whole programme about whether the weather is going to hell in a handcart. It’s not just that there may be no respite till March; there may be no respite ever. It’s all going to be freezes and floods and every kind of disaster. The way people are talking, you might think that poor Britons shall never see an ordinary sunny day ever again.

Sometimes I give in to the doom. As I skitter and skid and strain every muscle not to fall over, I wonder if no-one shall ever rid me of this turbulent ice. Then I remember the old men round here, who will tell you tales of their childhood winters, when they were snowed in for three months at a time. Now, our snows last for a week at most. Last season, there was a three week snow, which was regarded as very remarkable indeed. It was nothing compared to what those old-timers lived through.

There is a seam of granite which runs through these north-eastern Scots. It is in the landscape, where that stone is indigenous, and it is metaphorically in the character. There is a doughtiness here that astonishes me still; it is nothing like the soft south where I grew up. It took a bit of getting used to, when I first moved up here. It can come out as curtness; strangers sometimes think it almost rude. But it is just a very splendid attitude of getting on with it. Historically, merely surviving in these parts required a gaunt steeliness, and that strain lives here still.

I like it. I can learn from it. Even my highly-bred duchess is toughening up, taking this hard northern weather in her stride. Even if it is the worst winter ever, we shall stock up on hay, and rug ourselves up, and put our heads down, and bash on through.

Where the heart is

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Monday, 26 November 2012
It’s strange how one changes, as age marches on. When I was younger, I was a careless traveller; I thought nothing of leaping on an aeroplane at a day’s notice, and running off to Manhattan or Cochin. Now, leaving home is like a physical wrench. I like to imagine I am a citizen of the world, but sometimes I think if someone told me I would never again be able to leave Scotland, it would come as a slight relief.

As I come to the end of the first week in the south, staying with the cousins I visit twice a year, there is the usual sense of bittersweet. It is enchanting here: a charming house, a happy family, delightful dogs, green fields to walk over, a rambling garden to explore. I have all possible love and comfort; there is good conversation and good jokes and good food and fine wines. There are even horses to divert me, since the cousin’s husband runs a polo yard. I go outside to see his summer stars, all dopey and furry and relaxed in their winter coats, enjoying their lazy months off.

Things I miss number one: the mountainThe things I am missing. Number one: the mountain

Yet the sight of them makes me miss my own mare, and my own field, and my own equine routine, which has become such a defining part of my daily life. Getting out before breakfast to do the feeding and grooming and riding and groundwork has become the most meaningful part of my day. Writing, which is my job and my love, obviously gives its own definition, and I could not exist without it, but, oddly, it is the hard physical work, out in the mud and the air and the elements, which currently gives me the most joy. It’s not necessarily what I would have expected.

Slowly, slowly, for all the joy of being here, I feel the homesickness build. I am so dug into Scotland, I even find myself missing the mountains. There are no mountains in the south; I scan the horizon fruitlessly. I miss the glacial valleys and the dark Scottish woods and the blue hills and the weather coming in from the north-east. I did not grow up there; I had almost no knowledge of the place until I moved north, on a complete whim, fourteen years ago. Belonging is such a curious and nebulous concept, but the very landscape has stitched itself so deeply into my heart that leaving it, even for a short time, creates a slight gap in me, as if something is missing.

The things I am missing. Number two: this faceThe things I am missing. Number two: this face

This does all sound a bit flaky. It’s just a horse and a few hills, after all. One must get out in the world; I have hermit-like tendencies which should not be indulged too much. But then I imagine the thing as if it were the other way round - if I did not miss home, if I had no sense of belonging, if I did not yearn for the mountains - and I think how awful and arid and sad that would be. It might make my social life rather more complicated, but I wonder perhaps it is not a great piece of luck and privilege, to find a place where I am so deeply rooted. They really are my hills, and I lift my eyes up to them, and find my strength.

So we beat on

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Thursday, 08 November 2012
The sun shines, out of a pellucid Scottish sky. The beeches have turned a colour for which I have no word. Scarlet would be paltry and insulting. Outside, men are doing manly things, mostly involving tractors and those huge machines with the vast digging claw at the front. I just ran into two fellows who were chopping up socking great trees. They were so pleased with their own manliness that it made them laugh.

I’m always a bit startled by this sort of thing. I spent most of my life surrounded by metrosexuals and homosexuals and trannies, before I came up here. Admittedly, I did grow up amongst hardy racing people, but all my brothers and most of my male cousins are tremendously camp. The butch male in full cry is mildly surprising to me.

I try to get on. I run errands. I make mushroom soup for my mother, in a blatant attempt to get to the top of the children’s list. I think about work. I do not actually do any work, but I think about it, which is a humming step in the right direction. After my father died last year, I could not work properly for three weeks. All my concentration was shot. I am in awe and wonder of those people who quickly get back to normal after a bereavement. Robert Peston lost his wife not long ago, but there he is, on the BBC, still knowing everything about the economy, his distinctive voice strong and steady, even making jokes with the presenters. That’s real Blitz spirit, I think.

I’m not near normal yet. The world swings on, but mine has a space in it. I really, really miss my dog. I veer between thinking this is perfectly normal and scolding myself for overcooking the whole thing. She was with me every day for ten years, I suppose. That’s a lot of companionship. Because I work from home, and rarely venture far from Scotland, in terms of sheer hours I probably spent more with her than with any other sentient creature. Even in the house, she was my faithful shadow, following me from room to room, patient and questing. I miss odd things, like the sound of her paws on the wooden floor, and the sheer beauty of her. I am suffering an aesthetic lack, so I stare very hard at the hills to get my share of loveliness.

On the other hand, I am aware that this is a most ordinary, small grief. I once looked up the number of human deaths in Britain each year, for a book. It was around six hundred thousand. I remember being astounded by the thought of all that mourning. That’s an awful lot of funerals. That’s a lot of empty rooms. And yet everyone goes on, without making a fuss. I must not make a fuss, I think.

In the flower shop, in the chemist, in the newsagent all the kind village people remark on the weather, which is fine, and ask how I am. ‘Very well, thank you,’ I say, lying. I want to say: MY DOG DIED. But you can’t say that, because it sounds silly, and no one knows what the correct response is. The dog people get it, but everyone else would not really understand.

The horse gets it, oddly. Horses are amazingly telepathic. She follows me about the field, whickers sweetly at me, lays her head over my shoulder, gently pushes her forehead into my chest. She is as soft and dopey as an old dog herself. The furry Welsh pony, on the other hand, has no time for sentiment. She just wants the pony nuts she knows I have in my pocket, and cooks up four different plans to get them. This ruthless streak makes me laugh.

I cast about for a good last line. There must always be a good last line. My old teacher, Mr Woodhouse, taught me that, when he was training me to write history essays. I don’t have a good one, so I’m going to steal a great one. This is what just came into my head, from the end of The Great Gatsby, a book I used to read once a year, when I was in my twenties and quite obsessed with F Scott Fitzgerald. ‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’ Yes, I think; that will do.

Preparing for winter; or, the search for the perfect glove.

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 17 October 2012
The weather has suddenly grown deathly serious. This morning, the temperature was minus three degrees. That is proper, no messing cold. The thing that interests me about weather is how much difference height makes. I know this is an obvious point, and if I had any meteorological knowledge it would not surprise me so, but it does. My horse lives three miles from my house, up a hill. As I drive to see her each morning, I watch the degrees drop, their little red numbers falling on my car dashboard. It is usually two or three points colder up there, just because of a short climb. The mountain shows the difference height makes, too. It is already wearing its demure cap of white, where the first snow has come.

Because this is the first Scottish winter with my mare, I am thinking about the weather in a completely different way. Normally, when the mercury falls, it is just a question of battening down the hatches and making sure I have enough heating oil, and dreaming of stews and soups. Now, it is a whole different ball game.

It’s all the general equine stuff: rugs, extra food, sourcing a good supply of hay. The hay has been a nightmare this year because of the wet harvest. I have not thought seriously about hay since I was fourteen years old. Now, it haunts my dreams. And then there is the human stuff. As I get older and creakier, I find that my hands do not work well in the cold. I have to make some serious glove decisions. Usual woolly ones won’t do because they will get wet and dirty; leather ones are too clumsy and stiff for doing up rug buckles. I used to obsess over writing the perfect sentence; now my mind is filled with the perfect glove.

There is also the glamorous question of thermals. There shall be the purchasing of industrial quantities of socks. Luckily, I have found the ideal coat, a lovely puffy thing with a fur hood, so that I look like Nanook of the North. I bought it over the weekend and, when I first went up in it, I must have looked so much like a terrifying Eskimo that the small Welsh pony actually ran away in fright. It took me about ten minutes to convince her that I was still the same person who gives her her tea and scratches her sweet spots.

Winter this year shall be an outdoors operation. There will be dark mornings when I may rue the day I rashly bought a horse, when the sleet is falling and I am hock deep in mud. But mostly I think it is a rather lovely, healthy thing. I like the fact that I shall not be stuffing indoors, but shall stride out in the elements, however extreme they might be. As if to encourage me, the mare was at her sweetest and best this morning. We rode through the hoar frost in easy harmony, with the white-capped mountain gazing down on us in benediction. Her head was down and her neck was relaxed and she carried herself with quiet grace. That’s what makes it all worth it. I grew up in a stable; one of my most vivid childhood memories is of my father getting up at five-thirty every morning to do the horses. I used to follow him out in the pitch dark, to help. Now, forty years later, I am back to that stern regime. It’s just a bit of weather, I think; I can take it.

In which the sun shines

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Even the glory that is Scotland can look a bit demoralised after days of gloom and cold and dreich. With no spring to speak of, I felt my spirits lowering and my shoulders hunching against the daily chill. Today, there was sudden, blinding, serious sun. I went up to the horse with a rising heart.

In celebration of the warmth, I decided to try a new technique. Coming back to horses after thirty years, I am operating on old, childhood instincts, ancient things known from growing up in a stable. But I am also wide open to new things, to learning anything that will make my mare happy, and will make my life with her easier and sweeter. Just because I grew up with racehorses does not mean I know it all. So I have been reading a lot about natural horsemanship (or, in my case, horsewomanship). Some old hands scoff at this, and don’t like the idea of it at all; it’s seen as a namby-pamby, new age lot of nonsense.

Tania Kindersley's horse

...

Into the wild

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Today, I rode out into the glen.

I really love being able to write that sentence. I think how soaringly lucky I am to be able to write that sentence.

First of all, I am damn lucky to have a glen on my back doorstep. That is not something everyone has. Although, interestingly, most people, even quite old friends, think I am a little bit nuts to live so far north, almost six hundred miles from dirty old London town. I adore London; I lived there for almost twenty years. I love the National Portrait Gallery and Bar Italia and driving through Hyde Park early in the morning before anyone is up except for the cavalry officers, schooling their horses. But London does not have glens.

...


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