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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.

It’s just a little bit of snow

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 23 January 2013
I think this is the first proper big snow we’ve had for two years. It is a foot and a half now, and more gathers in the western sky like a mustering army. The roads that go up into the hills are all closed, and the village is empty and silent. One intrepid gentleman slides by on skies, pulling his small son behind him on a scarlet sled. According to the chemist, the only ones out and about are the old people. ‘Nothing stops them,’ she says, smiling.

Tania Kindersley snow

Those same doughty old people will tell you of the winters of their childhood, when they were snowed under for three months at a time. The Scottish weather has changed dramatically in the last forty years. The ski stations at the Lecht and Glenshee have had to rework their business models, because they can no longer rely on a full season of good powder. So even though we are over five hundred miles north of Hyde Park Corner, we don’t get this kind of severe weather very often any more.

Tania Kindersley snow

After four solid days, it gets a little wearing. I stomp through the drifts to take the horses their hay, and spend inordinate amounts of time dealing with the frozen water trough. The equines, who take the weather on the chin, watch in polite interest as I faff about with water bottles and buckets and urns. The snow means everything takes huge amounts of time. Even going down to the Co-op for bread and cheese is like an Antarctic expedition. This morning, it was so frigid that all the doors on the car were frozen shut, covered in a thick layer of frosted snow. I trudge about in my boots and gloves and hat, mildly grumpy, hoping that the power lines will not go down.

Stanley the Dog, on the other hand, thinks it is the most fun he has had since the old queen died. He romps and leaps and gambols in the white stuff like a puppy. I think I should take a leaf out of his book, and not grouse and grumble simply because the elements are not clement.

Tania Kindersley snow

It does have a powerful beauty. All the trees look like ice sculptures, and the distant wooded hills take on a misty aspect, as if they are something from an old water-colour painting. There is a great stillness about, as if the world has stopped, and the air smells clean and sharp, like metal. At night, when I take the dog out for his last walk, the whiteness means that the landscape is almost as bright as day. The snow clouds gather all the light from the street lamps in the village and spread it over the sky, so there is a diffused effect of low amber. It is very hard to describe, but it makes me catch my breath each time I see it.

Tania Kindersley snow
It is a time when I keenly appreciate the joys of being self-employed. My office is my house, so I do not have to get in the motor with spades and chocolate and prepare to be stuck on some snowy commute. I am all stocked up like a Montana survivalist and have made enough chicken soup to last for three more days. I have logs and candles and extra blankets, in case the electricity goes.

I wonder how the Nordics do it. They still have those old Scottish winters; what is weather shock to us is daily life to them. Come on, come on, I think; if the Scandinavians can do it, so can I. What about the great British virtues of stoicism and phlegm? I must summon up my Churchillian self, and fight them on the beaches. It’s just that occasionally, in my weaker moments, I do dream of sunshine. I can’t remember what warmth feels like or what green fields look like. My feet are permanently slightly damp, and I spend half the day with no feeling in my fingers. (This makes typing difficult.) Still, I must not complain. There is no bore worse than a weather bore. It’s just a little bit of snow. The sun will come again.

The last refuge of the scoundrel. Or, dear old Blighty is good at something.

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Monday, 21 January 2013
Snow comes, stealthily, in the night. I stomp down through four white inches and dole out extra hay rations for the horses. They are amazingly warm and chic in their new rug technology. When I was young, rugs consisted of a bit of jute, or the familiar thin green of the New Zealand rug. Now they are made of the kind of stuff that people wear in space. My mare’s ears just peep out of her high neck cover, and she looks so ridiculously sweet that I do not know what to do with myself.

Out in the world, people are dressing up in frocks and winning things. It is a million miles from my muddy boots and the straw that is literally in my hair. (The other day, I went round the entire Co-op with a small nest of hay tucked into my scarf. I only realised when I got home. Everyone was far too polite to say anything.) I catch a quick précis of the Golden Globes on the BBC. Damien Lewis wins, and is charming and touching and thanks his late mother, but in a humorous, ironical British way, rather than the lachrymose manner that is sometimes obligatory at such ceremonies. Daniel Day-Lewis wins, and makes a little joke about the Queen. Adele wins and is just adorable.

I find myself oddly proud. National pride is an absurd thing on its face. It’s the most random thing in the world, where you are born. I did nothing to be British; my mum just happened to be in London at the time I arrived. If I track back through my family tree, there are French, Danish and American antecedents, along with the Irish, Welsh, Scottish and English blood. Yet, almost every morning when I sit down to write, I get a little glow of delight that I am doing it in the language of Shakespeare and Milton, even though they are old dead fellas, who really had nothing to do with me.

As I watch the Brits being clapped by a roomful of successful Americans, I flush with a bizarre patriotism. Look at our lovely girls and boys, being good at stuff. It makes no rational sense, yet there is a keen delight in seeing the excellent Britons being lauded on the international stage. As always, I attempt to make sense of this in my head. But I can’t, really. I hear the old voices, sternly rebuking me. Patriotism, after all, is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Nationalism has led to as many wars and arguments as religion. Lines drawn on a map get armies on the march.

Yet, however nutty it is, pride in one’s place of birth and one’s compatriots can be a benign article. It does not need to be a defensive thing, or a swaggery thing. It is not a zero sum game: all nations have their marvellous points. It does not have to be an imperial idea of mine is better than yours. I get a little uncomfortable when I hear otherwise perfectly sensible American commentators referring to the United States as ‘the greatest country on earth’. National pride can merely be a simple pleasure, so that when the British Olympians triumph, or Andy Murray wins at the tennis, or Damien Lewis is sweet about his mum, one may feel a warm wash of affection for dear old Blighty.

As a country, we are greatly prone to moaning and groaning; we are used to bad news. The economy is a mess, and the forecasts are gloomy. Only this week, John Humphrys was berating the Prime Minister over the mare’s nest that is our relationship with Europe. In the face of all this, it’s rather a relief to remember that there are Britons who are good at things, that it’s not all hell in a handbasket, that just occasionally, in a most diffident and polite manner, one may stand up and say three cheers for us.

In which I contemplate the weather

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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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.


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