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A different kind of spring.

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 26 March 2014
My obsession with spring continues, as the season shifts and a galvanic feeling of possibility seizes me. At the moment, this has moved from the mere fact of daffodils and oystercatchers to the human world.

The charity I volunteer for, HorseBack UK, is dependent on the weather. It runs courses for veterans and servicemen and women who have suffered life-changing injury or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, using horses as part of the recovery process. In the hard Scottish winter, the course work stops, and the herd goes out for its winter break, and the time is used for planning and organising and building new partnerships. There is a lot of activity, but much of it happens inside, in the office.

Now, as spring springs, the main work of the organisation gets back into its stride. The herd has come down from its winter hillside, and the horses are reschooled for the serious months to come. This week, there is a gathering of veterans who have come to learn to assist newcomers on the courses. This is a central part of the HorseBack ethos. Once someone has come on a course, they then become part of the rolling voluntary programme, and return to help their comrades in turn. Many of our veterans may never again have regular employment, due to severe mental and physical challenges. This work restores to them a sense of mission and purpose. It is very powerful and very moving to watch.

The returning veterans.The returning veterans.

The lovely thing for me is seeing the good work go on, and also greeting many familiar faces. It’s been a revelation, over the last eighteen months, meeting people who have seen and experienced extremes that I can hardly imagine. I now make jokes about being blown up by IEDs. (Service humour is famously dark.) I no longer feel embarrassed and distanced by my own feeble civilian existence, and the gap between my soft life and their incredibly hard one. Spending time with veterans is a privilege and an education, and it has widened my horizons in a way I can hardly put into words.

Mikey, doing a join-up with a Para.Mikey, doing a join-up with a Para.

Quite apart from that, it is a simple human pleasure. They are so funny and so stoical and so interesting. They josh and tease and make those jokes which I once found shocking and now take in my stride. At the beginning, my admiration for them made me shy. They had shown courage and fortitude which I would never know. They were a class apart. But now, I am part of the gang. I may never know what hand to hand combat is like, but they graciously allow me to enter the group. I do not have to loiter on the sidelines, fearful of saying the wrong thing.

Rodney, one of the HorseBack stalwarts, with his very own Royal Marine, doing a demonstration in the round pen.Rodney, one of the HorseBack stalwarts, with his very own Royal Marine, doing a demonstration in the round pen.

It’s interesting, working for a charity. I did it out of a rather clichéd, mid-life guilt. I wanted, in the hoary old way, to put something back. If you tell people that is what you do, it does sound awfully pious and worthy. But in fact, I get far more out of it than I can ever put back. You could say it is one of the most selfish things I do. Most of all, and perhaps most unexpectedly, it is tremendous fun. I get to see people who should, by any standards, be broken, coming back to life under the blue gaze of the Scottish hills. I get to watch beautifully trained Quarter Horses at work. I get to feel part of something bigger than myself, which is a profound human need. Mostly, I get to laugh and laugh and laugh.

Spring, redux.

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 19 March 2014
Out in the world, strange and alarming events fill the news. The inexplicably missing aeroplane, the Russians continuing their imperial ambitions, the ongoing tragedy of Syria bombard the mind. Here, in the contained, small, rural world in which I live, I concentrate hard on the turning of the seasons. When everything is uncertain, the things of the earth are soothing to a baffled mind.

The elegance of the crocuses.The elegance of the crocuses.

Spring comes late in Scotland. Our snowdrops are only just starting to fade. This morning, I see, with outrageous triumph, the first two daffodils of the year. Pearl the Postwoman arrives, smiling. She looks up at the sky, which is an improbable blue. ‘I thought winter would never end,’ she says. ‘It was so wet and muddy I had trench foot.’

We laugh. I think, for the hundredth time, how splendid it is that we have a postwoman called Pearl. I think: perhaps I can really believe in spring, at last.

Even as the sun shines with serious conviction, there is still snow on the high hills.Even as the sun shines with serious conviction, there is still snow on the high hills.

The first harbingers arrived a couple of weeks ago – the oystercatchers in from the coast, the pied wagtails doing their little dance, the woodpeckers battering away at the trees. But there is always a moment when one thinks it is a great joke, and that the winter will reassert itself, and everything will return to a defensive crouch.

The simple joy of rooting out the first of the spring grass.The simple joy of rooting out the first of the spring grass.

Now, though, it seems as if the matter is in earnest. There really is some warmth in the soil, and the growing things are growing, and the horses relax and bloom, unfurling themselves to the new warmth in the air like flowers themselves. Horses deal with weather much better than humans. They shut up within themselves, hunkering down for the duration with a slow stoicism. Now that the rapier chill has gone out of the weather, they open up, as if they are forming their very own welcoming committee. It’s an enchanting thing to watch. They also get a bit of spring fever, putting on their own little rodeo in the field, bucking and leaping and kicking up their heels and showing off with a few fast canters around the place.

Everything takes on a hopeful aspect. It will still be many weeks before we see a leaf on a tree. The blossom is still a distant dream. But the cold land is waking after its winter sleep, and there really is something magical in that.

Spring.

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Tuesday, 11 March 2014
As world events get very gnarly, and Russia rattles her sabres, the shouting about Scottish independence seems to stop for a moment. The headlines in my little field are all about the changing of the season. Every year, this takes me by surprise.

Crocuses.
We have not had a bitter winter as we did last year, when snow and ice lay on the ground for three weeks at a time. It’s been quite mild, with hardly any of the glittering hoar frosts that usually run through January and only a little snow on the hills. But it has been wet and stormy and we have been hock deep in mud. The thing that wears away at the spirit is the lack of anything growing. At first, in November and December, this stark minimalism can seem quite delightful. The trees look dramatic and sculptural; the single robin stands out like a star actor, because there are hardly any birds around.

But by March, one’s very soul is weary of the nothingness. I suddenly crave green grass and leaves. I stare doggedly at the horses’ paddocks, willing something verdant to begin.

Snowdrops.

The grass is not yet arriving, and the mud still reigns, but, just as I can’t stand it any more, there are growing things. My hellebores are in their pomp, and the brave little winter viburnum is putting on a show. The snowdrops came two weeks ago and are particularly dramatic this year, bigger and bolder than ever before. The first daffodil shoots, which are only just arriving, are starting to poke through the thin turf as if they really mean it. Tiny, delicate, acid-green leaves have come out on my philadelphus. There will not be a leaf on a tree for a long time yet, but if you look closely, you can see the minute buds filling with life.

Viburnum.

Birdsong has returned. I do not realise how silent winter can be until the birds begin to sing again. There is a proper chorus now, so that even the questing lurcher lifts his head to listen. Yesterday, I saw the first pied wagtail of the season. She flew low over the horses’ heads and came to a dramatic landing in the west paddock and preened and flirted about, as if delighted to be back. They go south in the winter, not to Africa like the swallows, but just over the border, perhaps to somewhere charming like Northumberland or the Lake District. The oystercatchers, who take themselves off to the coast, are also back, singing their gaudy songs all night like drunken sailors. They come here to nest and breed each year, and they are the official harbingers of spring. I also saw a perfect gang of black-faced gulls yesterday morning, milling about as if they were at a cocktail party.

It is not quite yet serious spring. But is the promise of spring. And it is like being given a present.

Consider the lambs

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

Workwear dressing for spring and summer

Posted by Nicky Hambleton-Jones
Nicky Hambleton-Jones
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on Monday, 07 May 2012

During the summer it can be a tricky task to choose a work outfit that ensures you remain cool and comfortable, whilst projecting an image of professionalism and femininity in the workplace.

This summer you can survive the heat (when it finally arrives!) and still look smart and chic for the office by investing in a few staple pieces. Blouses are big news. They are light, feminine and can be teamed with tailored shorts, linen trousers or pencil skirts. An ideal wardrobe update, Bastyan has some gorgeous options to choose from, including a Limited Edition Collaborare shirt with a bat-wing silhouette and beautiful luxe style, which will look great in the office worn with a pair of lightweight, slim and stylish taupe jeans or trousers.

Ditch the blazer and go for a short-sleeved, cropped jacket for a cool cover-up which is bang on trend this season. A mustard yellow jacket is super stylish and will instantly transform a basic, monotone office outfit into something more sassy and chic that’ll take you through to dinner and drinks.

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Spring into beauty

Posted by Nicky Hambleton-Jones
Nicky Hambleton-Jones
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on Monday, 30 April 2012

This Spring, make-up is all about embracing your natural beauty and welcoming a pretty palette of pastel shades, peachy hues and flirty pinks...

Complexion Perfection

nhj powder2

Moving from winter to spring can be a shock to the skin as the sunshine starts to peep through the clouds. Ensure your complexion exudes perfection with a fresh and bright glow, using Estee Lauder Nutritious Vita-Mineral Loose Powder Foundation SPF 15, £25.50 (House of Fraser). Begin by lightly sweeping the foundation over your cheeks, forehead, nose and chin for a sheer and satin-matt finish. Nourishing vitamins A, C, E and pomegranate will protect your skin, while delivering a youthful and radiant complexion.

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Lux layering

Posted by Nicky Hambleton-Jones
Nicky Hambleton-Jones
NHJ has not set their biography yet
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on Monday, 23 April 2012
As spring is the time for April showers, cool breezes and warm sunshine, it is important that you dress for the varying temperatures. The best way to battle the elements this Spring is to invest in layering. It’s wise to choose a versatile blazer that can be paired with jeans, dresses and skirts for a super stylish look. It’s extremely important to ensure your blazer fits you well as a poorly fitted blazer is an instant style faux-pas.

This lightweight blazer from Banana Republicwill work well with skirts and dresses for a smart daytime or evening look. Alternatively, pair with slim-fitted jeans and wedges for a smart, sleek day time outfit. It will protect you from cool breezes in the mornings and evenings and can be removed midday when the weather is warmer.





Alternatively, pair a pretty lacy camisole with a lightweight cardigan for a feminine spring look. The wrap front nips in your waist, which is not only flattering for your figure, but transforms the outfit into a more stylish look. This cardigan from L.K. Bennett is the perfect spring staple item as it can be worn with skirts, dresses and pretty floral tops for a chic spring outfit.




Spring in Your Step

Posted by Nicky Hambleton-Jones
Nicky Hambleton-Jones
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on Monday, 16 April 2012

Spring has sprung so it’s time to book yourself in for a much-needed pedicure as we banish our tights and socks, and embrace the spring footwear trends.

I am loving the revival of Mary-Jane heels which have been finished with a vintage-esque brogue tailoring. These styles have been seen at Marni and are the perfect way to emulate the ‘Prim & Polished’ trend this season with lady-like tailoring and chiffon blouses.

These gorgeous Mary-Jane heels from Bertie are ultra-sweet with their chunky block heels and 50’s inspired design. 

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Light and Breezy Jackets

Posted by Nicky Hambleton-Jones
Nicky Hambleton-Jones
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on Monday, 02 April 2012

It’s the yearly dilemma: What to wear when the mornings are crisp, the afternoons are spring like and the evenings are cool? Well, it’s most definitely time to shed your heavy winter coat and invest in a lightweight jacket that will help you in your transition to spring.

I really love gorgeous beige trench coats; they are a timeless classic and flatter all shapes and sizes. Burberry embraced the trend at their S/S ’12 show and similar designs can be seen on the High Street. I love the modern twist Isabella Oliver have given the classic trench this season with the leather trim. Wear with neutral stilettos to keep the look effortless and chic.

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