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Oh… HELLO sunshine

Posted by Mum About Town
Mum About Town
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on Friday, 10 April 2015
Oh... HELLO sunshine. We're very pleased to meet you but did have just a couple of quick questions: Are you here to stay? Or just flirting a little warmth and brightness in our direction. You see, your big, bold entrance needs a little planning. And, if you are in fact here to stay, our winter toes and hibernation legs (ditto working upwards) need to know.

But if you're going to be gone tomorrow, we can simply relax. Bundled up in lots of layers is the only way we really know how to dress. A hot sun only confuses British fashion and – let's face – sandals are a minefield to negotiate.

Picnics, BBQs and a freezer full of ice-cream need planning too. Are lunchtime soups already VERY last month? What about sunglasses, umbrellas and that extended scarf?

So while we're very happy to hear the birds chirping, to walk home in evening light and to feel the presence of a yellow ball of glow in the sky, it's just that we need to know if you're teasing. Are you part of some big joke?

Do let us know before there's a hosepipe ban.

Lost in the dreich.

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 29 January 2014
I have now entirely given up my tragical attempts not to complain about the weather. Last week, I heard something I thought madly wise. ‘Experience the rain,’ said a clever man; ‘don’t wish it away’. Ah yes, said my inner hippy, who only wishes to be at one with the universe. That’s the ticket.

This blissed-out, Zennish acceptance of the weather lasted about 36 hours. Then the sloppy sleet started. With gales.

The thing about weather is that it is fine if you only have to go to the shop in it. In that case, the old saw about no such thing as wrong weather, only wrong clothes holds true. The trouble comes when you have to stay out in it for extended periods. Because of my work at HorseBack UK and looking after my own horse, I am outside for about three hours a day. This is nothing compared to the doughty farmers, but it is time enough for the right clothes to become laughable. The wet and the cold insinuate themselves, no matter how carefully one does layering. And I am quite proud of my layering. The chill gets into the bones and will not leave. My coat never entirely dries out, even though I leave it on top of the radiator. (Please don’t tell me to get an Aga, or I shall lose the will to live.)

Tania KindersleyThe determined red mare, wading into the shallows and striking out towards the deep water.

The other trouble is that it is relentless. It’s not a matter of a couple of days of storm and then a new front blowing in. Every day, the sky is the colour of despair. Every morning, my beloved hills are obscured in a dour, beige murk. Because of the horses, I have to check the weather forecast about five times a day. (Weather means discrete actions, in this house, mostly to do with rugging decisions.) Usually, this checking is just a matter of form. Now, it is like reading a Russian novel. It is an old-fashioned forecast, with little suns and fluffy clouds and a short description. For the next seven days it says: light rain, light sleet, heavy rain, snow, light rain, sleet, cloud. The heavy rain symbol is the most threatening: a black cloud with three fat blue drops falling from it.

And then, this morning, I go down to the paddocks to find a loch where my lovely fields once were. The water is so deep and comprehensive that it has a life of its own. It has a current, for heaven’s sake. It is actually flowing to the west, as if it wants to get to the Atlantic ocean.

I stand for a while, nonplussed. The horses watch me patiently. They have found a small piece of high ground, and are waiting there for me to tell them what to do. The friend whose Paint filly lives with my red mare arrives. She has got the whole right clothes thing to a high art. She is wearing a sort of cross between chaps and waders, lined with sheepskin. I regard them with envy.

There is nothing for it. We set off into the water. We are foiled twice, in places where it gets too deep for humans to navigate. We finally find a channel where it only comes to the knees, and wade on. The water is over the tops of my boots and I feel the gloomy squelch as my feet are drenched. We reach a stretch of field which is not under water, by the western boundary, and set up a relay system to get hay and food there. We have let the horses out into the set-aside, and they gaze at us from across the water. Just as we are discussing how we can lead them across, my brave mare makes her own decision. She puts her head down and strikes out into the deep flood, leading her little Paint friend behind her. She’s coming to me, and some absurd water is not going to stop her.

Tania KindersleyPart of the loch that now exists where our fields should be
When she arrives, I congratulate her as if she had won the Oaks. I’m not sure I was ever so proud of a horse. ‘You have the frontier spirit,’ I tell her. ‘You are the kind of horse who would have led the wagon trains to settle the west.’ This is what the weather does to my brain.

‘Well,’ says my friend, looking out over the drowned land. ‘We are lucky. This could be our houses.’

We pause and contemplate the horror of a flooded home. People in the West Country have been going through that; they must be drawing on a stoicism beyond the call of duty. My friend is right. We are lucky. We could be in Australia, where forty-three degrees of heat is baking the country. Huge swathes of America have been entirely frozen by the terrifying polar surge. It could be so much worse.

I think of the look on my thoroughbred’s face as she stalked through water that came over her hocks. It was a dauntless look. As always, I take my example from her. We are British, after all. We shall keep bailing.

Dreams of Wyoming.

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 09 October 2013
I stand, in the wind and the sun, looking out over the blue hills of Deeside, and talk to a woman from Colorado. Bitter gales have suddenly blown in from the north and after the mildness of early October, it feels like a shock. It is now two-coats weather, if you are working outside, as we are this morning. There is the faint suspicion of snow in the air, although the high mountains are still clear.

I am very excited about the woman from Colorado. She works with horses there, and it feels tremendously exotic to have her in our little valley. She comes from San Francisco, went to university in Utah, and now rides about the great spaces of Leadville, issuing grazing permits.

When I get home, I go and look at Leadville on the satellite map. It is serious hill country. It has singing, evocative names for its places – Turquoise Lake, Mount Buckskin, Savage Peak, Wildcat Mountain, Holy Cross Ridge. My two favourites are the heartfelt and descriptive Hardscrabble Mountain and Fool’s Peak.

Morven.Morven.

As the woman from Colorado and I talk, she tells me she worked for two years in Wyoming. ‘My Friend Flicka!’ I shout, wildly. She looks slightly surprised. I attempt to explain that the great horse trilogy was one of the most vivid and totemic parts of my childhood years. I do not tell her that those books once saved me, when I went on a French exchange, to stay with a family who did not speak a word of English. My schoolgirl French was still rudimentary, and I found myself shy and lonely, caught in the comprehension gap. I remember sitting alone in a dusty music room, watching the sunlight muddle through smeared old windows, reading about the Goose Bar Ranch and feeling a passionate sense of comfort.

‘The Green Grass of Wyoming,’ I exclaim. ‘Is the grass really green in Wyoming?’ ‘Oh, yes,’ says the woman, back on surer ground. She has not read the books that entranced me so, and has no idea what I am talking about. ‘It is green. There’s a lot of it. There is nobody there.’

The River Dee, looking east.The River Dee, looking east.

She pauses and looks up at our own hills, our own green grass. ‘It’s not as green as here, though,’ she says.

As I drive away, I feel obscurely proud. Our grass is greener than that of Wyoming. Who knew? This is huge. Dear old Scotland has scored big on the green grass front. I am so puffed up by this unexpected endorsement that I decide to drive the long way home, and take the looping circuit up towards Morven, my favourite mountain. She stands quite alone, not part of a range, towering over the lesser hills which may be seen round about her. She (and I feel very strongly that she is a she) is like an ancient monument or a druid’s shrine, or so I think in my more magical moments.

On the map, this area does not quite have the spell-binding names of Colorado. There is no Hardscrabble Mountain. There is Glenfenzie Burn, and Loch Davan, and Old Military Road, and Balronald Wood.

The view to the south-west.The view to the south-west.

But in life, the views stretch description. At this time of year, the colours grow strong and singing with clarity. The autumn light is thick and yellow, as if some lighting director in the sky has thrown aside caution and pulled out all the stops. It brings out the purple and sapphire blue of the mountains, the shaved gold of the cut cornfields, the sudden flash of vermilion where the trees are turning. The grass, which I take for granted until I am brought to compare it to that of Wyoming, is indeed the green of emeralds, even so late in the season.

I come back by the south Deeside road, which winds secretly through thick silver birch plantations and pine woods, and runs, for a brief, flashing moment, by the indigo of the mighty river. Then I turn over the bridge, back to civilisation, where there are houses and cars and gentlemen in high-visibility coats mending the telegraph poles.

I have dreamt all my life of Wyoming. Since I was a book-mad child, squinting through dying light to make out the print on the page, being warned that I would ruin my eyes, which I duly did, I have had a picture of that great place living in my head. But as I drive through our own hills and valleys and green grass, I realise that there is an actual daily dream, right here, in my small corner of Scotland.

Looking for spring

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 17 April 2013
Usually, by this stage, there are wild signs of the Scottish spring. The earth stirs from its dormant slumber and all the portents are of life and growth. This year, everything is still cold and dark. The oyster-catchers have come in from the coast, for their annual visit. This is usually a moment of hat in the air celebration, as I hear them singing like drunken sailors all night, but even they are subdued at the moment. They wander dolefully about by the burn, looking at each other in bafflement, as if to say: Where is the joyful April sun? The other birds, who would normally be singing their heads off, are silent.

I pick my way through the muddy paddock, trashed after the hard winter, looking for tiny green shoots of grass. The horses, still on hay, dream of verdant pasture. The daffodils resolutely refuse to come out and the snowdrops, which are flowering, lower their heads apologetically. I stare very hard at the garden, looking for signs of hope. The geraniums are poking their green leaves up from the black soil and the cheering hellebores are blooming, but everything else is still shut up for the duration.

Looking on the bright side: the great advantage of there being no grass yet is that there is at least some delightful mud in which to have a really good roll.Looking on the bright side: the great advantage of there being no grass yet is that there is at least some delightful mud in which to have a really good roll.

Spring is having to be internally generated this year. There is no actual blossom, so there can only be the metaphorical kind. I start a new project, dream of the tree-planting programme which is growing in my head, and plot for the summer riding with my mare. I go up to HorseBack UK, where a group of Personnel Recovery Officers are visiting, to see the work at first hand. They shrug off the Scottish dreich, caring not a jot for the rain and high winds. They are so excited and delighted by what they have seen that a bit of weather cannot dampen their spirits. This kind of rampant positivity is contagious, and I come away heartened.

Our one moment of blue sky, with the last of the snow finally coming off the mountain.Our one moment of blue sky, with the last of the snow finally coming off the mountain.

The sun will return eventually. The birds will sing and the flowers will flower and the grass will grow. The heavy winter rugs will finally come off the horses’ backs and they can kick up their heels. In the meantime, I have my sturdy boots and my most excellent rainy day hat. There is no such thing as wrong weather, only wrong clothes.

Admittedly, the sun did come out on Monday. As if embarrassed by its own exuberance, it ran away again pretty quickly, and crazed western winds blew in to threaten the Wellingtonias. But at least it reminded us what it is capable of. There is blue sky in there somewhere, behind the dour clouds. In the meantime, I’m going to generate internal sunshine by having a little bet the lovely Hunt Ball in the 3.55 at Cheltenham. Spring springs for all of us in its own way.

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.

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 I turn into a weather bore

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Everyone in the village looks a bit fed up. We roll our eyes ruefully at each other and try not to talk about the weather and then talk about the weather because it’s all one can talk about. It is five degrees centigrade as I write this. Five. In the middle of May. I actually stood with my mare for about half an hour this morning debating whether to take her rug off or not. The wind was whipping down off the mountain, and, although she does have a good stand of trees for shelter, it is a wide open space, and a lot of weather.

She dozed patiently as I counted the pros and cons. The thing is, horses don’t really like wearing rugs that much; they don’t go about in the wild wearing something developed from the kind of fabric people climb Everest in. (After thirty years of being away from horses, I am quite obsessed with the new rug technology, and bore everyone with it most days. ‘Oh,’ I say, ‘in my day we just had a New Zealand rug, sheet of green canvas with two straps, and that was it.’ I cannot believe that at the age of forty-five I have started using the phrase ‘In my day’.)

On the other hand, I could not bear the thought of her shivering in the absurd cold. She was clipped in March, so her coat is very short; all the protective woolliness of winter is gone. In the end, I decided to let her go unrugged, so she can stretch and roll and feel the air on her back. There are so many funny things I discover as I return to things equine: one of them is that people get really cross about rugs. Apparently, some of them will not put a horse in a rug even in a blizzard. I do not really understand why this causes so much foot-stomping, but apparently it is a thing. (My new favourite place is the forum section of the Horse and Hound website, where I find the rug debate rages with no quarter given, although in a very genteel Horse and Hound sort of way.)

...


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