Dispatches From The North

Tania Kindersley lives in the North East of Scotland with two amiable lab collie crosses and one very grumpy Gloucester Old Spot pig. She co-wrote Backwards In High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female, with Sarah Vine.

An odd couple.

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 20 November 2013
This week, I said goodbye to a human and a pony.

The human was a dear relation, one of the tremendous gentlemen of the old school. He was of a venerable age, and it was his time. All the same, there is still a sense of shock, as if in the magical part of brain I believe the old people will go on forever.

The small Welsh pony.The small Welsh pony.

I remember this from when my father died. He was eighty, and his body was bashed and battered from years of race riding, from crashing falls, from breaks and cracks and tears. He was entirely ready to go and in the end he slid away easily, after singing a little song for the Australian nurse to whom he had taken a shine. He made it up especially for her. ‘Dahlia from Australia,’ he sang, and then he went to sleep and he did not wake.
And the big red mare, who misses her tiny friend.And the big red mare, who misses her tiny friend.
I had thought I was prepared for that moment, but I was not. It felt oddly shocking, as if there had been a tear in the space-time continuum.

As this great generation goes gentle into that good night, I feel the same sense of wrongness, of lack, of rupture. They are the ones who remember the war. Some even fought in it. My darling godfather, still bashing on against all the odds, served with the Welsh Guards, and after VE day was sent on hush-hush sabotage missions. ‘I blew up bridges and things,’ he told me once. ‘I rather enjoyed it.’ They knew rationing and deprivation. They were not a perfect generation, but they did stoicism and understatement better than anyone. I am profoundly sad that they are going.

I had not seen my relation for a long time, since I moved so far north, but he was a huge part of my formative years, and I remember his great kindness to the young, and so I mourn him, and I regret his passing.

The little pony exists at the other end of the scale. She was my daily companion. She came to us as a friend for my thoroughbred, and the aristocratic ex-racehorse and the scruffy Welsh mountain person made a most touching bond. The red mare still calls for her and looks for her. I look for her too. The field has a gap in it.

Like the gentleman, she too was old; it too was her time. She went very quickly, hardly needing any help from the vet. She was just a little pony, yet I wept bitter tears for her.

It’s always complicated when humans and animals go at the same time. There is supposed to be a hierarchy. How can a highly educated man, capable of abstract thought and complex reasoning, compare to a simple flight animal, who lives on good, basic instincts? The sorrow becomes complicated. There is a voice in my head which tells me, sternly, that it is almost unseemly to grieve both in the same way.

Funnily enough, I’ve been through this exact thing before. On the night of my father’s funeral, one of my dogs died. I found myself torn between the oceanic grief of losing a parent, which changes your world forever, and the simple, expected sorrow of losing an old canine.

Loch Muick, where I said goodbye.Loch Muick, where I said goodbye.

At the time, my sister said a very wise thing. She said: ‘Love is love.’ I write about that plain sentence quite a lot, because I think it is so important, and I need to remind myself of it. There is no hierarchy of beloveds. The ones who stitch themselves into your heart, animal or human, are as important as each other. The space they leave behind is not graded. It just is.

Yesterday I drove down to Glen Muick, a great glacial valley ten miles west, with a loch the colour of mercury and a ring of indigo mountains at its gracious end, to say my goodbyes. It is where I always go, as if I am committing the spirits of the dear departeds to the very hills. There is something about that vast unchanging landscape which allows me to come to terms with life and death.

I said goodbye to a humble pony, and a grand gentleman. I was keenly aware of the slight absurdity of this odd couple. Yet there was a rather lovely rightness to it as well. Death, like love, is a mystery. No matter how many books I read or thoughts I think, I shall never quite get to the bottom of them. But they must both be marked, and so I marked them, in the only way I know.
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