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In which I get my hands dirty

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 18 July 2012

One of the things I crave most in life is authenticity. I loathe phoniness almost as much as I hate cruelty. There must be some fascinating psychological reason for this, but I cannot quite work out what. It does seem slightly extreme. After all, most humans are a little bit fake sometimes. Most of us put on a good front, lie politely when asked how we are (default British answer is always I’m fine, even if your life is falling apart), pretend to be more confident or capable or informed than we are. The little white lie is one of the cornerstones of civilised life.

For whatever reason, the authentic is my lodestar. It comes with all sorts of peculiar associations. For instance, one of the things I love most about going back to horses after thirty years away is that I come back from the field with my hands dirty. There is so much horse on my hands each morning that it takes two washes and a scrub with strong soap to get it off. (My nails are now a write-off.) This is the most bizarre source of pride to me.

I am so proud of the dirty hands that often I take them out in public. I was brought up by my mother to be clean and polite at all times, so this goes against muscle memory. Today, I rushed back from riding, and had to run into the shop for vital supplies before I could get to a sink. I handed over my card for olive oil and Bonios with hands black from the mare. I should have felt slightly embarrassed. It’s not what nice girls would do, after all. Instead, a strange dialogue took place in my head. See, said some inexplicable voice, the shop lady now knows that you are a real person, who does manual labour, who gets dirty, instead of just sitting at a clinical computer screen poncing about with words all day long. In fact, the shop lady was almost certainly thinking: could do with a wash.

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