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.

Back to the drawing board

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 12 September 2012

That clip-clopping sound you hear is me, trotting back to the drawing board. One of the things that strikes me most in life is how one can know something in one’s head, but not quite register it in one’s gut. The intellect understands; the instinct rebels.

I know perfectly well that life is not an easy upward progression from one achievement to the next. It is not always rational: A does not always follow B. But the odd Whiggish tendency in me often thinks it is. I may learn this thing, or understand that, and then on I go, towards the sunny uplands. In fact, I often have to remind myself that life is mostly about rolling back down the hill, and having to pick oneself up, brush oneself off, and start all over again.

Oddly, it is my horse that reminds me most of this. I’m ashamed to admit I had got a bit swanky about my abilities. Oh, look at me, with my no hands and my whispering skills and my knowledge of herd dynamics. Watch me make her turn on a sixpence with only a shift of my body, or back up with only a twitch of my finger. Observe us, after only six months of work, in perfect harmony. I’m afraid I even bragged a little of this, only yesterday. I’m pretty good at groundwork, I wrote, foolishly, to someone.

As if the mare had read this email, she decided to give me a little lesson in humility. The wind is up, and when that happens, she gets the devil in her. When I went out to get her this morning, she walked beside me for a moment, and I was congratulating myself on the unshakeable bond between us, on the astonishing fact that I may catch her and lead her without a headcollar, when something startled her, she got a gust of wind up her tail, and she was off. When she goes, she really goes: galloping, bucking, wheeling round, pawing the air, twisting, squealing, every bronco trick in the book. It’s actually a glory to watch, but it’s not exactly the docile, perfectly trained creature that I had been clapping myself on the back about.

Stomp, stomp, stomp I went, round the field, after her. It took an hour’s solid work before I had her where I wanted her; all back to basics, drawing on patience and doggedness, practically getting out the blackboard. By the end, she nodded her head at me, now quiet as an old hound, as if to say: see, you can’t just be taking me for granted. No matter how much work you put into a horse, there are moments when they will just be a horse. You can’t just tick the boxes, and think, oh, well, that thing is done. You have to respect their essential wildness, remember their ancestral voices, understand that the training has to be done every day.

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Back to school

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 05 September 2012

I return to Scotland, after ten days away in the south.

I saw Frankel.

That sentence needs to stand by itself, surrounded by awed space. To see Frankel is one of those things that shall be told to the great-nieces and the future great-great-nieces, when I am crabbed and cranky and loquacious with age, until they roll their eyes and beg me to stop. The funny thing is that most people do not know who Frankel even is. Perhaps he plays golf, they might wonder. Is he that chap who once went out with one of the Spice Girls? Or a fashionable spinner of discs, the go-to DJ for the boho set?

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After the Olympics

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Tuesday, 14 August 2012
In the post-Olympic world, everything creaks and groans and settles itself back to normality. Mr Mitt Romney has chosen his running mate, a tremendous devotee of Ayn Rand called Paul Ryan. France and Germany have released their economic growth figures to reveal that there is no growth. (The markets were braced for much more dire results; no growth is now regarded as a triumph, and the bourses and exchanges all went up on the news.) If you want real bathos, the number one most read story on BBC Scotland’s news website has the headline: Women injured in toppled toilet. Some mean youths, defying the Olympic ideal, pushed it over for a lark.

The weather has reverted to its previous sulky state. Practically the moment Boris handed over the flag, it started raining again, as if the very sky was mourning. I went up to the horse this morning through hills swathed in cloud. You just drive into the cloud, and stay there; it’s quite disconcerting.

And yet, I keep getting happy little flashes of the last two weeks. They are mostly undifferentiated ones of ordinary people smiling and whooping, of crowds going wild with delirium and waving their flags, of walls of sound. (My niece’s husband worked as a technician in the Excel centre, and reported that during the boxing he clocked the crowd noise at the same number of decibels as a Formula One racing car. ‘I think it’s actually illegal,’ he said. ‘I’m surprised health and safety didn’t have something to say.)

I remember the ecstatic rowers and the weeping cyclists and Wiggo and his sideburns and the way his fingers caressed the handlebars of his bike as if he were playing a Bach suite. I remember the horses, jumping and dancing and running their hearts out. I remember the amazed athletes, who never thought they would get near a medal, and the crushed ones, who wanted the gold so much that silver was no consolation. I remember one little boy, caught on camera by the BBC, right at the beginning, saying: ‘It’s like being in Wonderland.’

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All the Olympic horses

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Tuesday, 07 August 2012

Now it seems I have turned into the most monomaniac of one-trick ponies. But the British and their equines really have done something remarkable. On Monday, a fifty-something gentleman with a replacement shoulder, an artificial hip, a broken neck, and goodness knows what else, jumped clear round after clear round over enormous oxers and terrifying uprights. It was not just Nick Skelton who excelled, although I do love seeing the old fellas have their day in the sun; it was not just his three bold team-mates. It was the horses as well.

It’s easy to forget the pressure on the horses, who are, after all, flight animals. They come into a strange arena, filled with ecstatic cheering crowds, waving flags, taking pictures. All the while, announcers are calling through microphones and helicopters suddenly circle overhead. It’s almost a perfect storm of everything the horse is bred not to like. It does not necessarily think: all those lovely Britons are cheering for me. (Although some horses are born performers and rise to a crowd.) It is more likely to think: damn, mountain lions at three o’clock.

My mare doing her own little dressage test, in honour of her compadresMy mare doing her own little dressage test, in honour of her compadres

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Shining silver

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Tuesday, 31 July 2012
The sun shines gently in Scotland as I collapse in a heap after four days of watching the Olympic three-day-event. I rush up to the field and gaze at my own dear mare, who, despite her stellar breeding, would laugh in my face if I asked her to do a flying change. The discipline of three day eventing never fails to amaze me. The horses are trained to a peak of fitness, so that they can last four miles across country, but are then expected to dance into the ring and perform the delicate, controlled movements of dressage. After the hurly burly, the exhaustion and the mad dash of the event course, they must then take flimsy show jumps seriously. Even the best riders sent poles crashing at this stage, so much had been demanded of their concentration and stamina.

Dear old Team GB could not quite get past the mighty Germans, who were in danger of confirming all their national stereotypes with a performance of such efficiency and accuracy that it was hard to believe they were executing it on the unpredictable animal that is the horse. But the Brits were magnificent, and Olympic silver is a stunning achievement.

I got especially excited about Mary King, who is fifty-one years old, competing in the only Olympic event where men and women go up against each other on equal terms, and for whom age is no obstacle. Fifty-one is not old in life, but in any athletic sport it is positively geriatric. Yet there she was, glittering and shining for her country, showing the young ones how it is done. I found something inexpressibly moving and inspiring about that, especially when all the media tells the older ladies is that they have too many wrinkles and must rush at once to the Botox needle.

Mary King patently does not give a stuff about Botox. She is absolutely brilliant at what she does, and has more important things to think about than the lines on her face.  My suspicion is that her only vanity may come in the perfection of her extended canter. She should be driven round the country as a role model for young girls, a perfect example of why it is better to be a brilliant athlete, fulfilled in your chosen field, than to get your face stretched by a surgeon’s knife.

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