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.

The unsung four-legged heroes of the Olympics

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 25 July 2012

I’ve decided that I shall officially get excited about the Olympics. There is, of course, a huge amount to grumble about. The car lanes stuffed with sponsors and bogus VIPs, the ghastly creaking corporate bandwagon, the idiocy of having a great sporting event sponsored by crappy hamburgers and sugary drinks, the security fiasco: all make one’s heart sink into one’s boots. But it would be sad to allow all that to obscure the human side.

This morning, Alice Plunkett, whom I watch all winter as she presents Channel Four Racing, tweeted that the lovely Lionheart had set off for Greenwich. He is the horse of her husband, the great eventer William Fox-Pitt. As all the noise is of the famous sprinters, the swimming hopes and the cycling heroes, the horse side of the British contingent is often overlooked. Eventing is the most minority of sports, after all. I always love the Olympic three day event, but now that I have a horse of my own, I feel it even more keenly.

It is one of the most challenging disciplines of any sport. It is, essentially, a triathlon with horses. First, they must do the delicate, controlled, precise test that is dressage. Then, they must go flat out across country, over terrifying fixed obstacles, with huge drops, shining water features, and any other kinds of novelty that the course builders may dream up. This requires strength, stamina, courage and accuracy. It’s about as far away from dressage as you can imagine. Then, they must go into the show-jumping ring, and tackle a completely different kind of fence, with fragile poles that can fall at the flick of a hoof.

Merely getting a horse to the event in good shape is an Olympic achievement in itself. Horses have the tendency to break your heart; already, one poor Australian has been in tears in front of the world’s press, as he discovered his horse would not recover from a leg injury in time for Greenwich. That is why I think it is time to forget the grumbles and concentrate on the human factor. For four years, Fox-Pitt and his team will have been working and planning and training. The horses will have been schooled and tested and loved and fretted over, all to bring them to their peak for this one great moment.

When the world is thinking of Usain Bolt and Chris Hoy, I shall be crossing my fingers for Miners Frolic, High Kingdom, Imperial Cavalier, Opposition Buzz and Lionheart. These are names unknown to the great British public, faces that have never appeared on the front pages, but who will be giving every last ounce of heart and guts in one of the most demanding quests for Olympic glory.

...

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.

...

Consider the farmers

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Tuesday, 10 July 2012

As the weather continues dire, my heart is wrung by the plight of the farmer. He was out with his one permanent worker and half his family last night, desperately trying to get in the hay for silage, before the rains came again. The mare and I stood and watched as four huge machines zoomed up and down the fields, cutters clanking, lights flashing, engines revving, like some great monstrous creatures bent on eating the fields.

They work incredibly fast and with pinpoint accuracy. The lines of cut hay lie on the ground with the precision of cricket pitch stripes. I had wondered if the mare might wig out. She has seen farm machinery before, but four huge tractors running at full speed in her home fields might be enough to put the wind up her. If I were a horse, I would not fancy it much. But after an initial snort of alarm, and the high head predator alert pose, she seemed to see that they were not coming for her, and decided the whole thing was rather fascinating.

We observed for many minutes. It was absolutely riveting. I love watching someone do a job they know really well, especially when it is something to do with the land. When I left, at eight o’clock, they were still at it. I heard this morning that they did not finish until eleven.

...

Searching for a ray of sunshine

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 04 July 2012
The rain continues to fall. In the village, people gather in the shop to buy strong liquor, clearly planning to drink their way through it. The farmers look harried and fretful; the cows are downright grumpy. There is a flinty north-eastern pride in getting through the tough winters. The lower the mercury falls, the happier we seem to be. A long snow in January is greeted with a sanguine blitz spirit. The thing is, we are braced for hard weather in the dark months. This is the north of Scotland, it is what we expect. Also, there is something clean and honest about minus 16, and it often comes with a dazzling blue sky and beautiful glittering hoar frosts. This weather, on the other hand, is just sullen and soul-sapping. The sky is the colour of old socks and the land looks sodden and defeated. The blue hills are lost in filthy cloud.

People are now heard seriously discussing the jet stream, which apparently is stuck. Meteorological experts spring up everywhere. Escape plans are hatched. One of my relations said today: ‘I think we are going to drive south.’

‘Oh yes,’ I said. ‘Perhaps at the tip of Cornwall you might find a ray of sun.’

‘Oh no,’ she said. ‘The South of France. The cloud goes all the way to Bordeaux.’

...

The rain it raineth every day

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 27 June 2012
For every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. This time last week I was roaring home perhaps the greatest racehorse I ever saw, giddy with euphoria, only slightly cross that mere words on a page could not express what I saw. (There is a visceral, elemental nature to horses which means that often they defy prose.) Now I gaze out onto a drowned landscape, everything brown and sodden under a low, grumpy sky.

There are particles of sadness floating in the air. I’m really sad about Nora Ephron dying. Seventy-one is no age; she was so clever and funny and witty and true. She gave an awful lot of pleasure to an awful lot of people, and that’s not a bad thing to be able to say about your life. Someone else who gave pleasure was the young jockey, Campbell Gillies, who won me money and brought me great joy at Cheltenham this year, when Scotland triumphed in the Albert Bartlett, with the lovely Brindisi Breeze. Gillies also died yesterday, in one of those freak accidents that make no sense. (I suppose no dying makes an awful lot of sense, but some makes less than others.)

Crash, crash, back to earth I come.  The sensible great-aunt in me says: spit, spot, this is life. It’s not a carnival ride. The rain rains, and work must be done, and people depart, and that’s how it goes. The not sensible part says: bugger this for a game of soldiers.

I stomp up crossly to the mare. It’s so nasty out that I was not going to do any work with her, but I have some bizarre puritan streak that pushes me on. As if sensing that I need some good news, she is immaculate, at her sweetest and funniest and dearest. She actually rather loves this weather. Too much sunshine is far too vulgar for her grand sensibilities. A low, soft day is her absolute favourite. She is willing and responsive and I get the sudden thrill of achievement.

tania june27

Just as the horse is doing something particularly impressive, my step-niece comes out to feed the chickens. The hens are nearly as grand as the mare, and get the remains of the great-nieces’ porridge for their breakfast. ‘Oh,’ says the step-niece in delight, ‘look what she is doing.’ I feel idiotically proud. I have a witness. See what I can do, with my horse whispery skills. See how clever and brilliant my lovely girl is.

The lovely girl, obviously overcome by her own cleverness, sticks her nose into the silver saucepan and eats all the hens’ porridge. For some reason I find this inexpressibly funny. I never heard of a horse eating porridge before. ‘So Scottish and good for her,’ I say, laughing. The mare nods her head, very pleased with herself. I scratch the velvety spot behind her ears and think this really is much, much cheaper than therapy.

Determined to counter the dreich, I come home and make yellow split pea soup with saffron and drink a pot of coffee so strong that I can feel it jump-starting my brain. On I bash. At least the rain means I don’t have to water the garden. It keeps the flies away from the horses. It means we live in a green and pleasant land, instead of an arid desert. It’s just a little bit of precipitation. Out in the east, beyond the beeches and the Wellingtonias and the venerable oaks, a faint gleam of light appears in the sky.
The rain it raineth every day.

For every reaction there must be an equal and opposite reaction. This time last week I was roaring home perhaps the greatest racehorse I ever saw, giddy with euphoria, only slightly cross that mere words on a page could not express what I saw. (There is a visceral, elemental nature to horses which means that often they defy prose.) Now I gaze out onto a drowned landscape, everything brown and sodden under a low, grumpy sky.

There are particles of sadness floating in the air. I’m really sad about Nora Ephron dying. Seventy-one is no age; she was so clever and funny and witty and true. She gave an awful lot of pleasure to an awful lot of people, and that’s not a bad thing to be able to say about your life. Someone else who gave pleasure was the young jockey, Campbell Gillies, who won me money and brought me great joy at Cheltenham this year, when Scotland triumphed in the Albert Bartlett, with the lovely Brindisi Breeze. Gillies also died yesterday, in one of those freak accidents that make no sense. (I suppose no dying makes an awful lot of sense, but some makes less than others.)

Crash, crash, back to earth I come.  The sensible great-aunt in me says: spit, spot, this is life. It’s not a carnival ride. The rain rains, and work must be done, and people depart, and that’s how it goes. The not sensible part says: bugger this for a game of soldiers.

I stomp up crossly to the mare. It’s so nasty out that I was not going to do any work with her, but I have some bizarre puritan streak that pushes me on. As if sensing that I need some good news, she is immaculate, at her sweetest and funniest and dearest. She actually rather loves this weather. Too much sunshine is far too vulgar for her grand sensibilities. A low, soft day is her absolute favourite. She is willing and responsive and I get the sudden thrill of achievement.

Just as the horse is doing something particularly impressive, my step-niece comes out to feed the chickens. The hens are nearly as grand as the mare, and get the remains of the great-nieces’ porridge for their breakfast. ‘Oh,’ says the step-niece in delight, ‘look what she is doing.’ I feel idiotically proud. I have a witness. See what I can do, with my horse whispery skills. See how clever and brilliant my lovely girl is.

The lovely girl, obviously overcome by her own cleverness, sticks her nose into the silver saucepan and eats all the hens’ porridge. For some reason I find this inexpressibly funny. I never heard of a horse eating porridge before. ‘So Scottish and good for her,’ I say, laughing. The mare nods her head, very pleased with herself. I scratch the velvety spot behind her ears and think this really is much, much cheaper than therapy.

Determined to counter the dreich, I come home and make yellow split pea soup with saffron and drink a pot of coffee so strong that I can feel it jump-starting my brain. On I bash. At least the rain means I don’t have to water the garden. It keeps the flies away from the horses. It means we live in a green and pleasant land, instead of an arid desert. It’s just a little bit of precipitation. Out in the east, beyond the beeches and the Wellingtonias and the venerable oaks, a faint gleam of light appears in the sky.


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