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 swallows depart

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The swallows have gone. It has amazed me how long they have stayed this year. I always think they fly south at the end of August, but this may be fantasy on my part. Perhaps they always wait until September.

They have been mustering like crazy for the last two weeks. All the different families come from their various nest in the steadings and sheds and outbuildings, and have an evening rally over the field where my mare lives. Sometimes I just stand and stare at them, gaping like a loon. They are so fast and athletic and certain. They seem to have a rigorous regime, getting racing fit for the thousands of buffeting miles to Africa. Every year, I find myself in awe and wonder at the great journey the tiny, delicate creatures make.

I saw them last night, when I went up at about six for evening stables. ‘Ah,’ I said out loud, as they filled the feed room with their swirl and chatter, ‘you are still here.’ And then, today, suddenly something was different. It took me a moment to work out what it was. It was: silence. The birds had flown.

I love autumn. I like the change of season, the sense of purpose and going back to school. I start to get excited about the wild Scottish colours and the clean promise of frost. But something about the departure of the swallows has left a faint ghost of melancholy. There was sharp cold this morning, as the mercury shivered at seven degrees. I realised that soon I should have to arm myself for doing the horse in serious temperatures. The summer has been gloomy and chill, but it’s not the proper cold that can set in here once the autumn comes. There was the definite feeling of the end of something.

Perhaps it was that even though the weather was awful, the summer was glorious. There were the Olympics and Paralympics, the lovely, jolting surprise that dear old Blighty was really, really good at something. We could still win things and put on a show and laugh at ourselves whilst the world was watching. People did startling and dogged and brave things, and were charming and gracious in defeat and victory. The battered old country suddenly held its head high.

There was the romping glory of Frankel, which lifted the hearts of people who don’t usually care much about horses. This rocky set of islands had the best racehorse in the entire world, on official ratings. No matter that both his dam and sire were Irish, his grandsire American, and his great-grandsire Canadian, that he is ridden by an Irish jockey and owned by a Saudi prince, making him a true citizen of the world. He is trained in Suffolk by that most British of men, Sir Henry Cecil; he strengthens his great muscles on the sweep of Newmarket Heath; he wins his his racing on the green turf of England. He counts in the column of British summer brilliance.

And now, the giddiness is gone, the swallows are fled, and we are back to gritty politics and geo-political unrest and economic uncertainty. I love politics, but I find them quite alarming at the moment, as everyone argues over bad news and worse news.

Still, one must not give in to gloom. Soon, the leaves will start to turn. I can get a good, warm coat. If I look very, very hard, I may see the lovely, fleeting sight of a red squirrel in the woods. Back, as always, for comfort and consolation, to the small things.

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