Monday, 30 April 2012

No blog today

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I did have a blog for you. It lived in my head; it even got half-written on the page. Then my cerebellum turned itself off. (It has been doing this quite a lot lately; I think I need more iron tonic.) So now there is no blog. The weather has reverted to its usual filthy state, and everything is brown and forlorn. I do try to be butch about the weather but the continual rain and cold, the dour miserable day after dreich day, is seeping into my soul. I want spring. Where was my spring?

The mare followed me across the field today. I cannot tell you the profound delight that gives me. She just walks at my shoulder, as if tethered by an invisible rope. And she has such a lovely, low, swinging walk. I am a horse whisperer, I think to myself. Although I discover that the real whisperers hate to be called whisperers, they think it sounds silly and namby-pamby. Also I do see it is not very descriptive, when one is actually beaming equine thought-waves. I gave her some carrots and scratched all her favourite places. She is the one bright thing in these dark, drab days.


Some quick pictures from before, when there was a glimpse of sun:

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30 April 8 27-04-2012 13-52-08 4032x3024 30 April 9 27-04-2012 13-53-21 3024x4032

30 April 9 27-04-2012 13-53-43 4032x3024

30 April 9 27-04-2012 13-29-43 1699x1808

30 April 1 28-04-2012 12-07-25 2566x3439

30 April 10 27-04-2012 13-41-21 2084x1953

Sunday, 29 April 2012

In which perspective is again elusive

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

The overreaction theme continues. Yesterday I bust a tyre. I was driving like a maniac over potholes and I trashed my front wheel. It was completely and utterly my fault. You should have heard the riot act I read myself in my own head. Twenty-seven kinds of idiot. And do you know why I was driving fast? Not because I had to get somewhere or had an appointment to fill, oh no. It was because one of my crazed prejudices is that only fussy old ladies drive slowly over potholes. It’s the kind of attitude you might find in a nineteen year old boy, not a woman of a certain age. In fact, I now realise, grown up and sensible people drive slowly over potholes. Because then they don’t have to chuck away perfectly good tyres with vast amounts of tread left on them.

The tyre thing went from minor inconvenience to end of the world. It loomed so large I could hardly sleep. Of course, the problem is that I have never learnt to change a wheel. This is a most shameful confession, and I do not know how I have been able to call myself a feminist all these years. A great wall of self-recrimination rose in my addled head. As a result of this dereliction, I would have to ask someone. I hate doing this for two reasons. One is it confirms all kinds of female stereotypes. Two is that I don’t like asking for help generally; it is one of my psychological flaws. I equate it with weakness, or something nutty like that. It is old magical thinking which I can’t quite wish away.

In the end, it was a bit of a life lesson, and I am mad for life lessons just now. The tremendous smiling neighbour, the man who knows how to get things done, for whom practical matters are meat and drink, not only offered to change the tyre, but made not one reference, not by the flicker of an eye or the slide of the voice, to ditzy females who know not one lug nut from another.

He even laughed at my jokes whilst he did it. (I was making a lot of jokes as blatant displacement activity. And to cover up the fact that I felt like ten kinds of fool.) And here is the thing: he seemed pleased to be able to do me a good turn.

Perhaps it does not mean that I am hopeless and pointless and feckless, that I do not know how to change my own wheel. (Obviously I shall now learn, because it’s too silly not to.) I could decide to regard it as a perfect opportunity for the kind neighbour to show the crest and peak of his kindness, and make me very, very happy.

I lavished him with thanks and admiration; most sincere, since I admire people who are good at the practical things for which I have no skill. I always think that asking people for favours is the most arrant imposition and bore. In fact, it may be the complete opposite. They get to feel valued and useful and good at something. It ends with all smiles. Everyone wins. Well, that is my new fledgling theory, and I think I am sticking to it.

Up at the field, in a borrowed car, I rub the mare in the special spot behind her ears that she loves, and watch her close her eyes in pleasure. She rests her head against me, and breathes slowly through her nostrils. The love rises and blooms. She does not care that I know nothing of mechanics. She has no judgement on what I can or cannot do. I bring her carrots and sing her songs and rub her sweet spots and give her love. In return, she gives me her trust. It’s a bargain of such purity that it takes my breath away.


Today's pictures – The sun actually shone, so here are views and lovely, gleaming horses:

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29 April 3 28-04-2012 12-09-56 3024x4032

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Oh, and sudden, random, running hen:

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The ladyship, taking her ease:

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Off she goes:

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With her small friend:

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From the sidelines, the Pigeon observes. She is still not quite sold on the whole huge red dog thing. Red lowers her head and sniffs the Pidge, and breathes gently on her, and the Pigeon is torn between thinking this quite interesting and charming, and saying – get this great thing off me. I can see her flicking back and forth in her old mind. I find the best answer is extra biscuits, which seems to go down pretty well:

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The hill, rather blurry behind the horse chestnut, which is really putting out its leaves now:

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Friday, 27 April 2012

In which I attain clarity, and make a resolution

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

All right. I’ve worked out what it is. As long as I can work out what a thing is, I can deal with almost anything. What I hate is opacity and mystery; then I am at the mercy of unknown forces.

Yesterday, I could not understand why I was quite so upset about a reader being bored. I do have a morbid dread of being dull, but even so. I cannot tell you how doleful and heartsore I was for the whole day. It was such a small thing, in the great wide scheme. (As some of the Dear Readers sternly and sanely pointed out, with, I thought, a faint air of surprise.) Yet I was quite undone.

Then, just after midnight, I figured it out. It is because this is my safe place. That sounds so nuts I am hesitant even to write it. How can something that is out there on the internet for anyone to read be safe? And yet, that is what it has become.

Because it is not professional, because there is no money, no pitch, no editor, no critics, no bean counters, it is the purest, most untrammelled writing I have ever done. That is thrown into particular relief when I am really struggling with a book, as I am at the moment. Here, I do not have to poke and prod into a recalcitrant brain; I do not have to worry constantly about deadlines and publication. This stands just as it is: a thing I do for love.

You see, the thing that I love is writing. I adore putting words on a page. I have an idiot passion for the semi-colon. I like listening for rhythms, throwing in unexpected words, running off on little riffs. I even like the physical act of typing, the sound of the tap tap tap as my fingers dance over the keyboard. When, in my real work, the fingers are not dancing, but stomping through mud, here they shall still do the damn tango.

My agent would kill me for saying this, but I hate everything about writing which is not to do with writing. I hate the pitching, the meetings, the compromises. I particularly loathe the promoting of a book. I like to be alone in my room, thinking thoughts; I don’t want to go out like a huckster and sell myself. I can’t bear the dog and pony show aspects of being a writer, they feel so bogus and phoney.

That is fine, because everyone has part of their job they don’t like, but if you gave me a million quid, I should be very tempted never to go into book form again. I realise that all the ambitions I had when I was younger, of being on best-seller lists, or winning prizes, even getting the admiration of my peers, seem faintly meaningless to me now. I think how shallow all that striving is compared to the important things, like love and trees. All I really want is to be able to write a good sentence.

That is what I can do here. I may throw language up in the air and see where it falls. I may dance.

That’s why I became so sad. I had slipped the surly bonds, and then suddenly, there were all the things I had avoided: demands, criticism, suggestions. A suggestion is a tiny thing; it should not cause a storm of grief. But in this context it felt like a mighty invasion. That was why I lost perspective, and fell into a brown study.

This, I should stress, is what the shrinks call my stuff. It has nothing to do with the poor Dear Reader, who quite unwittingly hit a most fragile and vulnerable chord.

So, here is the thing. I love and respect the Dear Readers; I am keenly aware that you give your precious time to come here; I am profoundly touched that you do. I get a thrill of excitement when I turn the computer on and find that comments have come from New Zealand and Wales and North Carolina. But I say this with all humility and politeness and no edge or side or rancour: I am not doing it for you. (I wince as I write that; it goes against all muscle memory.) There are very few places in life where one gets to be completely selfish, and I’m afraid to say that this is one of them. And I am damn well going to milk that for every last drop of self-indulgent joy.

It turns out that I don’t want a huge, popular blog, which gets put on lists and turned into a book deal. (I might once have dreamed of that, when my dander was up and my competitive spirit was running riot.) I realise that idea ruins the whole point. If I lose readers, I lose readers, and that does not matter a whit. I don’t want a worldly success, in which I may count the mounting numbers, and stare beadily at rising graphs; I want a tiny, private thing, where I may do tap dancing if the mood takes me.

So my resolution is: I am going to stop apologising. I am bored of that. I suspect that is the dullest thing for you too. Fuck it: I am going to have the courage of my convictions. I am going to write about anything I want. You have the lovely, joyful choice of not reading.

One of my lines in Backwards was about following your own goofy little star, and bugger the consequences. I must follow my own goofy star, and, as some of you know, sometimes it is very goofy indeed.

I have lost a lot of loves in the last year; the two current loves of my life are my mare and my Pigeon. If I have learnt anything from my season of grief, it is that the loves must be celebrated, while they are still with us. If I put them down on the page, then they are kept; one day, when they are gone, I may take down the book, and slowly read. So I shall write about them, and I am not going to apologise for that.


Today, there was a glimmer, the faintest promise, the teasing glimpse of sun. I squinted and gazed in awe and wonder, and ran to get the camera.

Red's view:

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The little pony:

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She is so pretty I think we may have to show her in veteran's classes. Surely that face is too good not to share:

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And talking of beautiful faces:

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I love it when she gazes out to the horizon like that. I never quite know what she sees, but whatever it is, it is quite fascinating.

See the noble profile:

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She is so much happier now she has her little friend. I cannot tell you the difference. She is all dozy and dopey and relaxed; I hardly need the headcollar at all, she just follows me about like an old dog. Amble, amble, amble we go, as if we have been together forever. My heart expands, as if to fit all the new love into it.

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And talking of hearts:

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One of the things that amazes me about this dog is that she is almost fourteen. Fourteen. I cannot quite believe how gracefully she ages. And she still chases her ball about like a three-year-old:

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THE HILL. THE HILL. After five days sulking in the cloud, she is back, in all her stately glory:

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I hope you have a lovely Friday, and get a glimpse of sun.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

In which the thing I dread comes to pass

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Quite often, when I am pretending to be sage, I tell people that the thing they are dreading will turn out to be nothing like as drack as they thought. It’s the reverse expectation game. So many times one will go to a thing, the thought of which makes one’s heart plummet, and find it is rather lovely. Or the awful, put-off telephone call will go with a swing. Or the necessary confrontation will yield results instead of pointless shouting and strife.

I think about blogging quite a lot. The very novelty of the medium fascinates me. I watch it taking form, growing from a very niche, even slightly geek enterprise, into something which begins to touch the wider consciousness. I observe people approaching it in different ways, readers and writers both. I see the prejudices it engenders, and the elephant traps it presents. I watch it develop sub-sets, and off-shoots. I see it generate its own internal set of rules and mores, as if some collective consciousness is at work. No one sat down and invented the blog rules, and in some ways the first rule is that there is no rule. Yet it has already its conventions and politesses.

I was thinking how incredibly lucky I was that in over two years of blogging I have only ever had one very slightly snide comment. I wondered what would happen when the dark day came, as it must, when someone was angry or unkind. That was my dread. I realised that I have been cocooned by the generosity of the Dear Readers, and might be unprepared to deal with anything other than sweetness.

Well, the thing I dread has come to pass. It is not crossness or rudeness in any guise; but I have pushed a Dear Reader beyond the limit of her endurance. I woke early this morning, and, before going up to the mares, checked my email. That is where the comments are sent, and there, waiting for me, was the voice of exasperation:

‘Just wanted to let you know that I am so very, very pleased that your mare has made such a positive impact on your life and has quite clearly made you so happy, BUT - for the love of god woman - please write about something other than the horse!!!! I know that you do not want to pander to your readers, but by the same rule, do you wish to lose a great chunk of them? I have always relished clicking on to your blog - my daily treat if you will - so it is so disappointing to find that it has become so monotonous, and quite frankly, boring. ‘

There it was, the thing I had been dreading. I fret always, whatever I am writing about, that it will be of no interest, that it may be indulgent, dull, incoherent or shallow. I have a fatal tendency to obsession, so when I become entranced by a subject, whether it is American politics, or racing, or building a relationship with a new horse, or tracing the contours of family life, it is often all I can think about. I know women have a reputation for multi-tasking, but I tend to plunge deeply into one fascination at a time.

The worst criticisms are always the ones that you have suspected yourself. I had feared that I was turning into a one-trick pony. Aware of this, I had hoped that I could broaden out something very specific to me into a set of wider reflections, which might be of interest to a general reader. There are parables here, I had thought, small life lessons about patience and shifts in perspective and seeing the world through another’s eyes. But no, after all, it was just boredom and monotony. The awful thing was that I had gone from daily treat to ghastly, droning dreariness.

One of my deepest fears, apart from going mad in the night, is that I shall be dull. Anything, anything, but that. The words cut into me like sharpened swords. I felt my heart start to beat faster in shock. I felt physically shaky, and tearful. In some ways, I am not much cut out for public writing. However hard you try, there will always be people who hate what you write. I have not much hide to speak of, and take each criticism or rejection as a blow to the heart. I have developed a fairly good facility for talking myself down off the ceiling, but I have never managed to avoid the initial pain. And it is pain, as actual and felt as if someone landed a punch.

This pathetic fragility is enhanced, just at the moment, because of the year of grief. Loss has many interesting ramifications. It is not just simple sorrow. One of the things it does is strip away a layer of skin. People say this grows back, but it takes a long time. As a result, I have found that I have absolutely no defences; the smallest knock whacks me to the ground. Butch up, I tell myself. Where is that vaunted British stoicism that you admire so much? Where is your sense of perspective? For heaven’s sake, I tell myself; you are not five years old.

I dig and scratch, thinking there must be a life lesson here, too. Freedom of speech is one of my most cherished beliefs; everyone must say what they will, and think what they may. I sometimes think that as I get older the only thing I do know is that I know nothing. But one thing I have learnt is that, whatever you do, however hard you try, you cannot make people think what you want them to think. You have to, as the self-help groups like to say, let go with love.

There is also the thing of the bargain. In everything one does in life, there is a deal. By loving someone, you risk heartbreak; by holding any strong opinion, you risk dissent; by scratching a word on a page, you risk criticism or rejection or flat-out failure. That is life. One cannot sit in a darkened room, wrapped in cotton wool, cocooned against consequences.

I think of my playwright. He has his first big production coming on in the summer. Because I know him to be a man of soaring talent, I have no fear for him. But he must know that there is the danger that a dyspeptic critic will take against him, or a tired matinee audience may sit silent at the jokes. Does he flinch? Not he.

I think of the blithe, heedless people, the ones who laugh in the face of catcalls; the duck’s back people, who shrug off water. I think, as I so often do, I must learn from them. Although I do wonder sometimes if they really exist. I mean: are they really as impervious as they seem? Do they go back to their quiet rooms and admit to secret sorrows, when there is no one there to watch?

In my rational mind, I think, come along, this is part of the deal. In my irrational mind, I think: oh no, oh no, I bored a Dear Reader. The Perspective Police are off on another mission, and I am left, unmoored, covered in shame and melancholy. The thing I dreaded came to pass, and it was exactly as bad as I thought it would be.

For a moment, I thought: I cannot write today. I’ll just put up a picture and wait for the storm to pass. One thing I do know how to do is put ballast back in my boots. It takes a while, but it is always done. Then I thought: the thing that horses have taught me is that you have to get straight back on after a fall. Even if your confidence is shot to pieces, you have to take a deep breath and fake it until it is real. So, shaken and bruised, I get back in the saddle and trot on. And to the poor, Dear Reader, bored to sobs, I can only offer heartfelt apology.


The rain still rains, so the camera may not come out. Here is a blinky Pigeon, from the one moment yesterday when it was not bucketing down:

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And the hill remains lost in the cloud.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Lost in horsebiz

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

So, finally, finally, the great day dawned, and Red’s small companion arrived. A very kind lady in Drumoak is lending her to us, since the pony is now too small for her previous rider. She is nineteen years old, Welsh Section A, and eleven hands three inches. She does not yet have a blog name, as I am leaving this decision to the great-nieces.

I had been fretting more than I realised about my mare being on her own. She has been used, her whole life, to being in a great herd. Polo ponies not only live and do their professional work in groups, even when out for exercise they go in packs. You see one person riding, leading two horses on each side. And, beyond that, horses are herd animals. They are not designed to live alone.

In nature, the horse on its own is not only incredibly vulnerable to predators, but will usually have been shunned because of illness or lameness. In the wild, horses are pretty ruthless; one weak link can slow down the herd, and they will always choose survival of the fittest, in its most literal sense. Actually, ruthless is the wrong word. That’s a human word. In the world of animals, it is just what they do, to get by.

The more I think of it, the more I think what a miracle my little mare is. I have developed a fatal habit of mooching around the horse forums, late at night. I can’t tell you the horror stories one reads of new horses who will not settle. The same refrain occurs over and over again: he was perfect when I tried him, and then I got him home, and three days later he FREAKED OUT.

Then follows a terrible catalogue of barging, biting, rearing, napping and other bleak occurrences. The owner loses confidence and questions every aspect of her capability. Maybe I should never have got a horse at all is the cry.

Apart from a few spooks, a bit of walking away in the field, some momentary jumpiness, and a couple of fussy riding days, Red has been a model. She is polite, kind, and amazingly biddable. She is easy to do. She excels at groundwork. Three times out of five, she will follow me without a halter. Considering the absolute upheaval of her world, the loss of every single thing familiar to her, from routine to person to environment, I cannot quite believe how lovely she has been. But the more I think of it, the more I think that she must have been lonely.

When the little grey pony arrived yesterday, Red put her head over the gate, and whinnied. It had such a yearning fall, a mixture of excitement and heartfelt greeting. She had never seen this creature before, but it was as if she was saying: you have come at last.

We brought them gently together, and Red blew through her nose in ecstasy, touched her nostrils to the pony’s, sniffed her all over with blatant joy, nuzzled her withers in the classic horse greeting. Then a look of pure relief and bliss spread over her face. I know I should not anthropomorphise, but there is absolutely no other way of describing it. It was as if her entire body was suffused with delight.

It did not take long to see that they were made for each other, so we let them go, and the determined little Welsh person, dwarfed by her big thoroughbred friend, trotted off in front, with my red champion following along behind like an eager puppy.

‘Well,’ I said. ‘There is absolutely no doubt who is the alpha mare in that set-up.’

In the evening, I went up to see if I could make a bond with the new pony. It took a while. She was skittery and uncertain at first. Some people might have thought, oh, that naughty little pony, I’ll show her who is boss. Small ponies have a reputation for being stubborn and difficult, and I’ve seen people be very cross and sharp with them.

I thought: this poor little thing has been hurled into a strange environment, and does not know me from Adam. Of course she is going to be mildly freaked.

So instead of cornering her and intimidating her, I walked round and round, in figures of eight, keeping a polite distance. I talked out loud and sang a song and said her name. I approached and then retreated, to show clearly I was not a predator. It took quite a long time. I let it.

I sat on the ramp of the hen coop and allowed her get used to my still presence. After about twenty minutes, she let me come up to her. I gave my hand to sniff; then a carrot. Then I moved away again. I repeated the procedure. Only then did I put on her halter and lead her around, so that she could get used to following me, and could see that she had nothing to fear.

What was particularly sweet was that, all this time, Red was watching from the gate with some anxiety, as if to say: don’t alarm my new friend. Once I had them tethered together, nice and relaxed, I scratched their ears and rubbed their necks and chatted to them for a bit, and felt, almost insensibly, this new dynamic of three start to establish itself. It was a rather extraordinarily lovely feeling.

It’s been another ridiculously nasty day, so I just went up, to check on them both. They were ignoring the rain, and happily grazing, side by side. I went up to Red, scratched her, crooned to her, gave her some apple. The small grey let me approach quite happily this time. She is still cautious, but not, it seems, afraid. Then I walked back to the gate. I did not call them, or expect them to come. I heard a shuffling rustle behind me. There was Red, head low and swinging, and the tiny pony, ears pricked, following me, in single file, all the way across the field. I laughed out loud, in sheer pleasure.

The rain falls and falls, and after days without a glimpse of sun, low spirits are seeping into my soul. I’ve been wrangling with my book all morning. This third draft has been proving very difficult and I get only tiny, flashing glimpses of achievement. I feel like I’m rolling a stone uphill. Some books are like that. But it is serious, it is my professional life, it is what I do for money, and, very occasionally, some kind words of praise. In some ways, it has been what I define myself by. But, oh, when I turned round and saw my beautiful thoroughbred and the funny little furry Welsh pony following me like that, I thought: I could not feel happier or more triumphant or more privileged or more complete had I won the sodding Booker Prize.


Some pictures from yesterday. Today, it is raining too hard. This is the sixth or seventh day in a row there is no hill visible.

There was, however,  A PONY:

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I took a couple of snaps with my drama tone setting:

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Then there were their views:

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And, of course, the dearest face of all:

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I think she might be saying: one big red dog is absurd enough, but another huge white one??????

Or, she is just wondering whether, if she looks adorable enough, she may persuade me to give her some biscuits.

Or, she is contemplating the Universal Why.


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