Friday, 15 June 2012

In which, amazingly, I talk of something other than horses; or, Martha Payne makes my day

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Two rather lovely things happened today.

I went up to the mare quite late, and stayed with her until almost lunchtime. I am giving myself some days off after finishing the book, and it tends to be mare in the morning, and racing in the afternoon. The delightful thing about not always being in a rush is that I can just hang out, in the field, with my horse. She is excellent company.

Red seems to be on some kind of quantum sweetness drive at the moment. She can be grumpy, and sometimes stubborn, and on occasion extremely haughty. (Of course, I adore all these traits, because they remind me of her stellar breeding.) But just lately, she has been going for sheer adorableness. She whickers at me when I arrive, and has invented a new habit of resting her head in the crook of my arm, and going to sleep there. I cannot express in words the feelings of joy and pride and love this induces in me.

When I think that she was a racing thoroughbred, who arrived in this very strange place only two months ago, spooky and alarmed, quite highly strung, and now she walks at my shoulder without a headcollar and moves to left and right at the mere flick of my index finger, I can’t quite believe it. I love her so much it goes beyond words and into the realms of the inexpressible.

Anyway, to the lovely things.

The first lovely thing came about from a farrier panic. My dear farrier has gone AWOL, and Red has a loose shoe and a crack in her hoof. In desperation, after trying the numbers of twenty-five Scottish farriers, with twenty-three no answers and two unable to helps, I turned to the Horse and Hound forum. Joining a new forum is always rather alarming. It’s like going to a new school. There will be gangs, and etiquette, and ways of doing things. But the lovely horse people there rallied around the new girl, and I got many helpful suggestions, including one brilliant link to a woman who actually lives in my village. She is an expert in barefoot horses, and I think this is what I am going to do. Goodbye to shoes; hello to the all-natural horse.

So there was the internet, at work, at its best: kind, helpful, filled with utility.

Then, as if to show that this new technology really was a force for good instead of evil, the internet stretched itself, scratched its head, and made the life of one nine-year-old girl, and many, many hungry children halfway across the world a little better.

When I got back from the mare, I had a look at Twitter. Argyll and Bute was trending. I generally ignore trending topics, as they are often about things I do not know or understand, like Justin Bieber. But Argyll and Bute sounded interesting, so I clicked on it.

It turned out that there was a charming girl called Martha Payne, who had come up with the very clever idea of writing a blog about her school dinners. She took pictures of them, and graded them, and wrote extremely well of them, and other children in other countries sent her pictures of their school lunches, and it was all merry as a marriage bell. Considering school food is such a hot potato, it was very topical of her too, and public-spirited, since it is in the interest of everyone that the children eat well.

Argyll and Bute council did not like it. They forbade the taking of photographs in the school canteen, effectively ending Martha’s blogging experiment. They put out an almost illiterate statement on the subject, which eschewed commas, indulged in horrid bureaucratic language, and muddled up refutes with rejects. (Huge black mark from me. These people are responsible for schools, and they do not know what refute means.)

This then started getting passed about Twitter like a rugby ball. The mighty Twitterati pulled themselves up to their full height, like a gaggle of tremendous maiden aunts, and went into battle. Everyone was outraged. As usual, the criticism mostly took the form of ironical jokes, so that Argyll and Bute council ended up looking like an egg-faced loon. Martha Payne was trending, Never Seconds, the name of her blog, was trending. Jamie Oliver got in on the action, sending out a tweet saying something like Go, Martha, go.

It turned out that nine-year-old Martha was not only bright as a drawer full of buttons, but she was a really nice person. She was using her blog to raise money for Mary’s Meals, a charity which makes sure children in poor countries do not have to go to school hungry. Her target was a very ambitious £7,000. (Just imagine that, for a moment; a girl of nine aiming such a huge sum.)

As the Twitter storm blew its benevolent way through the ether, donations to Martha’s cause topped £31,000. Far away, in some tiny town of which we know nothing, a little girl or a small boy who has never heard of Twitter will be getting something to eat thanks to Martha and the Twitterers.

As if in perfect synchronicity, I backed three winners at the races this afternoon. It seems only right that I send my forty quid winnings to Mary’s Meals. In an even more labyrinthine snake of connectedness, Ryan Moore, the jockey who doggedly persuaded the mulish Valiant to go from last to first in the 2.30 at York, providing me with my big win of the day, will have added something to the gaiety of nations. His skilful and determined efforts put the money in my pocket which shall go to a school meal for that little girl or that small boy. I love this kind of thing. I love the fact that Moore is getting ready for the 4.45 and knows nothing of this. I love the fact that the schoolchildren helped by Mary’s Meals will never have heard his name. I love the fact that they are now connected by the merest shimmer of chance.

Argyll and Bute had at least the sense to know when they were beaten. After only two hours of Twitter fury, they gave in, reversed their foolish decision, and Martha Payne’s blog lives to fight another day.

Isn’t that properly lovely?

I have a tendency to believe that most people are mostly good. Sometimes, when the news goes very dark, I find this belief hard to sustain. Today, it got a real shot in the arm, and I smile as I write.


Raining today, so here are some pictures from yesterday evening, when there was a glimmer of sun:

15 June 1

15 June 2

15 June 3

15 June 4

15 June 6

15 June 7

Today my girls are in stately black and white:

15 June 9

15 June 10

The hill:

15 June 15


If you should be interested, there is a link to Martha Payne’s Just Giving page here:


  1. Most people are mostly good. That stuff doesn't make the news, 'tis all. Well done on the win, the donation and being a member of the twitterati.

    Red's droopy bottom lip is so charming.

    Soon I will blog of the riding lessons and send you a link. Lesson #6 is on Tuesday. Before long I may even be able to mount and dismount without gales of laughter or mishap. Even with a block it takes a lot of effort and willpower to haul 12st 7lbs of middle-aged heft onto the back of a 14.3 pony...

    1. I ADORE the droopy bottom lip. So glad you noticed it.

  2. I am laid up in bed, sick with wretched tonsillitis and this story on twitter has brightened my day. I was just telling Boo about it as she regards blogs as something of an oddity, given her mother writes one (and no other mothers she knows do). She's gone off to check Martha out; 11 year old to 9 year old, inspired. It does restore faith that silly decisions can get reversed, that pleases me. Am ailing now, hurts to swallow or speak so my iPad has been my best friend today. Lou x

    1. Oh, tonsillitis is HORRID. Hope you feel better soon.

  3. Unforgettable image: the Twitterati as a "gaggle of tremendous maiden aunts." Wish I could list all the components of what you did well here; a brief try would include 1) good factual recap; 2) good moral outrage; 3) humor (guaranteed to make unpleasant things go down better); and 4) insightful and useful comments. If someone new to the story read only what you'd written here, they'd know all they really needed to know. That's a pretty big thing.

    Your girls are lovely (as usual). Now trying to think up new adjectives for what's right about them.


    1. That is a really, really kind comment. Thank you so very much.

  4. You're lovely. What a smashing donation. As if in internet harmony I was reading 'never seconds' earlier, such a great thing.
    Love the barefoot au naturale idea for Red.

    1. Shoes came off today and hooves all tidy. She looks so much happier. :)

  5. Most people are mostly good. It is so important to remember that and be reminded of it. You remind me of it every time I visit this little corner of the internet.

    1. Such a lovely thing to say; thank you. :)

  6. Oh, the hoof. Please keep an open mind. There are barefoot nazis on the HHO forums, as well as many knowledgeable people who may be partial to barefoot or shod but will give an objective opionion. At the end the most important thing is the choice of farrier to assess and give your horse what's best for her. I subscribe to the common sense - barefoot if not in hard or high level sport type of work and when in work, mostly on good, soft surface (school, grass). If a horse is consistently sound and its hooves, despite trimming, still grow hoof matter into a funny shape, that is probably also how the horse wants the hoof to be. But I would happily shoe if I had a good reason. The problem is that many thoroughbreds have bad feet. And I could go on and on... So please, exercise your judgement and ask as many opinions as you can! Lecture over.

  7. Sabina - YES. Have encountered the barefoot zealots in life and on the internet. Red is in light work, mostly on grass, and I'm going to keep the shoes off for the moment, but, as you say, not take a hard line. Farrier says her feet are not too bad, although I thought they looked awful. My mum is strictly instructing me to get special ointment! Anyway, the mare is much happier now, and thanks for your excellent advice.

  8. Hallo Tania, I have not commented in ages as I read you on my phone these days and oft times is quite difficult to comment from phone.

    Just wanted to say how much I loved your post today.

    And hallo to all lovely regular commenters.

    Now that phone working, Well sort of, was v upset by horrid comment, am loving the red posts, congratulations on finishing the second draft, cannot wait to read, can we please have pic of beech avenue and the burn, next time you pass by them. I long to see them.I

    Lady Pigeon just adorable a recent pic was my most fave ever. She had velvety tufty ears and blinky eyes and her most adorable face on ever.


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