HorseBack ate my day. This is not a bad thing to chew up a day.
Every Friday, I sit down to edit the week’s HorseBack photographs and write suitable vignettes about them. I do a main blog and various other briefer snippets. I feel a huge responsibility as I do this, despite the fact that it is just for a little Facebook page which flies out into the vast spaces of the internet. Every single like or share or comment, every cheerful thumbs up – each one means a vast amount to me. The veterans whose experiences I am trying to illuminate have gone through things I cannot imagine and seen things no human eye should have to see. I have to put on my Best In Show hat for them. I grit my teeth and strain every sinew. There are some things in life that matter. This matters.
As I sit down, I think: today I will be efficient. I’ll get it done in an hour flat. The temporal angels laugh their heads off. Four hours later, I’m still sitting there, wrangling away. I feel glad that I have recorded the racing, because there is no way I can stop now, even to have a peek at the big race at York. Some of my best beloveds are running today, but dear Clever Cookie and sweet Easton Angel and dazzling Limato will have to wait.
Down in the field this morning, Darwin the Dog was chasing swallows. This feels to me like a vast metaphor for something, but I’m not quite sure what. There is my lovely thing, I think. Every day must have a lovely thing. If I can mark one lovely thing, then I shall keep on sailing over this sometimes stormy sea.
At this time of year, all the swallows stage a muster. They come from all over my little patch – from my own shed, from the garage outside what was once my mother’s house, from my sister’s old place, from down in the horses' field. In May, when they arrived, there was one pair who flew around the set-aside as I worked the mares. Now they have brought their friends down with them and fill the air, practising their serious flying for the long journey to Africa. They will leave soon, and that day of departure is always bitter-sweet for me. I love to think of them going to their balmy winter quarters, but I miss them sorely when they are gone. The sudden still where there was antic noise and motion has a melancholy note.
As the swallows flew, and Darwin danced, the three mares stood by their humans in the open field and went to sleep on their legs. We decided that they must have been up all night, partying. Three years ago, there was a techno techno rave up in the next field, and we went down in the dark to see what they were making of the flashing lights and thumping music. They seemed mildly amused. We’ve been making slightly tragic jokes about them having techno parties ever since.
My friend and I talked of cabbages and kings. Actually, we did not mention cabbages. We talked of the swallows, and the comical dozing mares, and Alfred Hitchcock, and Grace Kelly in High Society, and grammar, and the young people of today. The two thoroughbreds and the Paint slept through it all.
I felt a slight sense of shift this morning, a faint, glimmering sense of possibility and renewed hope. Someone quite unexpected paid me a quite unexpected compliment. It was brief, and low-key, and entirely heartfelt, and I took it away and gazed at it and treasured it and wore it like a medal on my chest. The man who paid it had absolutely no idea what he had just done, and I could not have explained it to him. But it was my own personal best, my Olympic gold, my mark of excellence.
What he said to me was: ‘That helped.’
I think: every day there must be one lovely thing. And every day, I would like to go to bed knowing that I have said a single sentence, or made a small action, or offered a piece of myself that helped. It’s odd how ambitions change with age. I used to want prizes and glory and the admiration of my peers. Now I want one lovely thing and a feeling of having been useful, even if that usefulness is so tiny that it can hardly be seen by the naked eye. That will do for me.