Wednesday, 15 August 2012

In which I contemplate the nature of time

It’s amazingly easy to lose two days. It’s as if they simply fell down the back of the sofa. I know there is the thing of the brain processing time differently as you get older, but even so. Simple neurobiological explanations seem too pat.

Actually, the first one was just life, which sometimes comes and usurps the virtual world. Very old friends were up from the south, and came to lunch. The group included two of my favourite children of all time, who did special dancing for me, admired the horse, shrieked with laughter at the pony, paid adoring homage to the Pigeon, and made a small house in the garden out of old wall stones, moss and pine branches.

‘When we come back next time,’ said the small girl, ‘we can see if fairies have come to live there.’

I love that children say these things with earnest, straight faces. I like it that even in the rushing technological world, small girls still believe in fairies.

The small boy was exercised about the closing ceremony of the Olympics. He had not thought it terribly good. ‘If I were in charge,’ he said, ‘I would have had people singing songs about lakes.’

He is seven years old. I looked at him very seriously. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘on a sort of Wordsworthian theme.’

He nodded gravely. ‘And a song about the River Thames,’ he said.

‘Absolutely bloody brilliant idea,’ I said. ‘Oh, sorry, I did a swear.’

Quite frankly, that child is so remarkable that he does make me do a swear. I’m not sure I know anyone else of that age who would dream of songs of lakes.

My Italian mamma had kicked in, so of course there could not just be any old lunch, but there must be a feast. Two chickens were sacrificed, with marjoram from the garden, and bunches of sage stuffed in the cavity. There was a tomato salad with chives, and a beetroot salad with real actual beetroot I boiled myself, instead of the vacuum-packed stuff, and broad beans and feta and mint. There were tiny waxy potatoes and roasted peppers and aubergines and a plain green salad for a bit of continental chic. There was not enough room on the table for all the absurd platters of food. I’m still finishing it all up. (Very good stock on the stove even as I write.)

Yesterday, there were no visitors or cooking, just the low sound of time whooshing past, and me turning my head to see where it had gone.

Today, I am still catching up. I keep looking at my watch in amazement and alarm. How can it be lunchtime?

The ponies, as usual, gave me calm and succour. Up in that field there is a sense that I can recapture time. It’s the one place where everything slows down, and instead of the wild sense of mortality screaming past, I get a moment of anchor, as if I am attached to the land, as if I can feel the very earth turning gently on its axis.

There is something timeless about looking out over that blue hill, and watching the cattle graze there, as they have probably grazed for hundreds of years. The horses themselves cannot do anything in a hurry. They do not understand the concept of rush. I am impelled to take a deep breath and let my shoulders come down and concentrate on each moment as it presents itself.

I had to get strict with the small pony today. There’s always a fine line you tread with horses. They need you to be firm and determined; if you get too soppy and soft it is no good to man nor beast. On the other hand, you must not be cross or mean. The firmness, I discover, should take the form of not giving in. There is no call for raised voices or any form of punishment, there is just serious persistence. Myfanwy did not want to do something; I wanted her to do it. We had a small battle. Eventually, I prevailed.

I had been stern; I wondered if she would hold it against me. In fact, she seemed relieved. She dropped her head and chewed with her little mouth and relaxed her body. That’s what I wanted, she seemed to be saying; someone who would damn well come along and take charge.

Red the Mare, by contrast, was doing her thing which she sometimes does, which is elevating sweetness and goodness to Olympian levels, as if the Adorable Elves had been up in the night, teaching her to make my heart burst in my chest. Ha ha ha, she seemed to be saying, I shall do this for you, and this and that, and a bit of the other, just for fun, just to demonstrate how absolutely immaculate I am. She was doing things before I even asked her, as if reading my thoughts; matching each delicate step to mine; taking harmony to a whole new level.

I was so overcome by her cleverness that I practically exploded with delight and joy, and she ducked her head as if to say, aw, shucks, it was nothing, knowing all the time it was everything.

And that was when time stopped completely. We finished, and I gave the top of her neck a long, congratulatory rub, and she bent her head into the crook of my arm, and then leant it on my chest, and went to sleep. I felt the wobble in her lower lip, and saw the flutter of her eyelashes, and sensed the stillness in every atom of her body.

That is when you can stop all the clocks. I’ve written of this before, and each time, words come up short. Thoroughbreds have been domesticated for a long time, but they still carry the wild in them. When Red is hearing her ancestral voices, and galloping about the field, squealing and kicking and pawing at vacancy, with her tail up like a banner and her head high, there is nothing domestic in her at all. She is right back to the Arabian sands of her Darley ancestor. So, when she gives herself to me absolutely, in stillness and trust, and what a human might call love, as she did this morning, it feels like something so vast and elemental that I cannot find the English for it.

Everything stops: time, fret, plans, errands to run, letters to write, books to finish, agents to speak to. The news stops and the global economy and the very world itself.

It’s just two sentient creatures in a field.



House, from Monday, ready for guests:

15 Aug 1

15 Aug 2

15 Aug 3

15 Aug 3-001

15 Aug 4

15 Aug 4-001

15 Aug 5


I always feel a bit of a eejit when I put up pictures like this. I think it is because normally everything is a bit scruffy; mud from my boots, piles of papers, tottering towers of old political periodicals. It’s as if I wish to prove to the Dear Readers that, on high days and holidays, I can take the straw out of my hair.

The Pidge, very excited about the imminent arrivals:

15 Aug 9

Myfanwy the Pony:

15 Aug 12-008

Red the Mare:

15 Aug 11-008

Red’s View:

15 Aug 14-008

The hill, from a slightly different angle than usual:

15 Aug 20-008

I haven’t done a recipe for ages, and one of the Dear Readers said the other day that he still makes one of my soups, from months ago, so I am inspired to return to food. No time now, but tomorrow, I think I shall give you the beetroot salad, partly because I am very proud of it, and partly because I love the idea of making what is often thought as a rather horrid vegetable, filled with haunting childhood memories (that ghastly beetroot drowned in vinegar from school) absolutely delicious.


  1. Everything stops. What a beautiful description. It inspires me to try to achieve that place more often myself.

    And think yourself lucky that I live so far beyond your Scottish borders, or I would be constantly attempting to steal my way in to share your wonderful food.

  2. Your house looks so gorgeously chic! But chic and welcoming, which is an enormous feat, I think. And I love when you give us photos of your guest-ready home and the festive table.

    I have just learned to love beets. Eagerly await your recipe.

  3. Yes, hooray for the recepie. I think I would cook beets for it. And cool them. And peel them. And dice them.

  4. Oh, can I come to your next luncheon? If only New Zealand wasn't so far away.

  5. I wish I had eaten at your house...

  6. Your home is so welcoming. Very pleased you're going to give us the beetroot salad recipe; looks delicious.

    That Red fell asleep on you is quite something. She knows how loved she is. :)

  7. What a fabulous entry. Thank you.



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