Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Of horses, gold medals and secret projects

It turns out I have a secret project. I love a secret project. Most of these go nowhere, but merely occupy my midnight hours. This one, however, may have legs. It was suggested to me by The Playwright, and since he is the wisest man I know, I usually do exactly what he says. (I always know he is serious when he starts a telephone call with a firm, yet faintly quizzical, ‘Now...’)

Anyway, this morning I just sat down and wrote 1695 words of the secret project, on top of my other work. So I feel rather surprised and industrious.

I watched the dressage in the afternoon as a treat. Everyone rode beautifully and the horses did the impossible things that dressage horses do, and madly, Britain won. Blighty has never won a dressage medal in its life. Roumania and Mexico have more dressage medals than we do, and one does not necessarily think of them as the home of the English style of riding. But suddenly everything shone with perfection and not a hoof was in the wrong place and everyone practically fainted with astonishment and pleasure.

Every time I turn on the wireless now, I hear an excited reporter saying: ‘Britain’s won another gold medal.’ I literally heard that exact sentence on the way up to the mares to do evening stables, and on the way home again. What is rather sweet is that it is not said in any triumphalist way. Britain is used to being a bit crap, her glory days behind her. She watches, like a tired and indulgent old aunt, as the boisterous teenagers, America and China, take over the world. They expect, I suspect, to be world-beaters. It always astonishes me when I hear American politicians or commentators state with certainty that theirs is the greatest nation on earth. I am slightly envious of such self-belief. If asked, most Britons might mutter that their country is ‘all right, I suppose’. It’s the same mindset that replies ‘Not too bad,’ when asked how one is.

So the sports reporters sound not like mighty titans, certain of British glory, but like little boys, absolutely giddy and astounded that these things are happening to battered old us. Even the BBC newsreaders who are on strict instructions from the grave of Lord Reith never to get excited about anything (impartiality at all times) cannot keep an antic delight out of their voices.

I love it. I love that people are getting excited about sports they never heard of until two weeks ago. My mother follows everything, and now is quite knowledgeable about archery and judo. Who knew that Britons were brilliant at the dressage and the pommel horse? Someone on Twitter got very cross when I dared to suggest that the national mood was light, pointing out, quite correctly that there isn’t really any such thing as national mood. But there perhaps are moments of national spirit, when the imagination of the public is caught, and something in the dusty zeitgeist shifts, and I think this might be one of those times.

The mare, catching a whiff of Olympic fever in the air, decided to perform her very own dressage test out in her field. It was sort of polo dressage: tight turns, sudden flat gallop, floating extended trot, stop on a sixpence. She loves doing this when the mood is in her, and it makes me double up with laughter. What always astonishes me is that when the bronco is out of her, she immediately reverts to her dozy donkey state. She turns to me, lowers her head in a little bow, and offers her forehead for scratching. The lower lip wibbles and the eyelashes flutter, and the wild thing becomes a dope, who only wishes for love. It’s very touching. At moments like that, my heart bursts in my chest, and I run out of words for love.


Today’s pictures:

7 Aug 17 Aug 2

7 Aug 37 Aug 3-0017 Aug 57 Aug 6

Here goes Red the mare, with all her high ancestry thrilling in her:

7 Aug 10

7 Aug 13

And then, when she has calmed down and had a nice brush, she looks as if butter would not melt in her mouth:

7 Aug 11

Myfanwy the Pony, who did excellent work this morning:

7 Aug 15

This is the face the Pigeon makes when I make her pose for photographs instead of throwing her ball:

7 Aug 16

Isn’t it pitiful? I think she may be developing into a bit of a drama queen in her old age:

7 Aug 17


7 Aug 20


  1. Heavens, the Pigeon is a drama queen. There is no mistaking the emotions in those two shots.

    Your dressage riders were spectacular; could not be happier for you. And I love the simple good taste of not bleating out to the world that "we are the greatest" at every turn. (That is not to put my own country down; I love it--but what's wrong with according equal respect to everyone else?)

    Have heard several people say that they have watched this Olympics more, and enjoyed them more, than any in recent memory. Cannot even imagine what it must feel like to be in London right now.


  2. In defense of the U.S., I don't know how many of the citizens actually think that we are the best country in the world. Of course enough of us do that the politicians have to say it or they're finished, but I never heard a real live private person say it to me until I was 29 years old and telling my husband's grandmother about a trip I'd taken somewhere, and she said something like, "And weren't you just so relieved to be back in the United States?" I was not, particularly (I think I'd been describing Paris), and it had never occurred to me that I might be. And everybody of my acquaintance who went abroad after W was elected took either to whispering, with a cringe, that they were Americans, or they simply lied and said they were Canadian, because we were so ashamed of that arrogance that W and pals were broadcasting.

    That said, I've heard some really ugly things come out of some Americans when the US has lost, showing a definite sense of entitlement, so as much as I'd like to, I cannot pretend that there aren't those who really do expect to be world-beaters all the time, and nothing could serve those people better than that the US should not win. I just wish they would not taint all of us with their nasty parochial little brushes.

  3. Oh, Pigeon. She looks like a debutante, photographed by Cecil Beaton, Dorothy Wilding or one of those - all demure. I love her.


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