Monday, 20 August 2012

Random Monday. Or, horses, politics, and a short break in regular programming

Today, I rode my mare in only a thin rope halter and a leading rope. (I want to put all that in HUGE CAPITAL LETTERS. WITH LOTS OF EXCLAMATION MARKS!!! But you see how heroically I resisted.)

Those of you who ride Western or do natural horsemanship may be thinking: yeah, yeah, big whoop. Anyone brought up in the English tradition, or who harbours doubts about thoroughbreds may be thinking, as I was: what the...????

I grew up with lots of bits. I rode in double bridles and Pelhams, as well as snaffles. I rode quite a lot of strong, galloping ponies, and they needed things in their mouths. Today, for reasons too boring to recount, I threw the bit away. I was really interested to see what would happen. I mean: she was a racehorse, after all. She could have just buggered off, and I would have not had many means to stop her. Also, I wondered about direction. I don’t rely on the bit for steering, but I do use it.

I rather wish I could relate the whole story step by step, but I’ve too many other things to say. Also, you would die of boredom. I would just like to record that we did a perfect, slow, sitting trot; long, extended walk; and, most amazing of all, serpentines and tight turns round the saplings. Steering, astonishingly, was better with just a halter.

I have not literally thrown away the bit. But quite frankly, after that revelation, I may never use a bridle again. Bridle, schmidle.

It made me think of the prejudice against thoroughbreds. Because I grew up with them, I slightly thought they were the only horses. I knew people liked cobs and Connemaras and Irish sports horses, but I’m afraid I always thought they were a bit down the pecking order. Thoroughbreds, in my mind, were the kings and queens. It’s only lately I have discovered that people spread the most ghastly calumnies about the breed. According to nasty, tattling tongues, they are difficult and temperamental and hard to handle and too sensitive and bad doers and not affectionate. I even found one website ironically called: You can’t hug a thoroughbred. (The people there insist otherwise, but that is what they have been told.)

I hug my thoroughbred all the time. I can lie down with her, and walk under her stomach, and she will fall asleep on me. I can lead her, groom her, rug her, feed her, all without any rope or headcollar. Today, I discovered that I can ride her without a bridle. She is the poster girl for her breed; one-mare proof that all the rumours are not true. I could not be prouder or happier.


Driving about the gleaming Aberdeenshire countryside, admiring the late summer colours (wild blues, purples and high yellows), I caught an argument on the radio. It was about the new housing policy suggested by the centre-right Policy Exchange. It’s a rather practical idea: very expensive social housing in swanky postcodes should, when it falls empty, be sold, and the money used to build several cheaper houses not in Chelsea or Notting Hill. There are huge waiting lists for council houses, and this is a fairly interesting solution.

The man arguing for it was a mild, wonkish fellow with a faint northern accent. Not a cartoon evil Etonian, in other words. The woman arguing against was middle-class, and livid. She went straight to the emotive: throwing people out of their homes, ghettoes, social divisiveness. The poor fellow repeated three times that no one was being thrown out of anywhere, but she would not listen. Because the policy was suggested by a right of centre organisation, it must, clearly, be an attack on the poor. If low-income families cannot live in Mayfair, then there is no social justice. It was really, really stupid.

As regular readers know, I’ve given up tribalism. I take each policy or argument on its merits, regardless who vaunts it. I’m of the left in that I really do believe in government. I’m a bit of a collectivist; I think that wildly free markets and rampant individualism can bash and strain the social fabric. Part of the reason I loved the Olympics so is that it could only have been put on in the way it was by a collective, and could only have been covered so well by a state broadcaster like the BBC. The old leftie in me got a very naughty shiver of righteous shadenfreude when the private G4s screwed up on a monumental scale, and the public army stepped into the breach. (Everyone said that the soldiers were magnificent.)

When the right is silly, it bangs on about feral children and benefit scroungers and dreams, idiotically, of a mythical golden era when everything was so much better. It keeps saying that supply side is the answer to everything when it is patently not. (I am an empiricist; I have seen the graphs.) When the left is silly, it insists that all private enterprise is intrinsically evil and that the Tories loathe the poor and want to punish them and take away their shoes. Today, the left was being silly.

The thing about the social compact is that it must be consented to. It must be seen to be fair; taxes should not be squandered or hurled about on crazed vanity projects or jobsworth jobs. In this way, we are all stitched into the communal fabric. If the Daily Mail gets to run too many scare stories about families on the dole living in million pound houses, then the fairness aspect starts to creak, and the compact is in danger of disintegrating. People ask difficult questions; ordinary decent Britons may suspect that their hard-earned cash is not being used in the most sensible way.

This housing idea may have some unintended consequences, and should be questioned and checked, of course. But to come on the radio and scream about how building houses in Stoke Newington, say, instead of putting up families in the hedge-fund theme park that is Westbourne Grove, is some kind of sinister plot to herd the poor into ghettoes is insulting and intellectually lazy. It also feeds the right-wing caricature of the left, which is never helpful.

This policy may or may not work, but it could be discussed without everyone going immediately to knee-jerk and howling about ghettoes. The word cleansing has also been used, which is really offensive to those who have been ethnically cleansed. The country needs more houses; someone has to work out how to do it. This notion may not be the answer, but it is a start. I don’t care if a useful idea comes from the right, or the left; I care about its utility.

And that’s my little political rant of the day.


I’m going to have some time off. I’m going to see Frankel run in the penultimate race of his glorious career. (Even as I write that sentence, I feel a twist of wild excitement in my stomach; I get butterflies and shivers up my spine.) I’m going to see The Playwright’s play. I’m going to visit some dear relations.

My nutty relationship with this blog is such that I keep thinking: even on a break, moving about, I must still give you your daily bulletin. What would I do without the Dear Readers? But I have decided that I am going to be ruthless. I am going to go off the blog, and possibly even Twitter and Facebook too. My mind is tired, after the wrangle with the old book and the pitching for new books and the inception of the secret project. I’m going to switch off all my machines, and read old-school paper novels, and sleep late, and settle my antic brain. Then, I shall come back for the new term in September fresh as forty-seven daisies.

My terror, of course, is that you shall all have fled, to more fecund pastures. You shall find other Pigeons and other mares and other rambly musings on more fruitful subjects. I shall switch on the computer and find only tumbleweed and dust where there was a village. That is how bonkers I am. This idiot belief is actually my final sign that I really must stop for a while. If I have given in to this much loony thinking, then it surely must be a red flag. I need a holiday, and I’m going to take one. I thank you for all your lovely comments, and your generous support. I’m going to trust to the ether, and hope that you shall still all be here when I return, on the 3rd of September.


Very quick pictures, as I must pack:

Red, doing her Minnie the Moocher:

20 Aug 1

Gazing at her view:

20 Aug 2

Doing her butter would not melt face:

20 Aug 3

Pigeon, gazing with love at the Younger Brother:

20 Aug 5

With hopeful ball face:

20 Aug 6

Dreaming of biscuits:

20 Aug 7

She is coming with, this time; I know some of you will be wondering.

The hill:

20 Aug 20


  1. Oh no. I am going to be very selfish. I have been having quite a stressful time. I know I shouldn't find my situation stressful but I have and your daily blog has helped me through. I have been on garden leave and not done any gardening. I have in fact been a little useless but your blog has been my daily source of wonderful writing and a world outside of mine which currently consists of boring business people being beastly. But I should not be selfish - enjoy your well earned rest and I will look forward so much to your return. You will be missed but please come back. We will be waiting.

  2. LOL, my only comment (since presumably you won't be reading them for awhile) was going to be, but what about the Pigeon? Hopefully, she's coming too!

    Will think about you on Wednesday when Frankel runs. Have a great time.


  3. Of course, we'll be here on September 3, anticipating your wonderful writing and photos, full of Red, Pigeon, and the hill. Do enjoy! So delighted Pigeon will be with you!

  4. You can trust this Dear Reader to manage without the bit and the bridle. Have a wonderful unplugged break.

  5. ENJOY YOUR VACATION! (I'm not shouting; I don't know how to make boldface type for emphasis.)
    Have FUN!

  6. Just in case you're having a sneaky look, are you only going as far as Yorkshire or will you be coming further south to West Berkshire? If so, do come and say hello as I shall be in the village during the week of the bank holiday - middle of the five white cottages with the bridges (the one with beams) on the way to the church. Come for tea and I can show you our lovely Andalucians. Karen

  7. Wild horses (thoroughbred or otherwise) couldn't drag me away! Enjoy your break. We'll all be waiting. x

  8. Have a lovely holiday and don't fret: we'll all be here when you return.

  9. Just reading these now, as I throw things in a suitcase. What readers you are. Thank you.

    And to the first Anon especially - you are so very kind and almost make me rethink my decision. But I must stick to it. Perhaps a little wander through the archives? I know it's not quite the same. The idea of being someone's daily reading, through rotten times, is my highest compliment. I have slight angst that I am just buggering off, but I promise I shall make up for it when I return. Sending you all love. xx

  10. The third of September is not a week! You are pulling a Red to put a scare into us. But, we're all well trained now.

  11. Have a fabulous break, see you in the new term =D

  12. Have a wonderful break! Rest assured there is only one Pigeon and one Red and I'll look forward to seeing them when you get back.
    Enjoy yourself xx

  13. In order: most impressed (only slightly less than Red lying down for you). Riding with just body weight, legs and the reins - that takes real awareness. Far too easy to rely on the bit. Bitless bridles are wonderful if a horse has a very sensitive mouth or, conversely, a really hard mouth.

    Housig - the big thing is to NOT create pockets of people who need public housing. Especially when the houses are being built further away from the services they need (public transport, local shops, schools, health care, etc). Nasty stuff happens then. The other bit to balance is heritage - it's so sad when a well built old house is knocked down and replaced by something you know won't last 20 years and which radically changes the streetscape. But there is a whole conundrum there as well.

    Oh! (doleful face at prospect of no new photos, ongoing tales of the Pigeon, Red, Myfwany, plants). But - I also totally understand the need to disconnect for your own sake. And this is your blog after all, you are not our slave. So, okay - bugger thee off, refresh yourself and we will be waiting patiently.

    Have a wonderful time away with Pigeon!

  14. You more than deserve the break. We'll all be here waiting come September 3rd, until then, have a wonderful time and know you will ne much missed.
    Love from us here in deepest Yorkshire.

  15. Have a wonderful holiday. I could not understand head or tail about the horses but thats alright as you sound delirious (with happiness!)


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