Friday, 30 November 2012

Finally, I admit blob defeat

Every day, in the family life, the hours scoot away, but in some strange, cussed way, what the children call the Blobby Blob gets written. Most of the time, I have to apologise for grammatical errors, non-sequiturs, possible idiocies, wild tangents, and general lack of coherence. But at least there are words. I think that as long as there are words, everything is all right.

Tonight, I have to admit defeat. The hours went; the fingers can hardly move to type; there are no words.

The weather was cold and glittering; the children were sweet and funny; the new gentleman is getting more and more settled. I even won huge wads of cash, as the enchanting grey Dynaste romped home to his second glorious victory over fences. He was a good hurdler, but he has taken to the big jumps as if they were the very things he was waiting for. I have rarely seen a horse have so much fun.

I was very careful not to shout, for fear of alarming the new gent. Stanley the Lurcher is not used to my intemperate racing self; I don’t want to shock him, early on. My old girls used to jump up and down and bark their heads off as I howled my fancies home, mostly up the Cheltenham hill. (When Kauto Star won one of his Gold Cups, I think it was the first, we were making such a racket that my neighbour burst in the front door, thinking that we were suffering a home invasion.) I shall have to introduce Mr S gradually to this kind of rumpus.

In other words, it was a Good Day.

No time or energy for pictures either. Just two of the dear new arrival:

30 Nov 1-001

30 Nov 2

He really is a glorious fellow. I love that rather whippety profile. I am trying to work out his heritage. I think there is greyhound, possibly a bit of boxer, even a touch of Lab, I am almost sure some collie, and a dash of Staffordshire. A lot of sight dog, as some of the clever Dear Readers have observed. This is a very particular thing, which needs me to develop a whole new set of skills. His sight dog heritage is already showing; he can spot a fly at twenty paces.

The Smallest Cousin has just crawled onto my lap. ‘That’s a LOT of blob,’ she says. ‘You really are doing that Blobby Blob.’

She pauses. She thinks for a moment. ‘I would like a computer,’ she says. (She is four years old, so the possibility is remote.) She says, seriously: ‘I’d like to press all those buttons.’

I think: I’d like to press all those buttons too. It would make my agent very happy.

As I finish, and scroll back to check the paltry amount of words, the Smallest Cousin says, in hollering cartoon voice: ‘Whoah! You were a big writer there.’ Out of the mouths of babes, I think. If only it were true.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

A new arrival; or, the dog stories get even shaggier

Sometimes very sweet and unexpected things happen. This morning, I got it into my head that Stanley the Lurcher must have the softest and most delightful sheepskin rug for his bed. I generally do not like actual dog beds; I find them rather dispiriting. My old girls used to sleep on a combination of sheepskins and precious Welsh blankets and one of those soft paisley eiderdowns that they don’t make any more.

Sheepskins are very easy to get in my neck of the woods; they sell lovely ones in the butcher’s. I assumed that in the west country, famous for great sheep, they might be ten a penny. Not a bit of it. People looked at me in astonishment when I asked. I was resigned to the failure of my Great Plan. Luckily, there were several excellent blankets in the car, but still, it was not quite the same.

As a final throw of the dice, I went into a country market in Frome. I did not have much hope by this stage.

The market was packing up when I arrived. Nearest the door, three ladies of a certain age were clearing trestle tables of some unsold plants. ‘I haven’t taken any money today,’ I heard one of them say.

Then, next to a couple of woody geraniums, I spotted something furry sticking out of a huge black bin bag.

‘Excuse me?’ I said. ‘But those aren’t sheepskins by any chance?’

‘They certainly are,’ said the ladies.

They certainly were: the finest, biggest, deepest, softest sheepskins I’d ever seen. I hate to say this, but they cast our small, tough Scottish ones into the shade. Somerset sheep must be the most luxuriant in the country.

The day was saved. I shelled out wads of cash to the smiling women, expressed my unconfined joy, somewhat to their surprise, and felt that the whole thing was a perfect sign.

The lovely boy is lying by my side, on his new five star bed, as I write this. We have had heroic walks; I have discovered that he knows Wait, Sit, and Paw. He is a little anxious, in the way that rescue dogs are, but is adapting like a Trojan.

‘I am your person,’ I tell him, gravely. ‘I’m not going anywhere.’

He’s a very, very different type from my glorious old lab-collie crosses. He is lean where they were soft, questing where they were calm. I remember them mostly as old ladies; he has the vigour of gentlemanly youth. Also, I’m used to bitches, and a dog is a novel proposition. Even my equine herd is composed of females. Getting used to a fellow is a new thing entirely.

It’s perfect that he is so different. You do not replace a dog, any more than you could replace a human. Even as I watched his lovely amber eyes in the rear view mirror, driving through the west country, the green fields gleaming in the sun, I was washed with a wave of grief for my Pigeon.

Oddly, this new love makes the loss of the old love almost keener. The point, really, is not to mend my heart, but to mend his. I won’t feel any less sad about my Dear Departeds, but I shall have a new creature to love, and to be responsible for, and to offer a new, hopeful life.

As I always say, over and over, I don’t think one fixes sorrow, or gets over it, or even heals it, really. I think that, in time, there is room for joyful things, so the pain can be balanced by the pleasure. The lost are balanced by the found; the dead by the living.

Mostly, I believe in stoicism, and it’s an awful lot easier to be stoical if there is a dog in the house.

And now there is, in actual living fact, STANLEY THE LURCHER. I love him. I love you, too, for already taking him to your hearts. It’s a slightly odd thing to say to strangers, but, bugger it, I’m way past the point of good old British reserve. Today, it’s all about the Love.


Today’s pictures:

It felt like a sign too that today was one of the most beautiful of the year. I woke at five-thirty, mad with excitement, to a vast, humming moon, so bright that I thought for a moment there were army helicopters outside the window. That gave way to a limpid, lavender dawn, which in turn transformed itself to a sunny winter day of such clarity that I could find no words for it.

I managed to snap a very few quick pictures for you, rather late in the day:

29 Nov 1

29 Nov 5

29 Nov 2

Turner skies:

29 Nov 3

29 Nov 4

Stanley the Lurcher, on his first day. Look, look, he can do Pigeon BLINKY EYES:

29 Nov 10

Elegant profile:

29 Nov 11

(That horrid little yellow thing is just to say he is micro-chipped. It will soon be replaced by a smart engraved tag.)

The Amber Gaze. I suspect there will be quite a lot of that, over the coming weeks:

29 Nov 13

See how clever and alert he is?:

29 Nov 14

Two people who shall be waiting to meet him, taken on the day I left, in their frosty blue field:

29 Nov 22

The Originals, who remain always stitched into my heart:

29 Nov 30

Oh, those faces.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

A very shaggy dog story

Quite often, when I am in this cousin visit, I sit down, far too late, to write the blog and say something like: ah well, the day got away from me like a wild horse. Usually this is just because I am not accustomed to the sinews of family life. I always forget what acres of time I have at home. I expand my activities to fill the hours available, which is possibly why I know quite so much about American politics, but there really are hours.

That is why I am always in awe and wonder of those of you who do the parenting.

Today, though, apart from making a chicken risotto, I did not have that much domestic or child life. The hours ran away for quite other reasons. I was concerned with two things which will have serious consequences for my actual life, and how it goes on from here.

I got one done in the morning, and it is not yet resolved. In some ways, it does not matter so much. I am adapting. I discover that, as I get older, I am not calcified into hard habit, as rumour suggests, but oddly flexible. So, one thing did not work out quite as I had planned; there shall be an alternative, there may be a swerve in direction. Perhaps it is because I am still in the early days of life without the Pigeon. Losing a Beloved can make one realise that other frets are small things indeed.

The second, which has been going on for a while, and needed a final bit of logistic, and then some patient waiting for the result, was to do with the Rescue Gent.

I really, really was not going to tell you about this. I did not want to tempt fate; I did not want to have to go into explanations should the thing fail; I did not even especially want my family to know, and have their expectations raised. But the hope grew so great in me that it kept leaking out about the edges. I could not help mentioning it here. I sent a hinting email to The Mother. The World Traveller got a telephone message, and sent one back, transports in her voice.

Part of my pathetic attempts at discretion were, I am slightly ashamed to admit, to do with a completely irrational idea about my two old girls. There was a part of me which felt as if I was committing some kind of betrayal. I know this is absurd, and empirically incorrect, but there we are; it turns out that despite my rationalist self, I cannot help a little magical thinking creeping in around the edges.

Many people, Dear Readers included, say, when an adored dog dies, that you must get another. I was convinced that was a load of buggery bollocks. There must be a pause, a grave mourning period, a time of proper and right grief. Hats must be doffed; respect must be paid. But late at night, when I was feeling particularly melancholy, I could not help wandering around the internet, looking at other dogs.

I kept coming back to the Gentleman. There are literally thousands of dogs out there which need a home. There are pleading beauties everywhere you look. But his face was the one that drew me back, time and time again. And in a particularly odd confluence of synchronicity, it turned out that his foster humans and I had a family connection, through my dear departed dad. It seemed like a sign, even though I’m never quite sure I believe in signs.

So, the application was made. Then I convinced myself that I would not be deemed suitable. I am slightly used to not being suitable, on account of not always following the path most travelled. Besides, writing gets you used to rejection. The pitch is not quite the right one, the profile is not what the publishers are looking for, the market is crying out for anything except for one. I drew on old resources and steeled myself for failure.

The vet was asked for a reference. God knows what he will say, I thought. Last time he saw me, I was sobbing in his office; face scarlet with emotion, eyes pigged with grief.

Finally, all the due diligence was done. I had sent off the last requested piece of information. I sat down and tried to think of something else. Every time my email pinged, I rushed to the computer. I never realised how much absurd email I got (missives from The Racing Post reminding me about the Ten to Follow competition, Google alerts about Kauto Star, kind offers from John Lewis for 20% off for Christmas) until I was waiting for the ONE VITAL MESSAGE.

In the end, it was a telephone call.

It was YES.

I’m afraid to say I put the telephone down and burst into tears. I like to think I believe in stoicism and putting a good face on things, but sometimes that does fail. Just then, it failed. Luckily, the Beloved Cousin and the visiting Old Friend have no fear of strong emotion. They flung their arms out in celebration. I shall always remember the moment I was told that the Rescue Gentleman should be mine, because those two great women were here to celebrate it with me.

One more absurdity, if you will kindly bear with me. (I am used to being slightly absurd, but sometimes I do feel the levels are getting near the Move to the Exit zone.) Everyone here, as you know, gets a blog name. Even the animals get blog names. It’s a nutty privacy thing. But for some reason, I am going to call the Rescue Gent by his real name. It’s such a great name, and I want you to know it.

He is a small lurcher, and his name is Stanley. My dream is that, at some stage, I shall get a friend for him, and the friend shall be christened Dr Livingstone. I cannot tell you how much pleasure this thought brings me.

So, my darlings, welcome a new addition to the blog. Say hello to Stanley the Lurcher, and the start of a whole new life.


No time or energy for many pictures today; just past and present and future Beloveds:

My darling Duchess and Pigeon:

28 Nov 9

28 Nov 10

Myfanwy the Pony, and Red the Mare, waiting patiently for me in Scotland, reported to have been on immaculate behaviour in my absence:

28 Nov 3

28 Nov 2

Oh, that furry face, with its slightly questing look. Luckily she adores dogs, so she shall be pleased about the New Addition.

And here he is, our lovely fellow, to be with us very, very soon:

Stanley the Dog

Stanley the Lurcher. You do see.

PS. I am so tired my eyes are actually blurred, so I cannot begin to do a proof-read, or an edit. There are almost certainly terrible blunders and typos and nonsenses. Please forgive.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The sweetness of family life

I know I may appear slightly obsessed with the doings of the young cousins, but when one does not have daily dealings with children, it is impossible not to find their young minds absolutely fascinating.

The ten-year-old took part in a swimming tournament today, and BEAT THE BOYS. Of course the old feminist in me found this marvellously bracing, but the family partisan was even more thrilled. At that age, the boys really do have the physical edge, but my little mermaid knows nothing of that. She just dives in and goes like an arrow, leaving everyone floundering in her wake. It is quite a remarkable thing. She does not even do the helicopter parent after-school training; she just has the natural athleticism and the determined will to win.

I said to her tonight, at tea: ‘Watching you swim is like watching Kauto Star at Cheltenham.’

Her mother took a deep intake of breath. She looked at her exhausted daughter.

‘Coming from Tania,’ she said, ‘that really is a compliment.’

Meanwhile, the four-year-old, who is so sophisticated that I keep thinking she must be five, has a mania for cleaning. ‘Anything I can wash?’ she cries.

We give her pots and pans. She takes up her place at the sink, and gets out the Fairy Liquid. ‘Rinse it, sparkle it,’ she sings, tunefully.

She is very busy. She turns to me. ‘When Daddy gets back, ‘she says, seriously, ‘everything will be so SPARKLING.’

I go with it. ‘Yes,’ I say. ‘He will think that the Sparkle Fairy has been in the night.’

The four-year-old cousin beams with delight. ‘But it won’t be the SPARKLE FAIRY,’ she cries. ‘It will be ME.’

It’s been a very tiring day. I had admin, logistics, serious life conversations, swerves in direction. I am still waiting on news of my potential rescue gentleman. I had a sudden, swamping moment of missing my Pigeon so much I could not see straight. But quite frankly, when my small relation talks of the Sparkle Fairies, I think everything must be all right.

There is another old friend here, and quite soon, the three middle-aged ladies are going to sit down and watch an episode of The Killing, and drink some of the good claret. We are a perfect cliché, really. We used to go out and party all night. Now we are all about sparkle fairies and Danish television. For everything, there is a season.


Today’s pictures:

So sorry, no energy left for a good selection, but just a short blast from the archives. These are of my beloved girls, two not with us any more, two very much extant.

Duchess and Pigeon, ravishing in the snow:

27 Nov 1

27 nov 2

Myfanwy and Red, at ease:

27 Nov 4

27 Nov 5

Monday, 26 November 2012

Another lost day; or, not necessarily what I was going to talk about

My two smallest cousins appear to be singing My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean. They are prone to bursting into song at the slightest pretext. I discover that I like this very much in children. It makes me think, in an idiot sentimental way, of the moment in The Sound of Music when Christopher Plummer looks at Julie Andrews, and says something like: Fraulein, you have brought music back into my house.

The Smallest Cousin finishes singing and comes and gazes at me, quizzically.

‘Are you doing your blobby blob?’ she says.

She laughs immoderately. She is four years old. She clearly thinks that doing The Blob, as the children call it, is a fairly absurd activity, and she might be right.

‘Who are you sending it to?’ she says.

I explain about the Dear Readers, all around the world. I feel stupidly proud, as I tell this small person that I have readers in America and Sri Lanka and Australia and New Zealand and parts of Africa.

‘Have you been to Africa and Australia?’ she says.

‘I’ve been to the very northern bit of Africa,’ I say. (Egypt; one of the greatest trips I ever took.)

‘Do you go on a plane to Africa?’ she says.

‘Yes,’ I say. ‘You could go on a boat, but it would take a very long time.’

She thinks for a bit.

‘I’m not sure they have very much stuff,’ she says. ‘I’d have to take some stuff for them.’

She pauses. ‘There are not a lot of rich people in Africa,’ she says. ‘But there are some.’ Another pause. ‘Maybe one or two.’

She raises her eyebrows. ‘Or four rich people?’ she asks.

This is because of school. They do charity drives; the children fill shoe boxes and send them off. I think how funny it is, that the children of Africa still live so large in the minds of children in Britain. Forty years ago, when I was small, I was told that I must eat up all my supper because there were people in Africa who had nothing to eat.

It’s a lovely thing, in some ways; it makes you appreciate your great good fortune. It leads people like the remarkable Martha Payne to raise money for Mary’s Meals. But I remember being struck by a piece on the Today Programme a couple of weeks ago about Sierra Leone. It is most famous here for the civil war which split the country; now its economic growth is at mighty percentages which any European country would dream of. Not all the children of Africa, it seems, are going to bed hungry. One should not, I remember thinking, write off a whole continent, in a simplistic, patronising manner.

I lost another day today. There was so much to do, and so many things to think of, and so many deadlines to meet. I had logistics a go-go, and some possibly life-changing emails to send. The rescue gent comes closer. There are just some things I must show and tell; mostly that I have a safe garden and that I am a responsible adult, not some random nutter. I sincerely admire the rescue people for their care; they are kind and reasonable in their requirements, and I feel happy and pleased to try and tick all the politely requested boxes.

Part of the thing was to send photographs; I had to trawl through old files. I saw picture after picture of my lovely old girls. I missed them so much it was like a hole in my chest.

But then the four-year-old comes up and sings a song and asks about the blobby blob and worries about the people in Africa not having enough stuff, and my cracked old heart gets a little glow in it, and I know that it shall mend.


Today’s photographs:

Are a little odd. They are mostly from the archive, because that is where I have been, and they are of the Dear Departed, because that is of whom I have been thinking:

A very old picture of me with my girls, taken by the Older Niece:

26 Nov 1

Posh ladies:

26 Nov 2

Gazing Pigeon:

26 Nov 3

Noble Duchess:

26 Nov 9

The sisters together:

26 Nov 22

I came upon this glorious one too, of my old dad:

25 Nov 10-002

And these were the flowers I did for his funeral:

26 Nov 11

I was really proud of those.

And the living. The galvanising, antic, funny, beautiful, restorative Red the Mare:

26 Nov 33

26 Nov 34

Please forgive is this is filled with typographical errors and non-sequiturs and general nonsense. It is another day when I did not sit down to write until after seven, and my brain was good for nothing. But you must must MUST have a Blob.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Sunday. Horses, dogs, family, weather.

The weather stopped for a moment today; there was even a ray of sunshine. We are surrounded by floods, though; one local town about eight miles away is completely cut off.

The Beloved Cousin and I went to check on the horses. As we listened to the downpour rattling at the windows all last night, we had to steel our hearts, imagining the poor equines.

‘They are much tougher than one thinks,’ I said, not very convincingly. ‘It’s just a bit of wet.’

Sure enough, when we arrived in the late morning, there they all were, happy as grigs. There is a fascinating thing about the wisdom of herds; it is like the opposite of the madness of crowds. They had positioned themselves in the most sheltered corner of the valley, ready for the weather to set in again, which they did not need a forecaster to tell them would happen. The bigger and stronger horses had positioned themselves on the outside of the group, as if to protect the more delicate ones. The toughest of all were cavalier, out on their own, grazing as if there was nothing in the world to worry about.

Only one came to say hello, the sweetest and kindest bay mare, with whom I did absurd amounts of bonding. The Beloved Cousin had to drag me away, before the lunch got burnt. I almost wrote to the Old Fella in Argentina to see if she might like to move to Scotland. It turned out she is his fastest and best pony, an absolute legend on the polo field, striking fear into the hearts of all the other players. Yet there she was, in her winter off, mooching about the field like the dearest old dote.

She made me miss my own Red. I thought of the twist of fate which brought that mare to my door. She was almost sold abroad, and would have gone, except the fellow with the lorry never turned up. It makes me shudder a little in my shoulders to think of life without her. If one strange man had not been unreliable, I would not have had this great source of joy. Imagine.

It sounds a bit nuts to say so, but it is the great love I have for Red the Mare which keeps my bashed old heart beating now that the Pigeon and the Duchess are gone. She is consolation with knobs on and flags flying and trumpets playing. In my recording of gratitudes, apart from my health and the family and opposable thumbs, Red is the hugest name on the list.

See? I say to myself; there is always something. In almost all tunnels, there is light.

From next door as I write this, there is the sound of laughter. (There is a lot of laughter in this house.) The Middle Cousin is playing Hallelujah on the guitar, at which she is very talented. I’m going to have some Guinness and then the grown-ups shall watch Homeland, and we two old ladies shall take ourselves up to early bed, and tomorrow shall be another day. And perhaps, perhaps, with fingers crossed and the stars aligned, I move one step closer to the possibility of the lovely rescue gentleman.


Today’s pictures are of the day, with some from the archive of my old girls:

The herd:

25 Nov 12

The outlier:

25 Nov 15

The Legend:

25 Nov 14

25 Nov 16

One of the young fillies, on box rest:

25 Nov 28-001


25 Nov 26

25 Nov 28

25 Nov 33


25 Nov 30


25 Nov 25

Smallest Cousin, in her Sunday best:

25 Nov 29

Cousins’ canine:

25 Nov Dido 1

My own old girls, from the archive:

25 Nov 34

25 Nov 34-001

25 Nov 35

It’s funny, looking back through the files for pictures of the dogs. The Pidge was often smiling, but the Duchess was always grave. She was quite a noble, serious dog, hence her nickname. She had gravitas. She would play and vamp and wiggle her stern, especially when flirting with handsome fellows, but her default setting was gravity. Perhaps it was that she did not take all that great beauty she had lightly.

My funny little equines, from the blue morning before I left for the south:

25 Nov 1

Suddenly remembered the Dear Readers’ request for pictures of the hair, and dutifully took the usual absurd self-portrait. Only problem was I forgot to put my hood down, so you get Nanook of the North instead of scarlet barnet. Shall put right the omission this week. But I thought this was quite funny, so you shall have it:


It actually was not that cold, but clearly I was taking no chances.

Oh, and so you can see what The Old Fella is doing, down in South America, here he is. This was posted on Facebook by the Argentine player he is working with. (The OF backs and makes and brings on young playing ponies.) Not bad, for an old chap:

22 Nov Old Fella in Argentina

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Saturday; mostly pictures

I had a whole bushel of words for you today, but the hours rushed away from me and now it is eight o’clock and my brain has turned itself off. So today is mostly pictures.

The loveliest thing of the day was watching Kauto Star parade around Haydock, the place where he stamped his class and his guts and his great, beating heart on four glorious occasions. The old warrior looked better than ever, his head held high, the look of eagles in his eyes. The new stars, coming out to strut their stuff, looked a little mere and ordinary by comparison. The decision to retire the great horse whilst he is still fit and well was a good and honourable one, but there was a sliver of regret in me as I watched him, looking as if he could hack round the three miles in a canter and give the young fellows a run for their money.

There are some very exciting new young horses this season, and some lovely prospects just coming into their pomp, but nothing will thrill me quite like Kauto. He was, truly, a horse in a generation. As Ruby Walsh once said of him, live on British television, to happy, watching millions: ‘Ah, I love him, anyway.’

I shall miss him.

I miss my dogs today, quite a lot. ‘Why do dogs have to die?’ asked the four-year-old cousin, in a spirit of enquiry. I did not really have an awfully good ontological answer to that.

I miss my mare, who is very much alive, but five hundred miles north. I look at pictures, to quench the yearning. ‘Oh,’ says the four-year-old, a dying fall in her voice, ‘she is so beautiful.’ And so she is, and I am lucky to have her.


Today’s pictures are a random selection from the last few months. I was going through the files and plucked these out for you. There are some archive shots of the Duchess and the Pigeon too:

24 Nov 1

24 Nov 2

24 Nov 3

24 Nov 4

24 Nov 38

24 Nov 6

24 Nov 6-001

24 Nov 6-002

24 Nov 9

24 Nov 10

24 Nov 11

24 Nov 39

24 Nov 14

24 Nov 15

24 Nov 17

24 Nov 17-001

24 Nov 18

24 Nov 18-001

24 Nov 22

24 Nov 22-001

24 Nov 24

24 Nov 25

24 Nov 26

24 Nov 28

24 Nov 28-001

24 Nov 29

24 Nov 30

24 Nov 31

24 Nov 33

24 Nov 35

24 Nov 37


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