Set off at six in the morning, the sky still black as pitch. The weather forecasters all sounded very sad and gloomy, but the night cleared to leave translucent blue and lavender clouds and glimmering flashes of cornflower sky.
As I drove past Stirling Castle, the low amber sun suddenly broke through and turned the whole sky violet and rose and silver. It was like being in one of those films about how magical Scotland is, the ones for strangers and tourists. The castle itself, up on its fortified hill, was silhouetted black against the light, glowering with history.
It was so lovely, it was all fine. There was not a dozing old girl in the back seat, but that was fine. I could deal with that. There was a lot of interesting news on the Today Programme, and I had to concentrate on the alarming headlines from Gaza. Israel and Palestine is so insoluble and labyrinthine that it does require all one’s brain.
Then I got cross because a man came on to talk about school computers and would not answer the question. He was not a politician or elected to anything or even in the public eye. He was just a man who knew about learning and technology, and he would only talk in vague generalities, despite being begged for specifics. Poor Sarah Montague gave up in the end.
Why do intelligent people do this? Do they not know it makes them look like shifty fools? I shall never understand it until the day I die, when I shall almost certainly be lying on my black crepe bed, still yelling ANSWER THE QUESTION.
So I was all business, and a bit of pedantry, and some indignation. And then the most extraordinary woman called Blanche Marvin came on Desert Island discs and started talking about love, and Nimrod was one of her records, and over the dun mountains the clouds arranged themselves into long troughs, so that the sun poured down through the gaps in biblical stripes, and all that talk and music and beauty was too much.
So I cried at Birkwood, and I cried at Abington, and I cried at Moffat. They were good big tears, the kind when your face is quite dry one moment and soaking wet the next. I had been holding on a bit tight, lately, hoping if I sat very still it might not hurt. That does not work. You’ve got to get the hurt out, and a car driving through mountains with Elgar on the wireless is a good place to do it.
The moment I hit Cumbria, all the glittering weather disappeared and there was a folding grey fog. I felt safe and quiet in the fog; there was something soothing about it.
Then I got to Tebay and ate a cheese sandwich and drank some special tomato soup I had made for the journey and put in a flask, and felt like something from the 1970s.
I watched the racing and backed two big winners, the lovely promising prospects Dynaste and Dodging Bullets. I fondly followed one of my dear old darlings, Hello Bud, as he hunted round in the cross country race. He was too old, at fourteen, to win it, but he finished an honourable fifth, and must have given his jockey, Sam Twiston-Davies, a great thrill, and it was delightful to see him as keen and sure-footed and filled with enthusiasm as he ever was. Some horses just really love their racing and he is one. Retirement will be a colossal bore for such a hard-working old fella; he will be shaking his head thinking field, schmield.
It’s strange, being in this place without either of the old ladies. They loved it here, bounding to the door, wagging their tails, walking busily behind the reception desk to say hello to the smiling ladies who work there. They were so gracious and beautiful that they literally turned heads. People would stop talking and smile. Now it’s just me, with my muddy coat with the broken bits of horse treat in the pocket, and my gumboots, black from the Scottish earth, and my slightly distrait hair.
Now, it’s just me. But that’s all right, because on on on I bugger, and there is Hunt Ball tomorrow, and all the beloved cousins, and all kinds of things.
Too tired for pictures after 280 miles on the road, so here are three beauties from the archive:
The Dear Departed:
And the very much with us. Red the Mare, from the summer, doing her Minnie the Moocher walk:
I have goodly NOT rung up to see how she is, because I know I shall end up asking stupid questions like Is she missing me? And that is just soft and idiotic and something no proper horsewoman would ever do.
She’s a HORSE. She’s fine.
And now I must go and read myself a lecture on italics and capitals and the perils of their OVERUSE.