Thursday, 8 November 2012

One step forward, one step back

I remember this now, from last year. One step forward, one step back. Yesterday, with all the excitement of the election, I had a glimmering flash of normality. This is what I shall feel like when my heart no longer aches in my chest. I felt hopeful, and rather stupidly pleased with myself. I can do this thing; I can get everything into perspective and not be sunk. Watch me, marching myself back to fine.

Then, today, there was a bit of a crash. I went out to take a picture of the beech avenue. The beeches are so magnificent this year, and the sun is out, and the autumn colours are to real to be true. The Dear Readers, I thought, slightly dizzily, in my antic head, love the beech avenue; I can give them that nice treat at least, since they have to put up with all my weeping and wailing.

I took the picture. The avenue looked quite ravishing. I’ll just walk up there, I thought. I’ll walk under those venerable old trees and look at the colours. And then I got a flash of a little black ghost, trotting away in front of me, and I could not do it. Couldn’t do it.

I went back into the house and made some soup. All I have done since Friday is make soup. Chicken soup first, of course, of course, as the two ladies I think of as my Jewish and my Italian mammas came out and rolled up their sleeves. I have no idea if those stereotypes really are true. I bet there are millions of Italian and Jewish mothers who have never made a pot of soup in their lives, but the awful thing is that is what I always think, when I am attempting to heal existential wounds through cooking. I’m the one who is endlessly banging on about not generalising or making assumptions, and yet there I go.

After the chicken soup, I move on to leek. A lovely simple pale green soup, with a little onion and a handful of watercress, for strength. Today, it is mushroom soup, black and earthy and tasting very strongly of itself.

Every so often I think, furiously, despairingly, like a child: I want my dog back.

Come along, says my sensible voice, ushering me gently on through the day; come along. There’s no call for that.

Other things are happening. The poor stepfather has smashed up his knee and is in plaster. My sister had to have a rather serious operation, and calls me, dopey with morphine, from her hospital bed. Even after having two surgeons go at her, she still finds the time to read the blog and send me heartening little emails of love.

The Older Brother actually sits down and writes a letter.

It arrived yesterday. I heard the postman and went to the door. Usually, there is a muddle of paper on the floor; periodicals and flyers and charity letters and bills. Instead, there was just one pristine envelope, Smythson’s finest, in deep cornflower blue. He managed to include Paddy Leigh-Fermor, Lucien Freud and our eccentric Irish uncle, all in one letter. (Freud loved his dogs.) It was funny and touching and clever and I was rather overwhelmed that he took the time.

I do one small piece of work. I run errands. I even read a bit of the paper, in an attempt to keep up with world affairs.

For a special treat, I get a copy of the Racing Post, and read about one of my favourite horses in the world, the magnificent Hunt Ball, whose rags to riches story always brings me delight.

He started off in very ordinary handicaps, trained in a small yard, owned by a dairy farmer who gets up at four-thirty every morning to milk his cows. Over the course of last season, Hunt Ball, a big, bonny fellow, romped round course after course, winning race after race, with the handicapper puffing after him. He went from a mark of 69 to one of 157 in one year, skipping round Cheltenham for his last win under top weight. It was possibly the most popular victory of the whole festival.

Now it has been announced that he is going for the big guns, the King George and the Gold Cup. If that dream comes true, then all of racing will die of joy.

I look at the smiling face of Anthony Knott, his owner. I think: that man really knows how to chew the marrow out of life.

I think: I have been writing this blog for half the morning and I have absolutely no idea what I am talking about. Free expression is one thing; incoherent rambling is quite another.

I think: go slowly, one foot in front of another.

I think: at least that lovely sun is shining.

I think: I really, really miss my dog.


Today’s pictures:

The colours were so outrageous up at Red’s View that I could only blink in disbelief:

8 Nov 1

8 Nov 2

8 Nov 3

8 Nov 3-001

8 Nov 5

8 Nov 7

8 Nov 8

8 Nov 9

8 Nov 9-001

My little band:

8 Nov 15-001

The good companions:

8 Nov 16

They are such an unlikely pair, the roly-poly little Welsh pony and the aristocratic thoroughbred mare, but they are absolutely devoted to each other.

Myfanwy the Pony:

8 Nov 15

Red the Mare:

8 Nov 16-001

She is continuing her Plan of Ultimate Sweetness. She stood beside me for half an hour this morning, just contemplating, resting her cheek on my arm, bending her head round so I could rub her forehead. She can be spooky and flighty, when the mood is in her and the wind is up, but at the moment she is like the rock of ages.

Pigeon, from the archive:

8 Nov Pidge 21st September

There are a lot of things about her I miss; the funniness, the adoring gaze, the undimmed enthusiasm. But one of the things of which I feel most deprived is the sheer beauty. Every day, I got to rest my eyes on something lovely. I miss my aesthetic fix.

The avenue, down which I could not walk:

8 Nov 13

The hill, from a slightly different angle than usual:

8 Nov 20


  1. That's the dance of life, isn't it? One step forward, one step back. So glad your family is rallying round you, offering their special brand of solace.

    Am still amazed at how photogenic that wee white pony is - she's like a story pony come to life. Just beautiful!

    Of course, so is Red, but Red's used to being beautiful - was bred that way, after all.

    The beech avenue is heartbreaking even if you didn't know the backstory.

    And soup IS good for the soul. My darling Irish mother makes the most amazing Jewish/Italian mother soups, too. Chicken, and "green soup", and beef stew, and on and on... endless pots of comfort.

  2. I still catch glimpses out of the corner of my eye of my previous cat, scooting around a corner, and she has been gone two and a half years...

    The yellows, orange and chartreuse against the blue black hill --- B E A U T I F U L !!!!

  3. Those colours pierce the heart and burn the brain. Magnificent indeed.

  4. Oh Tania, I'd not visited your blog for a few days and what do I find? Your poor lovely Pigeon! My first ever dog, a cocker, also went after an ear infection took hold of him in late life. I really don't know what I should do without my terrier. We've decided we are too old to take another puppy after he's gone and as he nears ten in dog years, I grow ever more fearful. Your sister is so wise, love is indeed love.

    I hope you feel better soon.


  5. I want to write something comforting but have no words. Other than when I read your blog at the moment it makes my heart hurt and I want your dog back for you too.

    Sending lots of healing thoughts and hope that soup is the miracle cure.

  6. My heart goes out to you. It really is a dance, isn't it? I really miss your Pigeon too. You are beyond lovely to share her pictures with us still.

    I look at your beautiful horse and sweet pony and the stunning view, and I'm glad you have such beauty.
    Take best care x

  7. Today I glimpsed a rug thrown over a sofa and thought it was my dog and every meal we miss him. Greyhounds have a tendency to lean their heads on the table and gently beg, I've spent the last month throwing out bits of food he would have loved, everyday my heart breaks anew. We are tentatively thinking about two new greyhounds in January (there are so many desperate for loving homes) but not yet, it's too early.
    Take time Tania, I am sending love and sympathy through the ether.

  8. I cannot tell you how much comfort your posts have given me, the vet is comming tomorrow to put my cocker to sleep, he is blind and deaf and can´t cope if I´m even out of the room. I am moving off my hill in mallorca and coming back to england to consider life so should be packing and being in control of life but all I can think about is my dog, I am leaving the house after the vet has come and not sleeping here again, so I make you seem perfectly sane. Hands across the water Sending love Helen xx

  9. Dear Tania, I feel guilty for not writing before. I have been unable to find the words. I know pain, I know sorrow, I know loss, I have a degree in it.. but am quite undone by this. I have a friend who, when I was at my lowest, used to say 'you can't see it because you are at the bottom of this hill but just put one foot in front of the other and soon, soon, sooner than you believe you will reach that green valley, where lambs are gambolling and larks are rising and snow drops glisten among the dark earth..' Come walk with me and we will climb that hill side by side. Love, Elaine


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