Monday, 31 December 2012

New Year’s Eve; or in which I remember how to do the Reel of the 51st.

I was going to do a whole, portentous This Was The Year That number. I was going to talk of losing my dog and gaining my mare, of the unexpected love for Mr Stanley, of missing my dad; all boilerplate end of year emotional manipulation, in other words.

But bugger that for a game of soldiers. I’ve just got back from reeling practice and I’ve got to wrangle my hair and put my eyeshadow on. We are actually having a party. We never have parties, and certainly never reeling parties. But tonight we shall be doing the 51st, Aberdonian style. (Look it up; it has the most moving genesis of any Scottish dance.)

I shall not, you will be glad to hear, be wearing a big pouffy dress and a tartan sash. I’m going for a draped, faintly 1942-ish black and white number, and a lot of fire engine red lipstick. And possibly kinky boots.

I hope that, wherever you are, you have a properly happy New Year’s Eve. I hope you drink too much and make rash statements and grandiose gestures and bad jokes. I hope you are merry and blithe. You are a bloody wonderful bunch of Dear Readers, and I could not be without you.


Pictures today are of my precious herd:

31 Dec 1

31 Dec 2

31 Dec 3

31 Dec 5

31 Dec 6

31 Dec 7

31 Dec 8

31 Dec 10

31 Dec 11

Happy New Year.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Random Sunday

My brain is shattered after writing and editing all day. So there are a very few fragmented thoughts for you. We have not had a random day for a while, so here is one. It really is pretty random indeed, in the newest sense of the word, the one that The Young People use. (This is one of the novel meaning shifts which I mightily enjoy, for some reason.)

1. The first absurdity of the morning was that I felt very, very proud of my little herd. I found them calm and settled when I went up to give them breakfast. Last night, they had gone through the shock of unexpected fireworks banging off only a hundred yards from their field. It happened at midnight, and I hurled myself into the car and drove down to the paddock to make sure they were not going loco.

I saw them, by the light of the full moon, gathered protectively into a tight little band. The moon was so bright that Myfanwy was shining white in it like a tiny unicorn. I gentled them and gave them some nuts and told them they were very, very brave indeed. Talking to horses under the light of a sailing moon turns out to be one of the great life experiences. (Because of this, in the end I concluded I ought be be grateful to the intemperate firework people, even though I was furious about the unheralded bangs at the time.)

2. The touching thing of this week is that Stanley the Dog has, for the first time, given me his stomach to stroke. For a rescue dog, with caution and uncertainty stitched into his short, chequered life, this is an act of courage and trust. I felt like someone had given me a present. I rubbed his belly for about ten minutes, watching his perfect little white teeth appear in a doggy smile. You and me, fella, I thought, are going to be absolutely, perfectly fine.

3. The sweetest thing of the week was a picture that was sent to my Facebook page. The Horse Talker has taken her family to Paris for a winter break. I send her dotty updates on the herd each day, because even though she is in one of the most lovely places in the world, she still misses her filly. (This is one of the bonkers things that only other horse people will fully understand. When I am in the south, my heart gets sore when I think of my mare.)

Anyway, in one of these bulletins I suggested, not that seriously, that they all go and say hello to the Place des Vosges for me, since it is my favourite place in all of the city. A day later, there was a picture of her two enchanting children, in their very Parisian chic, standing under the familiar blue street sign of that lovely square. They had walked for miles to get there, and their legs had almost given out.

Funnily enough, I remember well the first time I went to the Marais, and I walked it too, all the way from the Place Vendôme, down the Rue de Rivoli and past the Hôtel de Ville. I remember being entirely footsore, and absolutely exhilarated at that much beauty.

4. It’s the most glorious sunny day outside. The funny thing I had forgotten about writing fiction, which I have not done for a long time, is that the world entirely disappears. I am so focused on the pictures in my head that when I stop writing and look up, it is an actual shock to see the amber Scottish sunshine glimmering over the stone walls and tall trees.

The other thing that astonishes me is how exhausting the process is. I am not working down a mine. I am not in a factory, drilling rivets. I am sitting at a nice, quiet desk, thinking, imagining, and tapping with my fingers on a responsive keyboard. And yet, when I get to the end of a six hour stretch, as I just now have, I am as drained as if I had been doing the Iron Man Challenge.

My plan for today was to do a word marathon, and keep going until midnight, but this was a crazed notion, brought on by the insanity always produced by the hard deadline. I have to stop now, before my cerebellum turns to mush. I am going to go and mooch with the equines, and let simple physical work restore my mental capacity.


Today’s pictures:

I have not had time for editing more of the Christmas day pictures, so here are a very few snaps I took just now, in the gloaming.

My love for the beech leaves continues unabated. Even when they are slightly blurry in the low light:

30 Dec 1

30 Dec 2

30 Dec 3

30 Dec 4

Stanley the Dog, working on sit, stay and lie down:

30 Dec 5

30 Dec 6

30 Dec 8

The hill, in its blue evening incarnation:

30 Dec 10

Thank you for kind wishes about my mum. They are keeping her in, but she is on the mend. The NHS in Aberdeen is bloody brilliant, and we are really lucky to have it.

Oh, and here are the happy small people in Paris. That’s The Pony Whisperer on the left. She is Myfanwy’s special friend:


I should also mention that the fellow on the right, who does not yet have a blog name, but of course shall soon get one, was the very kind person who gave Stanley the Dog a special Christmas present, on the grounds that it was Stan’s first festive season here, and he must have a secret Santa of his very own. The present is a small feathery emu-like creature, and is a roaring success. He plays with it all evening long.

And since I seem to be being a bit whimsical, here is an absurd picture I took on my webcam this afternoon. I was joking about with my Twitter racing crew, and I was having a very nuts hair day, and for some reason felt I should show it to them. (This is the thin end of the wedge part of Twitter.) Just as I was pressing snap, a certain gent decided he too was ready for his close-up:

30 Dec TK and SD

And now I really am stopping.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

In which, slightly against the odds, I have a very lovely Saturday indeed.

My poor mum is in the hospital. Even though the news is hopeful and she has fabulous doctors and the treatment in Aberdeen is second to none, I hate the thought of her on a ward.

I take my mind off it with horses. First of all my own, who have survived a night of wild gales, but still have so much wind up their tails that they give me a bronco show all round the paddock. Even the quite tubby, quite elderly mountain pony does pirouettes and leaps and spiffy cantering.

Autumn the Filly, true to her mighty Quarter Horse breeding (she is by some tremendous Western champion, who keeps winning things), does her great ventre à terre gallop from one corner of the field to the other.

Red the Mare, not to be outdone, puts on her full Spanish Riding School of Vienna performance. First of all there is the tail, vertically in the air, flying like a flag. Then there is the actual increase in size. I never quite know how horses do this; it’s like watching them assume superpowers. I swear when she draws herself up to full height, she grows about a hand. Then there are the amazing slow motion bucks, the rolling canter, the leaping turns. And finally, most glorious of all, the floating trot. It is as beautiful and stately as anything you might have seen in the Olympic dressage, but because it is a thoroughbred doing it, it’s higher and finer and lighter. It is an astounding combination of elegance and wildness. I laugh out loud, it is so lovely.

Then there is a fine afternoon of racing: the return of the brilliant Hurricane Fly, back to his pomp, a great old amateur record smashed by Mr Patrick Mullins on his father’s delightful mare, and the continuing winning streak of the bold Pete the Feat. He turns out to be wonderfully well-named, as he puts up a gallant front-running performance to record his fourth win in a row, with my money on his dear back.

All my favourite Twittering racegoers are out in force. It’s a whole new thing, watching the racing with a virtual gaggle. They are all incredibly funny and nice: quick to congratulate on a winning bet, generous with their praise of horses and jockeys, profoundly knowledgeable, fired with an enthusiasm which is leavened with a very British, very dry irony.

People tend to get grumpy about social networks, saying they are a poor substitute for real people. But, as I sit, 500 miles north of the racing action, I find my heart gladdened by the metaphorical hats which go flying in the air when a thrilling race is won. It may be virtual, but it is actual too. It is a proper community, and it illuminates my pleasure in the game.

I think: oh, I wish my mum had been able to see the glorious Fly back to his rampant best. She loves Ruby Walsh so; she speaks of him with a maternal fondness. (‘I hope he is eating enough,’ she will say, over the breakfast table. ‘It’s such a hard life for those jockeys.’) Still, let us hope those good Scottish docs fix her right up and send her back to us.


Another selection of my Christmas day photographs:

29 Dec 1

29 Dec 2

29 Dec 3

29 Dec 4

29 Dec 6

29 Dec 7

29 Dec 10

29 Dec 11

Here I am doing training with Stanley the Dog and the canine of The Older Niece. Who, incidentally, won the Waggiest Dog competition at some very serious London dog show. (The canine, that is; not the niece.)

29 Dec 11-001

29 Dec 12

29 Dec 13


29 Dec 15

I hope you are having a good weekend, too.

Friday, 28 December 2012

More Christmas pictures

Day in brief:

1088 words of book written. Horses done. (Even performed the lovely task of picking up the dung. Very levelling, looking after equines.) Stanley the Dog introduced to The Window Cleaner, a most important and much loved man in my life. ‘Stanley,’ I say, ‘this is The Window Cleaner, the nicest man in Scotland.’ I am prone to hyperbole, but I really think this might be empirically correct. One dangling modifier spotted on the Today programme; naughty, naughty Mr Naughtie.

Now I may take the afternoon and watch some tremendous racing from Leopardstown. I shall be shouting for the glorious Flemenstar in the Lexus. He’s a real big bonny sort of horse, with an honest head and a slight Roman nose, and a soaring talent. If he stays three miles, I think he might be a very thrilling prospect for the Gold Cup in March. All roads lead to Cheltenham. Each day, I sneak onto the ante-post section of the William Hill website, and dream my little dreams. The blood of my dear old dad courses strongly through my veins. How he would have loved to see these good horses coming through. And how he would have grumbled at the short prices. I think of him almost every day, but I miss him a lot at this time of year.

More pictures from Christmas Day:

Red’s View:

28 Dec 1

28 Dec 2

Can’t get enough of the coos:

28 Dec 3

Moss and birches:

28 Dec 5

28 Dec 6


28 Dec 6-001

28 Dec 8

28 Dec 9

The Older Niece and The Man in the Hat (for once without a titfer), with dogs:

28 Dec 10


28 Dec 11

28 Dec 12

28 Dec 12-001

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Christmas pictures

Christmas, general festivities, and mislaid camera meant that there was no blog for the last two days. Shocking omission, I know. I imagine there was wailing up and down the land.

The day itself was absolutely enchanting. The sun shone, the horses were happy, the lunch was delicious, the family were at their crest and peak of sweetness, Stanley the Dog was in seventh heaven and my gravy was a triumph. (There is no place for false modesty when it comes to Christmas gravy.)

I took so many photographs that I am going to run them over the next few days. Here is the first selection.

The first thing I saw when I came out of my front door on Christmas morning, on my way to do the horses:

25 Dec 11

The limes:

25 Dec 12

Looking east from my mother’s house:

25 Dec 13

25 Dec 14

25 Dec 15

Happy Christmas faces. Of course they all got presents. I specially drove on Christmas Eve to the horse shop to buy them meadowsweet herb treats. They seemed very appreciative of the effort:

25 Dec 19

It was so sunny and balmy, despite a hard frost, that I took the rugs off and let them enjoy the weather:

25 Dec 19-001

25 Dec 20-001

Christmas lunch was up at Red’s View. I felt rather nostalgic going up to their old field, empty now:

25 Dec 20

There was some excellent cow action:

25 Dec 23

This one was supposed to be of the hills, but I lost focus. Instead, you get the earth, but since I am always banging on about feeling connected to the earth and the mud, it feels rather appropriate:

25 Dec 24

25 Dec 25

The silver birches were very lovely and Christmassy:

25 Dec 25-001

25 Dec 26

I am generally not much for dog toys. I get quite old school and think: what’s wrong with a nice stick? But The Pony Whisperer very sweetly gave this feathery creature to Stanley the Dog, as it was his first Christmas here, and he absolutely adores it:

25 Dec 30

The hill:

25 Dec 40

Instalment the second tomorrow. Now, my work is done, and I’m going to watch the racing at Kempton. My old favourite, Hunt Ball, is running. He does not care for the heavy ground, and it is bottomless at the moment, so I am really just hoping he jumps round nicely and comes home safe, and we’ll see him back to his best next year, if the crazy rain stops for two minutes.


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