Saturday, 8 December 2012

In praise of the small things; or, I stare very hard at the lichen

The weather, which was rumoured to improve, has set its face sullenly to dour. There was driving sleet this morning when I went to do the horses. Red attempted to lift my spirits by doing the most touching Disney string-section whinny when I arrived, and actually that did make me smile into the weather. Apart from that, it was a matter of mud and wet and dodgy terrain; everything in these conditions is an effort. The snow has melted, gone to slush, frozen again, and is now a filthy mixture of ice and mess. It is no longer pristine and picturesque, but dirty and dispiriting.

There was a sweet breakfast with the family to say goodbye to The Older Brother and his Beloved, who are driving back south. Their sole aim is to get to Tebay in time for the Tingle Creek, so we spoke of the perils of ice on the Stonehaven road and the brilliance of Sprinter Sacre.

Then it was time to take Stanley the Lurcher for his constitutional. My heart rather sank, because it was so filthy outside, and I had already got wet once that morning. I remembered my theory for the dirty days, which is to decide to look very hard for the small beauty. It is on days like this that I stare fixedly at tiny patches of lichen, and find the loveliness there.

The rather amazing thing is that once I start doing this, I find the gloriousness everywhere. The brittle biscuit colour of a beech leaf enchants me; the arrangement of the clouds, in five different shades of pigeon grey, delights; the moss on the old granite wall lifts my heart.

I’m always banging on about the small things. When I am melancholy, I cling on to the small things like life-rafts. A bird, a tree, a patch of blue sky; these are the things that stop me from drowning. As I stare at a particularly lovely bit of lichen, I think: in this, I am richer than the most gilded billionaire. It’s awfully hokey and chicken soup for the soully, but money really can’t buy you lichen. This, I think, this, is better than private jets and bottles of Bolly.

Then I think, because even when I am gazing at the beauty I have to keep thinking, that it’s sometimes quite hard to take pleasure in the small things. It’s a muscle, a habit that needs to be tended and practiced and honed. The temptation is to overlook the small things and want the huge things and then feel demoralised when you don’t get them. I think: this is a damn good muscle to use every day, and I must not neglect it.

Stanley and I play a most excellent game of ball. He is so happy he does not know what his name is. This too is better than private jets.

And now, there is more loveliness to look forward to. Possibly the most exciting horse in training, Sprinter Sacre, is coming out to strut his first stuff of the season. He is up against another thriller, Sanctuaire, who absolutely tore away with his last race at Sandown. They are both young, fearless, packed with natural talent. They both have a wildness in them: they are so eager to get on with it that if Barry Geraghty and Ruby Walsh were not such strong, complete horsemen, the horses would run away with them. I cannot wait to watch them. I feel like a child at Christmas.

So, the weather doesn’t matter, because I have these glittering horses to watch, and this sweet, funny new dog to throw a ball for, and the lichen to stare at. In these small things, I am richer than Croesus.


Today’s pictures:

8 Dec 1

8 Dec 2

8 Dec 3

8 Dec 4

8 Dec 6

8 Dec 7

8 Dec 9

8 Dec 10

8 Dec 12

8 Dec 14

8 Dec 15

The Dog of Joy:

8 Dec 20

8 Dec 21

8 Dec 22

8 Dec 23

8 Dec 24

8 Dec 25

My sweet winter equines, from earlier in the week:

8 Dec 37

Today’s hill gets many angles, because it was so fine:

8 Dec 29

8 Dec 30

8 Dec 31

8 Dec 33

8 Dec 34

And from the archive, the loveliest of lovelies, who gave me more pleasure than I can say:

8 Dec 40

PS. So hysterical about Sprinter Sacre that I wrote this rather fast, and with my heart beating. Not at all sure it makes any sense at all. Please forgive.


  1. "Small things" is one of the most profound--and beautifully-stated--things you have ever written. Thank you.

    PS Congratulations on Sprinter Sacre. And Hello Bud too.

  2. Stanley's ears could have a blog all of their own; they are fabulous.

  3. Oh such fun pics of Stanley! And that last with his eyes focused intently... perhaps on the ball in your hand? He looks ready to spring.

    Lovely photos of the lichen and the beech leaves. We have the beech here too, I love looking at that color all winter in the midst of all the empty maples.

  4. It is the small thing of yourself that gives all the animals those joyous expressions. Of course it is not small at all, It Is, just like the lichen.

  5. Blessed are the small things.


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