The weather is at its most dour and testing. The snow has gone to slush, and then frozen, so it is treacherous underfoot, and there is some charming sleet, blowing in and out over the hill. The sparkling grandeur of Wednesday is a distant memory and now it’s just a question of plugging on through.
I go to the Co-op for supplies. One of the things I like about living in a small village is that you see people you know, whilst out on errands. ‘Hello how are you?’ I carol to the postmistress, whom I keenly admire; ‘Hello, hello,’ I call to the smiling lady who used to work in the newsagent.
There is a warm sense of belonging that comes in a small community, not at all the back-biting, everyone knows everything, small-minded trap of rumour. I like it that when I am cross and tense I can go and have a soothing chat with the librarians, or discuss the terrible weather with the women in the chemist, or buy some tulips from the ladies in the flower shop. I like it that I give the farmer a cheery wave when I drive past him in his muddy blue Landrover, or wave at the postwoman on her rounds.
Today, to my great delight, I run into my friend The Horsewoman. ‘Do you want to meet someone?’ I say, getting Stanley the Lurcher out of the car.
The sleet has blown in, so he is not quite looking at his crest and peak, rather doubtful and damp, but he is duly admired. He is, I discover, admired wherever he goes, and he is charmingly modest about it, as if he has absolutely no idea how handsome he is.
I ask after the horses. (She has a herd of around thirty.) Only afterwards do I realise that I had not asked after the husband or the three charming children. I think I am becoming like one of those crazed cliché horse ladies who can only speak of furlongs and fetlocks, and resolve to do better.
‘Oh,’ says The Horsewoman. ‘I’m so glad you got another dog.’
I think about this afterwards. It is a very, very good and clever thing to say. There is still a tiny, irrational part of me that wonders if it is somehow wrong, that there is a faint disrespect to the memory of my old girls. Then I say to myself this really is stupid, because first of all they are dogs, and do not have coherent thoughts or speak English, and if they did they would certainly say they would not want me moping about by myself. And second of all, they are dead, so are not thinking anything at all.
I think it is very important to honour good lives which brought love. I don’t believe in scrambling to get over it or heal wounds or generally put the thing behind one. I think the trick of it is to learn to carry the departed in the heart. But the lives must be marked; loss must be honoured; respect must be paid. Sorrow is part of that, and there’s no point running away from it. I had some last night, rather unexpectedly and violently, for my Pigeon. But the thing is that there can be room for good things too. It’s not one or the other.
Stanley the dog, it turns out, is my very good thing.
The light fades. It is coming up to three o’clock now and the trees are black outside and everything is low and dull. I have written 1001 words and watched the racing at Sandown, where they are galloping over the bright green grass in fine sunshine, and lost a bit of money on the first couple of contests, which reminds me, as always of my dad. There was terrible drama when Fingal Bay, the odds-on favourite, decided he was fed up with jumping down at Exeter and ran out, crashing into the running rails and hurling his jockey off. (Horse and rider walked ruefully back to the stables, miraculously unharmed.)
I am waiting for lovely new winter rugs to arrive for Red and Myfanwy. Luckily, the smart, athletic chaser Bold Sir Brian has just trotted up in the 2.20, with all my money on his back, so I can pay for them. This victory gives me extra delight because he is trained in Scotland by the brilliant Lucinda Russell, who has had some sorrows of her own in the last year, and deserves the sweetness of a fine win.
The smallest of the great-nieces is being brought to tea to meet Stanley the Lurcher. He is having a little sleep to get ready for his visitors.
In other words, it’s an ordinary day. It’s a good day. If only the nice 6-year-old, Tanerko Emery, can do the business in the 3.30, it will be a very good day indeed, and there will be more rugs for everyone.
A few from earlier in the week, when there was light:
Heads down for breakfast:
Stanley the Lurcher:
No hill today; lost in murk.
You do see why I miss this face so much: