Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Love, marriage, nature and dogs, with a side order of Leviticus

Today I: walked the dog, did the horses, collected cash from the bank, did some Christmas shopping, wrote some book, bought two delicious steak pies from the butcher, and had a spirited discussion about gay marriage.

I was talking about the problems of being a small L liberal. I gave my little riff about the reason liberals look so tired and peaked is that they are always having to see both sides of every argument. So much less exhausting to be straightforward Left or Right. The perennial cry of the liberal, I said, is ‘I see your point.’

My interlocutor said, gently, drily: ‘But I would say you are a woman of...’

Slight pause. Quizzical look.

Strong opinions.’

I shouted with laughter, which I always do when some of my more absurd pronouncements are nailed to the wall.

‘Well,’ I said. ‘I do admit there are some things where I find it very very hard to see the other side. Gay marriage, for instance.’

And we were off to the races.

The interlocutor is not, I should say, against gay marriage, but he likes a debate, and there was a little devil’s advocate in him. He listened quietly as I cantered away with my devout belief that we should celebrate love, not chastise it; that I could never understand why it exercised people so about who loves whom; that the staunch defenders of marriage as an institution should be delighted that more people want to join it.

I galloped off over the religious course, which involves Leviticus. This is where most of the anti-gay stuff is found, biblically speaking.

‘But if we all followed that,’ I said, ‘we should be stoning people for swearing and happily buying slaves and dutifully putting adulterers to death.’ I stopped for effect. ‘And we really don’t do that, do we?’

‘There are people,’ said my patient listener, ‘who say it is unnatural.’

‘Ha,’ I cried. ‘But penicillin is unnatural; agriculture in unnatural; forestry is against nature.’

Stanley the dog wandered in, to see why I was shouting. I looked at him.

‘Keeping domestic pets is unnatural,’ I concluded, triumphantly.

The argument from nature is one of the most commonly and madly used, by the fearful. Nature, they say, and often God too, meant marriage to be for a man and a woman, and the procreation of children. But virtually everything a modern human does is against nature, from heart surgery to government to living in houses.

Besides, as I think of it now, I realise nature is an absolute bastard, and I have no idea why it is held up as the gold standard. It is red in tooth and claw. It will kill you with tidal waves and droughts and freezes. Animals in the wild, so often held up as a beautiful free template of honest living, unlike horrid conniving humans, are driven by brute survival instincts, and will as often kill you as look at you.

Even something as charming as the horse has a ruthless streak. If a member of the herd is old or wounded, the other animals will shun it, and often move on, leaving it to die. In their world, it is quite right that they do this; their survival of the fittest means they cannot afford to be held up by the lame or the halt. If humans obeyed that law of nature, they would be considered treacherous and cowardly.

It is for this reason that I try hard, against all my instincts, not to anthropomorphise. Human and animal morality are so different that even using the same words for them may confound and confuse.

And yet, before I ran off on this gay marriage tangent, I was going to write about an animal thing that should carry a sentimentality warning.

I had a good and cheerful day yesterday, but suddenly, in the dark of the night, I whacked into the howling despair of missing my darling old dog. Because I am up against a hard deadline, and have about twenty things to do each day, because it is the Christmas season, because I have the sweetness of the new dog and the loveliness of my little herd of horses, I have not been dwelling on her loss. I think I had fooled myself into believing that everything was quite fine and normal. Watch me, getting on with it, not making a fuss. I am always conscious, in the cold weather, of how lucky I am, to have heat and good warm clothes and a sturdy roof over my head. All this conspired to fool me into a bogus normality.

Mourning may not be so easily denied, and must be done. Last night was a big whack, and floored me. As I was sitting with it, Stanley the Lurcher came into the room and sat like a sentinel at my side, gazing earnestly at me. I wondered for a moment if he were fretful at the noise, but the look on his face was not one of anxiety. He was just there.

The thing about this dog is that he is not, as The Duchess and The Pigeon were, a vamp for affection. He likes a bit of a scratch and a stroke, but he does not come to ask for them, as they did. He is not a kisser, and they both were (small, delicate licks on the end of the nose). He does not like to be without me, but he is happy to keep a little distance. Even as I write this, he is calmly curled up next door, taking his ease. This may be because everything is new for him, or it may be his character. Either way, the coming and sitting and gazing were out of the ordinary.

There are many reasons for dogs to do the things they do. I must be careful not to fall into foolishness or mawkishness. But it did feel like something very touching indeed, and I wanted to write it down. There was something peculiarly comforting about that dog, sitting as straight as a statue, waiting for me to finish my childish tears. So, as I make my daily list of lucky things, of the fortunes for which I am grateful, and which I feel most keenly at this time of year, Stanley the Dog goes at the top of the list.


Today’s pictures:

I got rather obsessed by the lichen on the trees, as you shall see. Also: moss.

11 Dec 1

11 Dec 2

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11 Dec 6

11 Dec 6-001

11 Dec 7

11 Dec 8

11 Dec 8-001

11 Dec 9

11 Dec 10

Oh, these two little faces:

11 Dec 11

My tiny principessa:

11 Dec 14

The new hay mangers are a great success:

11 Dec 12

It amazes me that Red the Mare and Autumn the Filly look more and more as if they are sisters, despite being completely different breeds.

My favourite Minnie the Moocher shuffle:


When people talk of thoroughbreds being difficult and unmanageable, I wish they could see this old girl coming for love. After this, she stood for ten minutes with her head on my shoulder, just communing in the middle of the field. It’s one of the best parts of my day.

There was a very fine game of ball this morning, and I took rather a lot of Stanley action shots:

11 Dec 16

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11 Dec 17-001

11 Dec 19

11 Dec 19-001

This is the one who still makes my heart ache. My beautiful Pigeon:

11 Dec 22 Pigeon October 23rd

The hill:

11 Dec 29


  1. I so relate to this post. I pride myself on being able to appreciate and try to understand both sides of an issue, but gay marriage is one where I just can't do it. The other side is absurd. Gorgeous pictures, as always. I love watching the seasons change in your little part of the world.

  2. I wish I could have had a shouting discussion about gay marriage too. Quoting Leviticus is handy (and hilarious) but using 'unnatural' as an excuse to forbid something as life affirming as love makes Leviticus seem modern!

    Having a good mourn for your old dog is very very 'natural' on the other hand.....

  3. Great pictures! I'm a sucker for fuzzy ponies.

  4. "Unnatural" = whatever they fear and don't understand. ;-)

    Loving Myfanwy more every day. Her stubby little legs are almost as endearing as Stanley's ears.


  5. I went to a civil partnership this year, it was the most moving marriage ceremony I have been to. Honest, tender and words of wisdom from the registrar. I believe it doesn't matter who you love, if you ever find love it is special. Speaking of love, I have gone straight to your photos today. Couldn't wait to see the photos, and they are great action shots. What a bounce.

  6. It's back to your quote Tania, love is love, it doesn't matter what, where or who too. I'm catholic, did I ever say? My Mum's side - all Irish. Dublin, Cork, Sligo - so you can imagine what they make of this in my church. Tsk. They asked me to sign a petition...I politely declined.
    Are all four of Stanley's feet off the floor in that shot? Wonderful!
    Fig was an affectionate cat too, he wanted to be wherever I was, if I cried he used to rub his head against my face, he even used to sleep right under my arm - my new boys don't do any of this...maybe they will, in time, but until then I am thankful for them, and thankful I could give them a home.

  7. In my experience animals, even wayward and wild ones, pick up on human distress and usually react by 'being there'. On the day that we had to have our favourite mare put down another mare in her stable who never gave us the time of day became attentive and affectionate, leaning on us. When faced with Grief we can only hope that one day we can see clearly through the pain the memories of the glory days in the sun. x


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