Monday, 21 January 2013

Another life lesson I have not quite got the hang of.

Author’s note: this contains a rather self-serving story. Forgive me. It’s been bloody snowing all day and I am a bit weak.


When I am doing my faintly bogus wise woman act, I often tell people that the thing they are dreading almost never comes to pass. They (we, you, I) invent a doomsday scenario, fret over it, torture themselves with it, and then discover it has in fact only existed in the echoing halls of their own heads.

As the regulars among the Dear Readers know, I sometimes struggle with theory and practice. I am shit-hot at theory. (There is no false modesty on this blog, no sir.) I am buggery bollocks at practice.

So, for the last two weeks, I have had a most excellent doomsday scene running in my head. Each day, I added carefully to it, just to make sure that the tension ratcheted up another notch. I pretended very well that I was fine and sane and dandy. I cooked food, I worked with my horses, I made jokes, I put on my lipstick. Because, you know, I’m not living in Chad, and I have my opposable thumbs, and nobody loves a whiner.

The small scene stretched into a three act opera. I was seriously considering setting the whole thing to music.

Then, this morning, an email came, not with the end of the world, but with Good News.

It was not throw your hat in the air, hold the phone, break out the bubbles good news, but it was News, and it was Good. It was hopeful. It was a first step down a beckoning road. It probably means I shall not have to give the whole thing up and do something interesting with goats, which is my usual default position when the doomsday gets too much for me.

So here is my big bloody reminder, to myself, to those of you lovelies in the blogosphere who kindly read, to any random person who stumbles upon these pages: people are almost never thinking the bad thing you think they are thinking. They really are not.

This reminds me of a big lesson in this exact thing, which I thought I had learnt in the summer. 

My very kind landlord had rescued me and the equines from a most unsatisfactory situation and spirited us all up to his field. It was an act of pure, undilute generosity, and I was keenly aware of the debt I owed.

I was filled with slight trepidation that I should be intruding, as I roared up and down his drive and put all my kit in his steading and was generally in his space. Because we have a lot of extended family living in quite close quarters, we are all quite careful about privacy and delicacy, round here. I am very much of the good fences make good neighbours school of thought.

Still, it was very lovely for me, because I got to see the World Traveller and the small great-nieces and nephew daily, but I did wonder if the poor Landlord sometimes regretted his rash act of goodness. I was always there.

I also wondered whether he observed my endless strange groundwork with the horse, and my obsessive nature, and laughed a bit, in the privacy of his own head. It was all a bit odd, even I could see that.

Then, one day, the World Traveller told me that he was impressed.

‘By what?’ I said, my mouth hanging open in cartoon astonishment.

‘By the amount of time you spend with that mare,’ she said. ‘Morning and night, there you are, doing your work.’

‘He doesn’t think it’s all a bit nuts, and middle-aged cliché, and generally peculiar?’ I said. I had decided that this, after all, was what it all was.

She shook her head, laughing kindly. ‘No,’ she said. ‘He likes it when people do things well.’

One shouldn’t really repeat compliments given to one. I am British after all; I live and breathe self-deprecation. Telling stories that reflect well on oneself is like tap-dancing with pom-poms and shouting LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME.

But I’m making an exception in this case, because it is illustrative, and I always tell my writing students that they must deal in specifics. And also, because I wanted to remind myself of the truth of the matter. Which is that half the time, when I am convinced a person is thinking a bad or a dark or a critical thing, quite often they are thinking the diametrical opposite.

There are, of course, the times when they really are thinking the gruesome, disobliging, mean thing. They may be thinking that thing with knobs on. But in that case I say: sod ’em if they can’t take a joke.


Today’s pictures:

Too blizzardy to take out the camera, so here are a few photographs from the last couple of days:

21 Jan 1

21 Jan 2

21 Jan 4

21 Jan 5

21 Jan 6

21 Jan 8

21 Jan 8-001

21 Jan 9

21 Jan 9-001

21 Jan 10

21 Jan 10-001

21 Jan 11

Myfanwy the Pony:

21 Jan 13

Autumn the Filly:

21 Jan 14

Red the Mare:

21 Jan 12

21 Jan 12-001

Lucky they have their stalwart new shelter:

21 Jan 17

Stanley the Snow Dog:

21 Jan 15

21 Jan 16

Hill, from slightly different angle than usual:

21 Jan 20


  1. Oh yes, the things that people are thinking, and saying - in. my. head. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why run this endless circular critical script? Why care so much? Why is it never a paeon of praise and approval just for a blooming change? More pom poms. That's what we need. And I've always wanted to learn to tap dance.

  2. It's a bit reminiscent of that poem by Sheenagh Pugh: SOMETIMES (

    But oh, that inner critic endlessly anticipating dread and shame. I agree with Lucille; we need more pom poms, preferably in flamingo pink.

  3. Something else you do incredibly well - the beauty of small things, of the everyday. The absolute magic of what we are surrounded by and fail to notice, what we glance at, but don't properly see. The lichen, the moss, the textures of wood, the elegant grasses, snow on Mr Stanley's nose, the depths and colours in the view of the hill, the longer hairs around Red's bottom lip, the extraordinary loveliness of well-made objects.

    Must ask - is Mr Stanley a nose-poker? It's a bit of a hound thing, and his schnoz is very well shaped for it.

  4. I scrolled down through your photographs. When I reached the one of Stanley I felt my shoulders relax, and I sat smiling at him as though he could actually see me back. So silly really, but he has that effect. What a beautiful face he has, and what a beautiful portrait of him. Thank you.

  5. Funny you should write about this imaginary situation/conversation/opinion stuff just now. During Hurricane Sandy, our neighbor's tree fell across into our yard and broke the fence in between our yards. Even though the fence is technically his and not ours, he has shown no intent to fix the fence. My husband went out back to attempt a repair, which included pushing some of the broken tree branches out of our rose bushes and back into the neighbor's yard.

    My husband told me that as he was doing this, he was imagining the neighbor (who is a bit of a shmuck) coming out and starting an argument. As he worked, he got in a worse and worse mood, until he realized he was imagining an entire confrontation with the neighbor, making up both sides of an argument that hadn't actually happened!

    Once he realized what he was doing, he laughed, fixed the fence, and went back inside to eat lunch.

    I laughed too, because I have totally done the exact same thing.


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