I speak, in turn, at length, to the Beloved Cousin and the Younger Brother. I have not spoken to either since last year, and we roar into an orgy of catching up and jokes and ontological questions.
This is the interesting thing to me of middle age. No matter how they start off, the conversations always circle back to: what’s it all about, Alfie?
‘Love and trees,’ I yell, in delirium. ‘That’s all that matters.’
‘And laughter,’ says the Beloved Cousin. ‘You’ve got to be able to laugh.’
We then laugh for about five minutes straight. We do not do polite lady-like merriment; we rock and roll and shout and shriek with laughter. I have a terrible habit of barking with laughter, like a wild dog. It’s not very pretty, but it gets the endorphin level off the scale.
The Brother and I also discuss the danger of labels, and the pernicious trap of assumptions, two of my favourite subjects.
It’s such a funny thing, life; funny peculiar as well as funny ha ha. Sometimes I feel like I have to work it out from scratch each day. But as I get older, despite the overwhelming sense that the only thing I know is that I know nothing, there are some things of which I am increasingly certain.
These do mostly come under the umbrella of love and trees. But it’s not just the obvious operatic loves. It’s not hearts and flowers love that counts the most; it’s not Paris and a good string section. Romantic love is lovely, and to be desired, but the loves I really cherish are the little, mundane, workaday loves. These are the ones about which no one would ever write a book. It is the love of the small things that I think is the engine which keeps us all chugging along. It is the love of what may be considered unremarkable.
Connected with this is learning to find a sense of achievement in the very small. Worldly success is a marvellous thing, and devoutly to be wished, but shooting at the moon always involves the possibility of going smash. Just as I think that the love does not need to be the high, romantic version, I believe that achievement does not need to be the name in the papers kind.
I was thinking about this today as I worked my little pony. The equines teach me horse lessons each day, and quite often life lessons too. This was one such lesson.
I was asking her to go through what she considers perfectly monstrous yellow barrels. No, no, no, she said, planting her feet, and throwing her head in the air, rolling her eyes at me as if I were mad. I considered for a moment, working out how to deal with the impasse. (You cannot make even a very small pony do what it does not want to do.)
Right, I thought. Let’s forget the big goal, which is to walk through the barrels. Let’s just do one step at a time. So, very gently, and with slow patience, I literally asked her to move one hoof at a time. Every step forward was rewarded.
Hoof by hoof, we worked. With each one, her head went down, her trust went up, my delight soared. And suddenly, hardly even knowing it, we were through the frightening obstacles, and after ten minutes were doing little figures of eight around the yellow horrors as if we were in a demonstration. It was all jubilee with us.
I know that I tell you versions of this kind of story quite a lot, at the moment. It is not really because you need to know it, but because I need to remind myself. I need to put down markers. My heart is still bruised from the loss of my dear old dog; I am still haunted by my Great Setback; the memory of my father may still make me weep in the still watches of the night. I am going to be forty-six quite soon, and I am prey to all those intimations of mortality of which this age is made. Yet, if I can do it hoof by hoof, I think I shall be all right.
Love and trees, my darlings. Love and trees.
Today’s pictures are from the week, since I was too busy to take the camera out today.
The delightful herd:
This is what Myfanwy looks like when she is uncertain whether she wants to do the thing I am asking her to do:
NO NO NO NOT SCARY BARRELS.
And this is what she looks like afterwards, when she has been gently persuaded that here be no dragons:
Well, maybe not such scary barrels after all.
And this is a long view of the field, looking north, so you can see the full height of the hill behind:
Stanley the Dog was very, very good on his walk today. His recall is improving wonderfully. For this, he gets love and biscuits:
And two views of the hill:
I hope you are all having a lovely Friday. I have been working the last few weekends, on account of deadline, but tomorrow I am taking the whole two days off and am going to watch the racing and mooch about with the equines and do absolutely bugger all. So I have a very keen Friday feeling indeed.