Sometimes, when I am going about my day, a line will come into my head. That’s the blog, I will think. There it is.
Today, my line was:
My father died singing.
It’s not quite true. He died in his sleep. But just before he said he would have a little rest, he sang a song to the nice Australian nurse he liked. He was always a great singer of songs; it is one of the enduring memories of my childhood. He was quite famous for singing songs. When I was very small he used to bash away on the tea chest and lift his face to the sky and sing The Outlaw Rapparee and I’m off to Dublin in the green, in the green. He was once chucked out of The Mirabelle, a very tony sort of restaurant, for singing rebel songs after too much brandy, and upsetting the august patrons.
Anyway, the nurse was called Dahlia, and he made up, on the spot, a little song about Dahlia from Australia, and sang it to her, and then he went to sleep and did not wake.
Suddenly, violently, this morning, I felt very proud of him for that.
I also felt passionately grateful to that kind woman. She must have smiled at the old fellow, and let him flirt with her, and laughed at his roguish jokes. I wonder whether, in some strange, unspoken way, she gave him permission to go. He had sung his last song, and had a good audience for it, and now it was time to bring the curtain down.
I miss him very much.
I miss my Pigeon, too. Mr Stanley is a fine, antic sort of chap, and filled with comedic quirks and intelligence and interest. He is a good companion, and we grow fonder of each other every day. I like the absolute difference between him and my old girl. He is hard and lean and questing; he is a man of action. He is firmly rooted in the world, and is sometimes more interested in it than in people. She was still and soft and contemplative. She was all about the love; that was the engine that drove her. As long as she had me, she did not really care about anything else. She was the gentlest creature I ever met.
I was thinking of her because I found a little vignette on Facebook this morning, from a vet who had to put down an old Irish wolfhound. Its owners brought their six year old son with them for the event, thinking it would be good for him to understand what was happening to the beloved dog. After it was over, they all discussed the sadness of dogs having such short lives, compared to humans. The little boy spoke.
He said: 'People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life - like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right? Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long.'
Bloody hell, I thought. I have spent forty-five years trying to work out what it’s all about. And there, in a sentence, is the wisdom of the ages. I was thinking only this morning as I had my bath that the big philosophy is all very well, but that perhaps the real truths lie in the small things. (You know that I am currently obsessed with the importance of the small things.) I admit, I never really got on with philosophy. I had to do the political philosophers at university, and I never quite forgave Rousseau for tying me in knots over the Theory of the General Will. A few years ago I tried to sit down and read Spinoza’s Ethics, and it nearly killed me. Still, I understand that it is important that there are people out there thinking the Big Thoughts. And one must not be reductive. Life cannot be shrunk to a Hallmark card.
But still, if one were searching for a quick philosophy of life, a Coles Notes of existence, one could do worse than loving everyone all the time and being nice. Imagine knowing that, at the age of six. I hope no one ever talks the small fella out of that lovely belief; I hope no one takes him and makes him sceptical and cynical.
Curiously, this morning, as I was missing that bone-deep sweetness of my old Pidge, Red the Mare decided to channel some profound gentleness of her own. Almost every day, as I work with her, I think of the prejudices people have against thoroughbreds, and racehorses, and chestnut mares. It makes me laugh, as she leans her head on my chest and dozes off. It is as if she has a life mission to smash stereotypes, and since I hate stereotyping like the very devil, it gives me a wild, flinging pleasure.
She has high blood in her, and when she is on the alert, she draws herself up to her full size, every inch of muscle and sinew taut and strong, all her fine ancestry singing its ancient song. But on days like today, when she is low and relaxed, everything in her is still. We work together so seamlessly that it does not feel like work at all, but as if we are doing a stately pas-de-deux. My step is her step.
At the end, very kindly and gently, she gives me her head, and I scratch her cheek in the place she loves, and we stand together, horse and human in a muddy Scottish field, tied by an invisible cord that runs from one heart to another.
Sometimes, when I think of the Dear Departeds, my heart feels like an old jalopy, dented and holed and tied together by binder twine. When I have moments like that with my horse, it is as if she gives the heart back to me, all strong and complete and new, and ready for anything. When people wonder about the whole horse thing, and why it enchants me so much, that is why. It is the most extraordinary gift.
Too dreich again for the camera. It is half a degree, and the sky is low and dark, and the snow is coming down from the hills. Not quite here yet, but threatening. So here is a little selection from the archive:
The heroine of today’s blog:
Note the lower lip. It’s her barometer. Honestly, on some days, my sole goal is to get that lower lip to wibble. Then I know she is happy, and my work is done:
Some stone and lichen. Because there must always be stone and lichen:
Stanley the Dog, showing his glorious athleticism:
Ears akimbo as we do sit and stay:
Autumn the Filly:
Myfanwy doing THE BLINKY EYES:
Hill, on a rather lovelier day than today:
And here, from the much older archive, is the glorious old lady. After she died, I mostly put up pictures of her smiling, because I wanted to remember the laughing days. But sometimes, when I was making her post for pictures, she would affect her softest most wistful face, like this:
As Nancy Mitford used to say: do admit.
And two of my favourites of my funny old Fa: