Friday, 29 March 2013

Horses and family and convoluted hazel

The Co-Writer does this week’s Speccie diary. I am pretty impressed. Not only is it quite a thing to be asked, but it’s such a very, very difficult medium to master. You have to write six or seven pithy paragraphs, on different subjects, although a theme may develop. The tone is almost always wry and faintly ironical. There is one regular Spectator diarist who takes himself so seriously that I always think it must be Craig Brown, doing a little spoof. It’s an oddly British sin, taking yourself seriously. I suspect that it is not nearly so frowned on in France or Germany or America, although I may be falling into the trap of cultural assumptions.

As I read it I think: I would be absolute buggery bollocks at that. The Co-Writer gets to talk about her husband being on national television, and having dinner with famous historians. The absolute high spot of my week was getting my mare to walk nicely through a gate.

I sort of itch to have a go, though. My dander rises. This would be my diary of the week:


(At this point, you have to imagine silence de glace. Fingers absolutely motionless on keyboard. Eyes taking on glazed, faintly panicked look. Nothing.)

I have no Andrew Roberts to fall back on, it turns out. It’s a bloody good thing that Fraser Nelson is not on the blower night and day, offering me a commission. I would have to admit defeat, or crank out something blah and second-rate.

Instead, I have this lovely medium, where I may write what I choose, go where I like, muse on what I wish, in as many paragraphs as I like.

As a faint thaw comes, not enough to get all the snow off the ground, but enough so that movement is possible, I do serious work with my mare. A lot of it, after a bit of a lay-off due to the elements, is getting her to pay attention to me. It’s one of the most powerful tools in the arsenal, although it looks like nothing. I am her person, her good leader, and she needs to acknowledge that fact.

When you take a horse out of the field, it will generally look about a lot. The head goes up, on predator alert, the body is braced for strangeness. This is a perfectly natural reaction, and even looks rather marvellous – the ears are pricked, the eyes are bright – and lots of people would not correct it.

But I want her focused on me, not the bears in the woods. So every time she looks one way, I lead her the opposite way. I move, fast and firm, in small circles, reverses, figures of eight. After a moment, I have her absolute attention. If I move a step, she moves a step. We are in sudden, singing harmony. There it is. The head comes down, the eyes soften, the ears relax. By the end of the session, I have taught her to follow me with her head without moving her feet. Left and right, we swing back and forth, like a little metronomic duet.

The thing I love about this kind of horsemanship is that it is all about the small things, and you know I revere the small things. There is no punishment. If she does something I do not want, I gently correct her, usually by turning her in the tightest of circles or backing her up. When she does what I ask, she is lavishly rewarded, so that she feels inordinately pleased with herself. She is a creature who loves to please, which makes my work vastly easier.

It’s a theory which goes along the lines of making the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy. I think it could be applied to almost all areas of life. To an observer it would look as if I am hardly doing anything. Yet I am laying great, lasting foundations, which shall underpin our entire relationship, and keep us safe and happy. There are no fancy gadgets or complicated manoeuvres; just time, and patience, and thought. Oh, and love, of course.

By the end, she has had to concentrate a lot. I give her a pick of grass in the wild ground near the woods, and then I take her back into the field and set her free. She hasn’t done this much work in a while, and the sun is shining, and she has spring fever suddenly in her. She takes off with a vaulting leap, flies her tail like a flag, and gallops away to join her herd, calling for them as she goes, as if to say I’M BACK.

When she reaches them, she dances about, does a couple of pirouettes and a Spanish Riding School of Vienna leap. Her girls look at her, nod, and go back to eating their hay. This kind of exhibition is one of the purest expressions of beauty I have ever seen and I laugh and whoop out loud. The pleasure that horse gives me is beyond rubies.

There is further high excitement because the family is arriving for Easter. The Older Niece and the Man in the Hat are driving up the M6 as we speak. The Older Niece puts a picture on Facebook of her dog, in the back of the car, with a rather plaintive expression. The caption goes: Are we there yet?

I rush to the village to get lamb and haggis and a steak pie for strength. As always, I have a perfectly splendid time with the butchers, of whom I am excessively fond. Then I go to the flower shop for hyacinths and tiny delicate ferns and little dark plum carnations, for my Easter table. I love the ladies in the flower shop, because they laugh at my jokes. A smart gentleman arrives, with purpose. ‘I’ve come for the – what’s it called? – convoluted hazel,’ he says.

I laugh out loud. The ladies say, ‘I think you mean the contorted willow.’

‘I think convoluted hazel is much better,’ I say.

Great branches of the stuff are produced and it is very, very convoluted indeed.

And then I come back and arrange everything and feel a flush of achievement. Even Stanley the Dog looks quite impressed. It’s not international historians, but it is my own, small, good day.


Today’s pictures:

29 March 1

29 March 2

29 March 3

29 March 4

29 March 5

29 March 5-001

29 March 6

29 March 7

29 March 7-001

When I say Stanley the Dog was quite impressed, what I really mean is that he lay down on his sheepskin and went to sleep:

29 March 10

This is a bit more like it:

29 March 11

The clever girl, who got five gold stars this morning:

29 March 12


  1. That's how dogs show their delight, isn't it - when they want to disguise it, of course. What a lovely, elegant room!

  2. You have a beautiful home! Have a wonderful Easter.

  3. Oh, how I like your way with flowers. I love how from time to time you will take yourself to the florist, choose just the flowers I like, and arrange them all with such flair that they look just so right and welcoming, always in a homely way.
    Like you, I also have a thing for colours and I think that acid green chrysanthemum in its little turquoise and guild beaker really sings.
    Buona Pasqua to all around your table.

  4. Gorgeousness overload. *clunk*


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