The odd thing is that all day long I have been thinking: must write the blog. This is odd because it was my travelling day, and it was packed with incident and set-back, and if there ever was an excuse for no blog this was it. But the curious thing that is my mind insisted, endlessly, that the Dear Readers must know.
I got up at 5.30am, all geared for the drive north. I was going home, to my red mare, to my dear dog, to my family in the north, to my desk. I have mountains of work to do. I was intensely sad to leave the Beloved Cousins, but I was ready to be home. I was all focused on that.
At just before seven, in the hard rain, I was stranded, with wailing brakes and a strong smell of burning, at the junction with the M5. The AA had to be called. A very grumpy man arrived, as I was miserably drinking strong coffee and trying to concentrate on the Racing Post. Nothing to be done; tow to garage best thing; possibility of fixing car in next 48 hours nil. In the end, I decided to return to the Beloved Cousins, and get the car taken to the garage nearest them.
A tow-truck was sent for. As I waited for it, I freely admit, I had a little wail. Then the Perspective Police tore in and did a raid. I thought of the good jockey, JT McNamara, who lies still in a hospital bed with two fractured vertebrae, critical but stable. I thought of Barry Geraghty’s white face after he won the Gold Cup, the greatest blue riband in all of jump racing. There was no flush of delight, no blaze of triumph. He said something like: it’s very hard to be happy today. You see, in that weighing room, they are a band of brothers. It does not matter if you are the champ, or if you are a part-time amateur, or if you are the youngest, rawest claimer.
They all go out, onto that green turf, and literally risk their necks, and that is what ties them together, as tight as the bonds of family or blood. They all love JT McNamara. One jockey said of him: you could drive from one end of Ireland to the other and try to find one person who had one bad word to say of him and you would fail.
That was when I thought: it’s just a broken-down car.
As if to confirm this, the man driving the tow-truck was not only one of the nicest and most articulate men I’ve ever met, but he spent ten years in the Royal Engineers. The moment I discovered this, I grew intensely interested and engaged. I told him of my work with HorseBack; I said I now knew things I did not before, of what people on the front line see and do. In turn, he told me of his work in Kosovo. He told me of his first tour in Afghanistan. He told me, diffidently, of the time in the Balkans when he was sent to excavate mass graves. He told me, quietly, of what it was like to remove body parts in black plastic bags.
I laughed, a little ragged. I said, you know that really does make me understand I can’t get too bent out of shape over a sodding brake pad.
Sure, I did not get home. My schedule has gone to hell. But I came back to my family in the south, to a delightful warm welcoming house, with smiling children in it. I made chicken risotto and drank the good claret, and even watching the racing from Uttoxeter. It was the Midlands Grand National. My darling old father trained the winner of that race, in 1974, a tough, bonny fella called Fighting Chance, who stormed over those long four miles when I was seven years old. I remember him well; I loved him well; I remember the wild joy when he won.
This year, almost forty years later, I backed Big Occasion, who cruised into the lead under his young amateur rider, and cantered through the mud to a fine victory.
Everyone in Scotland is going to look after my animals. I shall get my work done. I have my computer and my fingers and the good old internet. Close relations and generous people I have never met in my life sent sweet messages via the Facebook and the Twitter, when they heard of the buggered car. People to whom I had never been formally introduced sent offers of help and messages of sympathy. Alongside all that perspective was a great fat dose of Kindness of Strangers.
I hate it when things do not work and plans fail and schedules collapse. I like to think I am marvellously agile and good at extemporising, but in fact, I love a good Plan. The plan has gone to hell, but it’s really not that bad. The mare, the dog and the pony shall survive well without me, surrounded as they are by love and care. It’s just a few days.
And that was what I had to tell you. No idea why it was so imperative that I should, but there it is. Sometimes I do not examine too closely the absolute demands of my own odd little psyche. It’s like the times I posted pictures of my Cheltenham hat on the Facebook. No real excuse for that either. It seems, for no plausible reason, that there is a group, and I must share with it.
And that, literally and metaphorically, is all she wrote.