Thursday, 18 April 2013

The dark and light of the internet. Or, in which I salute Rebecca Curtis.

One of the things I find curious about the internet is how so many people seem to accept that the rules are different. Of course, they say sagely, people are rude or inappropriate or pushy or blatantly offensive, because it’s the internet.

I see no logical reason for this. One of the basic marks of character is that one behaves in exactly the same way when unobserved. A decent person does not snoop or pinch or cheat, just because there is no one there to watch. In the same way, there is no reason why a human should fall to ranting or rudeness just because they can type in an empty room under the folding cloak of anonymity. It seems perfectly obvious to me that one would not say anything to anyone in the virtual world that one would not say in the real world.

One of the things that puzzles me most is the element of bossiness that creeps into internet life. Complete strangers instruct other complete strangers in what they should or should not say, how they should live, what they should think, how they should proceed. I would not march up to someone in the street and say: ‘You know, your work-life balance is clearly all wrong.’ Or, your opinion on this thing is absurd, or your obsession with that thing is nuts, or you are clearly in need of some kind of serious retrenching.

I would no more tell a sentient human how to life their life than I would walk into their house and start rearranging the pictures. Yet people do this online all the time. I do not get it. I am not being disingenuous; I am genuinely perplexed.

I also find there is an odd sense of entitlement, as if these strangers have some kind of right over the lives of anyone who ever ventures into any form of social media. It’s as if there is an odd insistence that the moment a human says something in any public forum, they grant permission for other people to tell them what to do.

I loathe bossiness and prescription. I find it startling and claustrophobic. I don’t do it in real life, and I don’t do it virtual life. Grown-ups are grown-ups, and may make their own decisions. They have brains and agency and hopes and dreams; they do not need to be told.

On the flip side of this, there is a lot of gentleness and politeness and sweetness, out there in the ether. This does not make headlines, because, rather like happiness, it writes white. People console on the loss of beloved animals, or send congratulations on a grand success; they share comparable experiences and give generous encouragement. There is a lot of the lovely balm of Me Too.

I was thinking of all this because a very charming thing happened to me this week. There is a chaser I really love called Teaforthree. He’s just my kind of horse: big and bonny and handsome; brave and bold; honest and genuine as the day is long. I fell in love with him last year and followed him all season. He ran a blinder in the Grand National to finish third, and I was there, cheering him on in the glittering Aintree sunshine.

He is trained in Wales by Rebecca Curtis. She is young for a trainer, only 33, and she does a hard job in a thoughtful and imaginative way. Her horses are out a lot, instead of confined always to boxes, and encouraged to play and express their horsey selves. In a game increasingly dominated by the giant yards, she is having a great success.

I know, from watching my father, how tough the job is. The work is endless, the emotional demands are acute, and there are never enough hours in the day. Yet Curtis maintains an excellent Facebook page, where she generously takes the time to update people on the progress of her horses. Tentatively, because I don’t like to be a bore and take up precious moments in a packed life, I posted a couple of comments about the glorious Teaforthree and my admiration for him. To my delight and amazement, she sent a kind message back.

I’ve had a really good week this week, but I have to say that getting that message was a shining highlight. Lucinda Russell once did the same thing, when I sent her a note of consolation about the loss of her lovely young hurdler, Brindisi Breeze. How elegant these women are, I think. They are the diametrical opposite of the shouty voices, the raucous opinionators, the unasked-for advisors. They behave just as beautifully online as off. They are pursuing a profoundly difficult profession, in an arena still largely dominated by men, and they still manage to be incredibly polite and thoughtful.

Often, when I write here, I like to have a shining note of optimism. The weather may be buggery bollocks, the news may be dark, the existential bafflements may multiply. Yet there is always a lovely light somewhere, if only one will look for it. My lovely light was that moment of human generosity, in the rush and scramble of the online world.

I raise an actual and metaphorical glass to Rebecca Curtis, and all who sail in her. And to put my money where my mouth is, I’ve had a tiny little punt on Teaforthree in next year’s National. Wherever he goes next, the bonny fella stays in pride of place in the notebook, number one in my Horses to Follow. And, if I ever manage to write a best-selling book, I shall buy two chasers in the same stamp and send them to be trained in Scotland and Wales.


Today’s pictures:

Lovely morning at HorseBack UK:

18 April 1 3024x4032

18 April 2 3024x4032

18 April 3 3024x4032

18 April 4 2788x2033

18 April 9 3586x1371

Very happy herd, feeling the first spring sun on their backs:

18 April 6 3555x2173

18 April 7 3024x4032

18 April 8 4032x2216

Red the Mare doing her Minnie the Moocher:

18 April 9 2080x2185

General spring:

18 April 10 4032x3024

18 April 11 3016x2718

18 April 12 3024x4032

Mr Stanley the Dog:

18 April 15 2991x2807


18 April 20 3249x1187


  1. Yes, that sense of entitlement to be offensive to other people on the internet always surprises me too. I sometimes think that perhaps those people behave like that in every part of their lives, public and private, and then I thank my lucky stars that I don't know them. And of course when the opposite happens and strangers are kind and thoughtful, I wish I DID know them. (That there has been very little of this unpleasantness in the days following Mrs T's death amazes me: indeed, I've experienced rather the opposite, with friends and strangers trying hard to talk rationally about their responses.) I am always so touched by kindnesses, public and private; I find them very moving and reassuring.

  2. I have a rule: do not speak or write of someone that which you would not be prepared to say to their face. This prescription does not guard against those with naturally sharp tongues or people who like to give unsolicited advice and instruction, but at least it enables people to know who I am and what I stand for.

    I teach the children this, with a rider. Do not make personal remarks. That is to say comments upon appearance or conduct. If something offends, walk away. If you are somehow responsible for this person gently guide.

    People will think what they think anyway. Whether it escapes from their mouth or via their fingers, it is merely a comment on their own individual mindset. Nothing more or less.

  3. Lovely post, as ever. Could do with these beautiful images of happy horses, dogs and new leaves on prescription. There was a wonderful quote on Brainpicker this morning: "Politeness has been defined as an 'artificial good-nature'; but…better said…good-nature is natural politeness." The internet seems to reveal the best and worst in people.

  4. lovely photos, and blog is spot on! have to say, ages ago someone said Stanley reminded them of Burt Lancaster, every time i see a picture of himself now, I think "Burt" - the likeness is uncanny! and it makes me smile...

  5. I would say you have an elegance to your writing too.
    Beautiful pics, and the black and white of Stanley looks like a 1940's film poster. :)

  6. Excellent points, great photos. Every time I see a photo of the guy with the prosthetic legs, it makes me feel like I've just been watching the Olympics, or just heard my national anthem. I feel proud of him, and anything in my day which didn't go quite right suddenly seems completely unimportant.

  7. Such a good point well made. Love the reminder about character and the unobserved self.

  8. I am lucky enough to own a former Lucinda Russell racehorse. He's a total pipe and slippers chap - I can quite see why he didn't make it on the track - he'd be far too polite. I can actually imagine him saying 'No, after you dear chap, you go ahead of me since you're in a hurry.'
    He and I get along brilliantly together - not least because I was never meant to be a winner either and fortunately am not burdened by a competitive spirit. Indeed - if he and I do a 16 fault showjumping round, I will still come out of the ring rejoicing because 'did you see the way he jumped the water tray? He was wonderful!'
    This is one of the reasons I love this blog so much - because Tania takes such joy in small and subtle achievements with her animals - even if she's often wayyyy too hard on herself!
    Rock on Tania - probably like many of your readers, I often save up several days worth of posts to read all at once - and they never ever fail to warm my day.


Your comments give me great delight, so please do leave one.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin