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.
Lovely morning at HorseBack UK:
Very happy herd, feeling the first spring sun on their backs:
Red the Mare doing her Minnie the Moocher:
Mr Stanley the Dog: