Yesterday, someone called me a pompous, sanctimonious arse.
I was ill for three days; that is why there has been radio silence. There was a fairly ordinary state of health one moment, and then – hit all over with hammers. It’s that kind of thing when you can hardly move or speak, just groan. It made me think of how I take health for granted. I always say of course, of course it’s the most precious thing, but I’m not sure I really stop to appreciate the actual truth of that. When your entire body hurts and you can’t move, nothing is worth anything. You could have a cellar full of rubies downstairs, and it would not matter a damn. I thought of all those people who struggle with chronic pain every day of their lives, and felt very small and very grateful.
Anyway, it’s a Sunday, so I’m going to tell you a rambling story. Yesterday, I was a bit better, but still very tottery, so I lay in bed with my swimmy head and Stanley the Dog gazing at me with his best Florence Nightingale eyes, and watched the racing. I still get rather grumpy with Channel 4 for aspects of their coverage – they have the maddening habit of putting banging, non-specific music over all their montages and even across Clare Balding saying interesting things about the history of Ascot, almost drowning out her accomplished words – but I do appreciate that they allow me to watch the racing live on their website. (I have no television in the bedroom.) It was good racing and even though my eyeballs felt like boiled sweets I was enjoying it.
A mighty German horse called Novellist absolutely hosed up in the big race of the day, under the great Johnny Murtagh, and, because it is that time of year, all thoughts turned to the Arc.
Twitter is fascinating in its sociological and cultural make-up. Quite unexpectedly, the racing community has adopted it wholesale, and you will find everyone there from jockeys to betting shop managers to clerks of the course to work riders. One of my favourite Twitter friends turns out to be the head of Coral, which I find rather grand. It’s clever too; he is so nice that I now bet with Coral as well as with William Hill, which is my default account.
So, immediately after the race, where the classy French horse, Cirrus des Aigles, underperformed, and the German horse smashed the track record, a great post-mortem broke out. One gentleman got very shouty and I suddenly could not deal with it, in my weakened state. Instead of sensibly just unfollowing him, I announced it.
This is the danger of social media. It’s in its infancy, and the rules and mores and small etiquettes are still being worked out. Also, I find that when I am in a Twitter storm, which happens usually during sporting events, I often type before I think. I get into a zone, and everything goes public. Some of my kind followers find this faintly diverting, but sometimes it is dangerous.
I did not mention the gentleman by name. I just wrote something like: ‘Am unfollowing cross people. Too weak.’
The cross people clearly knew who they were. Back came the reply: ‘Good riddance.’ Hm, I thought, mazily. Ungracious. I pondered what to do. He is a stranger, and I generally do not have conversations with him; the online ones who have the power to hurt are those with whom one has struck up a relationship. I was not wounded, but perhaps my pride, or something, was a little dented. Foolishly, I wrote another tweet. It went something like: ‘Don’t take it personally, cross people. Festivals of crossness must not be stopped. Just not my thing. Each to each.’
I admit, this was a bit passive-aggressive. The rational part of me knows that some people find a bit of expressed fury marvellously cathartic and invigorating. I believe ardently that speech must not be shut down. On a purely subjective level though, I really do hate it. I do wish that everyone was polite and minded their Ps and Qs. So I was being a little disingenuous. If I had been entirely honest, I would have said: oh, for God’s sake, Cross Person, stop being so grumpy and shouty and rude. I was especially narked because he was shouting at another racing person whom I rather like, and for not much reason.
And that was when he got really cross. ‘You are a pompous sanctimonious arse,’ he wrote.
Well, I thought, that’s that. I went back to the racing, and felt happy as clever, canny Sir Mark Prescott, one of most idiosyncratic characters in the whole of racing, had a quickfire double, with two tremendous, doughty campaigners, Big Thunder and Alcaeus, both of whom are on an unstoppable winning streak. I had them in doubles and trebles and a fivefold accumulator, and I won a shed-load of money, even with my viral load, and I felt that that would show the cross person.
But it’s slightly scratched away at me ever since. I was not hurt, because, as I have discovered online, you need to have built up a degree of intimacy for a sudden attack to hit the target. I am vulnerable on the blog, and on my Facebook page, but not to random Tweeters. On the other hand, there was a part of me that really did want to punish that rude person for being so disobliging and intemperate. I wanted to smack him back and hang him out to dry, even though I knew that would be ridiculous, and the only thing to do was gently move on.
Just as I was examining all these feelings, I came, rather late, to the saga of the Jane Austen hate club. I don’t know if you have followed this story. A woman called Caroline Criado-Perez started a campaign to get dear Jane on the British banknotes, and succeeded, and all was lovely, until she started getting a vicious, concerted set of tweets, some of them containing rape threats.
This put my little spat in perspective. I at once went over to sign a petition for Twitter to put up a Report Abuse button, so that these kind of haters can be dealt with. This felt meaningful and pointful, and I forgot my own tiny pinprick.
The whole thing made me think again about the nature of life online. I choose to regard the internet as a benign place, and treat it as such. Most of my blogs and tweets and Facebook posts are positive; I try to resist the temptation to let my inner bitch come out and dance. I feel I should confine her to the privacy of my own room. Unless Channel 4 Racing drives me to a pitch of distraction, which I admit it sometimes does, I attempt to emphasise the positive and skip over the negative.
In particular, when writing racing tweets, I have a very strict rule not to criticise jockeys, even if they do make a hash of a race, because I grew up with a jockey and I know damn well that even the most brilliant will have an off moment, run into traffic, misjudge the pace, and that they will be far too busy criticising themselves to have any need for outside help. Besides, I suspect that the armchair jocks have absolutely no idea what it must be like to have to make split-second decisions whilst going at forty miles an hour on half a ton of youthful thoroughbred, perched on a saddle the size of a postage stamp.
Generally, I find that I get back what I put in. At the very same time the cross man was calling me names, another lovely gent, with whom I have bonded over our mutual love of lurchers, was sending messages of ineffable funniness and sweetness. The good and bad were marching there together, and I chose to let the good win.
But I am perhaps a little naive, even wilfully so. As the blameless Caroline Criado-Perez found, you can do something which seems utterly ordinary and uncontroversial, and suddenly insane people are threatening to violate your very body.
As always, I’m never quite sure what to make of all this. I shall bash on in my hopeful view of the online world, because 90% of it is charming and funny and illuminating and generous and kind. I get glimpses of other lives, radically different from my own. I get sudden belly laughs from complete strangers when I am feeling low. People I shall never meet ask after Stanley the Dog. Properly useful information is shared. There really is wit, and quite often wisdom too.
There are moving collective outpourings, such as the very touching concern for St Nicholas Abbey, as he recovers from a life-threatening injury and two complicated surgeries. He is a great horse, not much known to the general public, but hugely beloved by racing aficionados, and the hope for his welfare touches my heart.
If the price I pay for this is the occasional sanctimonious arse, I think I may count myself lucky.
As for the real, vicious haters, the ones who attack women from behind the craven cloak of anonymity, the interesting thing about them is they do seem far outnumbered. The majority has risen up against them, pointed the finger and said no. They may never go away. We shall never know what private miseries and bitternesses drive them to their own twisted outpourings. But I do know this: they shall not prevail.
Pouring with rain outside and still too tottery for pictures, so here are some quick beloveds:
Stanley the Dog does not give a bugger about the internet, BECAUSE HE HAS A GREAT BIG STICK:
And now he is going to look for another one. You can’t keep a good dog down:
And Red the Mare, after our last lovely ride, thinks only of the green, green grass: