Thursday, 4 July 2013

Musing on light and shade. Or, the good parts and the bad parts, and all points in between.

Happy Independence day to all the dear American readers. It is also the happy birthday of my beloved Older Niece. So it is a day of jubilee all round.

Sometimes, as you may have noticed, I sit down to write this with hardly a thought in my head. Because I have taken on idiot amounts of work and have a horse and a pony and a dog to look after, my days are an endless parade of Not Enough Time. As a result, the blog has morphed into a series of small snapshots: this is my small life.

It once was a place where I could muse on the great matters of the day. I could parade my feminism and my politics and my old bleeding liberal heart. I liked doing that, and I liked the Dear Readers joining in the debate. It was like a little Mrs Merton all of its own.

There is no space for that now. The Today programme beams into my room each morning, and as my brain charges up with all the things it has to do, it takes in shards of news – horrors in Syria, the raging arguments over leaks and government surveillance, the oddness that is happening in Texas, the Where’s Waldo life of Edward Snowden. I contemplate these things in brief snatches and then gallop on to my immediate life, which has to be lived.

As I drive down the rutted HorseBack drive after my morning visit, looking up at the blue hills, where weather is swishing back and forth, veering between hard rain and bright sun, I think suddenly of the blog, and what it is all for, and what effects it may have. On my Twitter timeline, which I glance at quickly before settling to work, someone has put up a link with the words ‘Lifestyle envy’ on it. I resist the word lifestyle; I like to think that we humans have lives, not styles.

But there is something about the internet which does encourage a lifestyle. People put up little snatches of their existence – an amusing picture here, a paragraph of achievement there, a lovely view, a sweet canine. They generally show the good parts. I suspect that most people want to live well, and now in the age of the online life, they want to show that they live well. And sometimes this does lead to envy. I occasionally feel a bit of a pang when I see a perfect paradise of paddock and barn, or an ex-racehorse covered in rosettes, or a woman who has conquered the dizzy heights of chic. (This last makes me look ruefully down at my blackened hands and muddy jeans; dirt is a constant when you work with horses.)

I do tend to tell you the Good Stuff. I wail sometimes about a fraught day, or the moments when my heart aches for the Dear Departed. Mostly though, I say: see, here is a magical moment with my mare, or this is my great word count, or this is the kind thing some kind person said. You will notice I no longer boast of my cooking skills or my garden; both of those have rather gone by the wayside as my time has contracted. I am more likely to eat a ham sandwich than some intricate oriental dish, and have let the garden find its own way, so it has taken on a wild aspect, everything seeding itself where it will.

I think: is this bogus, or is this a charming little bit of light relief? Humans, after all, as TS said so wisely, cannot bear very much reality. You do not want to hear my daily frets and moans; much better to see the handsome face of Stanley the Dog and hear of the latest triumph of Red the brilliant Mare.

On the other hand, I scent the whiff of whitewash. Am I guilty of presenting a lifestyle, rather than a life? Middle age is filled with the rocky stones of reality. The Old People are going. (Another of the Good Old Men left us on Sunday.) I worry about all my responsibilities, wish I were more organised, lash myself to get more things done.

Despite the good word counts, I sometimes feel this book is just spinning its wheels. I wish that my poor mum was not in pain most of the time. She is brave and stoical, but it is a hard thing to have a body that hurts.

I struggle with the brutal fact of mortality, which is something I think pretty much everyone is up against at this time of life. My sleep patterns are sometimes erratic; I get scratchy and over-tired. In the wider sense, I worry about bigotries and hatreds and stupid tribal rivalries. My old inner hippy comes out and I wish everyone could just accept that love is love, and humans are humans, and there is more that unites us than divides us.

I have no answers to this question of how much dark should balance the light. I am just musing out loud. Perhaps the silver lining aspect of the internet is a good thing, not a phoney. I do smile when I see the delightful pictures of service dogs or wild places I will never visit or baby elephants that pop up on my Facebook timeline. Perhaps all this is not whitewash against reality, but a useful corrective, a reminder that in all the small daily frets and tensions that infect even the luckiest life, and the big global injustices and horrors out in the wider world, there is also goodness and beauty and small, potent acts of kindness.

Perhaps it is a fine thing to be in the presence of my old stalwarts, love and trees, literally and metaphorically. I genuinely don’t know.


Today’s pictures:

HorseBack morning:

Even though I was in a rush as usual, I stopped and spent ten minutes with this girl. She is one of my favourites, sweet and solid and kind and earthy. We stood together for a while and had a damn good chat, and she walked with me round the paddock, and I felt my raging mind calm and the centre hold. There is an astonishing thing about horses; all the existential doubts and fears fall away when I am with them. They are so authentic, so wonderfully anchored in the moment. They are like little four-legged yogis:

4 July 1 04-07-2013 10-11-03

4 July 2 04-07-2013 10-15-04

4 July 4 04-07-2013 10-19-32

4 July 5 04-07-2013 10-19-36

4 July 5 04-07-2013 10-20-28

4 July 6 04-07-2013 10-21-13

This dear mare is about to foal at any moment. All fingers are crossed for her:

4 July 7 04-07-2013 10-40-17


4 July 10 04-07-2013 10-48-47

4 July 11 04-07-2013 10-48-56

4 July 14 04-07-2013 10-49-10

4 July 15 04-07-2013 10-49-17

4 July 16 04-07-2013 10-49-21

4 July 18 04-07-2013 10-50-20

4 July 19 04-07-2013 10-51-44

The girls and Stanley the Dog having a good graze in our little makeshift arena before their afternoon’s work:

4 July 20 04-07-2013 12-27-42

4 July 22 04-07-2013 12-28-41

4 July H21 04-07-2013 12-28-31

Red was astonishing today. In the blinding sun, which cast light and shade, with the wind up, she walked, step by delicate step, over a billowing tarpaulin, backed, again one step at a time, moving the very foot to which I pointed, through a narrow L made of rails, and followed me without blinking under a low makeshift arch with a flapping curtain on it. (The Remarkable Trainer is getting very imaginative in setting up her desensitising obstacle courses.)

These exercises require a huge amount of trust, accuracy and concentration. They are foundational, building confidence in us both, so that when the great day comes when we ride off to Mount Keen or some wild place, we will have no fears. They can throw anything at us.

I love the work, because it is gentle and slow and precise. I love seeing what my miracle mare can do. I love that she defies all stereotypes about thoroughbreds and mares and chestnuts. I love that her glorious lower lip wibbles throughout. I love her so much it sometimes feels as though my heart will burst.

And it has to be said that sweet Autumn the Filly was foot-perfect too, as if she had done this kind of thing all her life, when in fact she is only just four and at the beginning of her education. These clever girls give us so much joy.

4 July 23 04-07-2013 12-29-55

And the hill, taken this morning before the sun came out, lost in the mist and murk:

4 July 29 04-07-2013 10-51-52


  1. It just so happens that I have (finally) reached a point in my life where I am ready to have a child. I am filled with anxiety over this for a multitude of reasons and find that when most people talk of their children, they usually talk about the difficulties. The long nights, the illnesses, the worries. Only when pressed will they tell me there is joy and happiness too. You must carry on with the Good Stuff. It is generally lacking in our world. And your blog constantly cheers and encourages and lifts me. Sure, some bloggers and facebookers are showing off, but that is not you and you shouldn't change a thing (except maybe to not listen to the news if it upsets you).

  2. Oh yes, just do what you do. I love the little snapshots, and when sometimes you write about your sadnesses, or today when you muse and say very true, real things. I think your way of working with horses is a bit like yoga. When you wrote about the one step at a time, it sounded like a meditation. It's amazing how people get to the same kind of place via such different route. Hope you have the sun we have in London! Rachel

  3. Dear Helen,
    After a DECADE of discussion & swayed by my husband's(!) increasing "broodiness", I/ we finally decided to have a 38! After a miscarriage at 10 weeks, pregnancy became THE goal. Our wonderful, healthy daughter was born four months before my 40th birthday. I can unequivocally say she has been & continues to be the most remarkable thing to ever happen in my life.
    What "scared" me most was being responsible for another human being. Lovers & marriages can be left; children are forever (in my thinking). Several close friends and two of my sisters kept telling me how incredible having a child (or in their cases, children) was. I saw their delight, adult & child.
    When you love any living thing, be it person or animal (Tania's writing is testimony to this, and I have had a slew of cats over the years), you open up yourself to all sorts of vulnerabilities. I tend to fall into the category of rather preferring to have loved & lost than never to have loved at, yes, there is sadness, yet there is also great joy.

    1. Helen, I think Pat has said it beautifully - there is such love.
      Go into it with your heart wide open. And on days when it all gets a bit much what better place to escape to than the wilds of Scotland. :)

      Tania, it had crossed my mind that your description of working with Red was sometimes familiar to the flow of a yoga class. Great minds!

    2. Thank you both so much. What you've done by reaching out to me here, well I think it's testament to Tania's brilliant blog that such good people read it and comment with heartfelt honesty.

  4. Happy 4th to you, too! I worked the holiday, as usual, but I have a nice long weekend off now and to me, a cold beer tastes just as good on the Friday after the 4th as it would have on the actual 4th. 8-)

  5. Tania, I like this post. Your writing is beautiful. It is all about the small things. If we are lucky enough I believe we get to worry about the small things and the choices. I used to imagine a big life but had no idea what this meant. I now know that I am happy with my small life and moments of love. It gives me comfort to read about other lives, that are small but wonderful. The big things cause worry and concern and involve things we cannot change. Keep writing and I will buy your book once published because you are a writer of immense talent and we need your views, feminism and love of trees. And I know you probably think I am a crazy blogger but in this world of same it is amazing to find a lady out there in the world that has chosen to live her life in a way that is different.


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