I started the day pretty well. Then, out of nowhere, a mood came and got me and snapped me in its crocodile jaws and threw me about the place. I had absolutely no defence against it. I wanted to shout and scratch and punch things in the nose. It was like a furious tight fist clutching at my insides.
I’m no good at moods. I can do emotions. I don’t enjoy being melancholy or sorrowful, but I know those; they are good, clean, proper emotions, with clear, explicable reasons behind them. I understand them. A random mood that comes out of the blue leaves me floundering. Also, there are things you can do with sorrow. A mood is so thick that you cannot cut through it. All my remedies are in vain. The small things can gain no purchase. Love and trees mean nothing. The dog, the mare, these Scottish hills, the great good fortune of living in a free democracy and having opposable thumbs do not work.
I crossly and grimly go to the shop. On the way back, I run into The World Traveller. For those just joining us, The World Traveller is my friend, relation by marriage and near neighbour. Her blog name is because she once rode on a horse from Turkmenistan to China. She is the only person I know who can say, without bluster or fanfare, ‘Oh yes, that’s very typical of the Turkmen horses’. (The horses of Turkmenistan are one of the most famous and idiosyncratic breeds in the world, the Akhal Teke – glossy, lithe, athletic, aristocratic, and amazingly tough.)
Anyway, The World Traveller says, with her beaming smile: ‘How are you?’
The correct British response to this is ‘Fine, thank you.’ If things are not fine, if your dog has just died or you’ve lost all your money in rash speculations, you may say: ‘Not too bad.’ If you are very drunk, you can say ‘bloody awful,’ but only if you are being ironical and then immediately make a joke out of it. Even now, in the era of the misery memoir and the so-called confession culture, the people of these islands are schooled not to make a fuss. I think this is because a fuss makes other people uncomfortable and causes embarrassment, and embarrassment is the great British disease. (Britons get embarrassed in a way that no French or Americans ever do.)
I gaze into the clever, open face of The World Traveller. When I first knew her, I was rather intimidated because she seemed to me like one of the perfect people. She is kind and funny and competent and good at things and unbelievably nice. Now I know her so well, I am reassured by the fact that for all her loveliness, she has human frailties just like I do.
‘I’m in a filthy mood,’ I say.
She bursts into peals of laughter. ‘Oh, yes,’ she says, merrily. ‘I know that. I shout at the children, shout at the dog, shout at everyone.’
(She is the least shouty person I know.)
The balm of shared experience falls on me, from the bright Scottish sky.
We discuss our moods for a while. I drive off, bolstered. I’m still mysteriously grumpy, but I’ll ride it out now, because I’m not alone.
I think how interesting it is that admitting the not pretty stuff is a tremendous bonding experience. I notice it here. If I’m having a lovely, shiny day, and I write about that, I get a couple of kind comments, mostly involving the handsomeness of Stanley the Dog, because there’s not much else to say. If I am sad or suffering, the response becomes quite a different animal. It comes fast and generous. I think it is the relief of Me Too. I think sometimes that all crazy, goofy, quirky humans want is to be understood, for someone to come along and say, oh yes, I know just what that feels like. It’s almost like a gentle giving of permission: you may have your shitty days for no reason, because I have those as well.
The funny thing is I used to be ashamed to admit to idiot moods or moments of cross bafflement. I wanted to say: Look Ma, no hands. I can ride a unicycle and juggle at the same time. Watch me gleam. A mood was a horrid admission of rank failure. Now I am older and more bashed about, I find a small, twisted comfort in being able to confess that every day really is not Doris Day.
Very hard to know how I can ever be cross when I have these beautiful, delightful creatures in my life:
Funny how she photographs so differently in different lights. And yet, to my eyes, she is gloriously the same every day: sweet, still, real, kind, present:
Stanley the Dog is altogether a more antic person:
With his new best friend:
Playing their hilarious new game:
One more of the sheer loveliness:
The little HorseBack UK foal:
The dear old hill:
The funny thing is, I’ve suddenly realised that every time I have an inexplicable black mood, I write this exact same blog. I grump it out, and share with the group, sentence by identical sentence. I wheel out my Every day can’t be Doris Day line. I’m obviously very proud of that one. I have a habit of flogging old lines to absolute death.
Just as I was about to press Publish, I saw something about the funeral of Seamus Heaney. I love Heaney, and saw him years ago at a sunny, bucolic literary festival, where he entranced everybody. I was very sad to hear of his death. Another of the good old men gone.
The piece said that the very last thing he did before he died was send his wife a message. It was two words, in Latin. It said: Noli timere.
That means: don’t be afraid.
I find that almost impossibly wonderful, in ways I cannot express.