I have hit a little bit of a wall. Not in a catastrophic way, just in an ‘oh, there’s a wall’ way. The body and mind are saying steady, steady, just as I say it to my red mare. So I’m going to slow down for a few days. There will be done only the work that must be done. There will be gentle time spent with my glorious girl; there will be the sweetness of Stanley the Dog, and the making of soups (yellow split pea today, with sage and olive oil), and the mighty treat which is listening to The Ashes on the good old BBC iPlayer.
There are people who loathe and despise the BBC, and write weekly about its manifest ghastlinesses, and wail of how blatantly wrong and unfair it is that Ordinary Decent Britons should be forced to pay the iniquitous licence fee. I think: no commercial broadcaster in the world would put eight hours of cricket, for five days in a row, on an internet device which can be accessed at any time. As I sat up last night to catch the first few overs, I watched my entire Twitter timeline explode with anticipation and joy and giddiness. It is THE ASHES. It is the Gabba. The wonderfully vocal Aussies are booing Broad. Who silences them by taking three wickets, before I finally give up and go to sleep.
The sheer level of exhilaration, jokes, and keen sporting knowledge lifts my heart. There is even a spoof account of towering genius, run by a tweeter called US Cricket Guy who refers to falling wickets as ‘decision timbers’, which makes me shout with laughter every time. And, as always, the thing of beauty which is Test Match Special makes the whole occasion.
People who love test cricket love it like nothing else. It is not just a game. It is an ethos, a symbol, an idiosyncrasy; it has history and culture stitched into it. It is also a thing of implausibility – how can a game which goes on for five days have you on the edge of your seat? Yet it does. And dear old Auntie brings it to us, in all its glory. That alone is worth the licence fee.
All of which is a rather long and winding way of saying that I’m going off the blog for a few days. I hate doing this. I have a bizarre sense of obligation. I must give the Dear Readers, so loyal and generous, something. It is also a wonderfully useful daily writing practice, good for my mind and my fingers. And I miss your lovely comments when I am away. I miss the small thrill I get every time my inbox pings, and there are the familiars, some of whom have been with me from the beginning, saying something kind about the sweetness of the red mare, or the handsomeness of Stanley the Dog, or making a wise observation on the human condition.
But still, a rest is due. Soup and cricket indulgence shall restore me to fighting strength. Next week another massive work push begins, and I must limber up.
In the meantime, I leave you with a few quick pictures:
The red mare was astonishing today. She still has moments of being anxious and unsettled. Her world has changed, with the lack of her old friend. But she responds to good, steady, calming work like a champion. (Work is the thing that soothes and quiets her. It is the old horseman’s adage of: change the subject.) This morning, she did free schooling, which I had never taught her before and which I rather extemporised, and which, of course, she got the hang of in about five minutes. Then there was some enchanting walking about together with no rope, our feet moving exactly in time. And then, when I rode her away from Autumn the Filly for the first time since Myfanwy left us, expecting fireworks or resistance or upset, she went as sweetly and kindly as she has ever gone. I was so exhilarated by this that when I saw an inviting green slope I sent her into a racing canter on a loose rein. There I was, standing in the stirrups, leaning up her neck, inviting her to go along as fast as she liked, and she kept to a lovely rolling breeze and dropped back to a gentle walk as soon as I told her to steady.
I know it is absurd to write these things. But they are milestones to me. They are the things that cynics say you damn well can’t do with a thoroughbred mare. You’re supposed to stuff Dutch gags in their mouths and truss them up with tack and bung them full of calmers, not ride them about in a bit of rope. Almost more than anything else, I love the fact that she tips over all the stereotypes with her elegantly duchessy hooves.
And I am so proud of her, that I want it to be marked. I want it to exist in language; I want there to be proof on the page. It is more for me than for you, I freely admit. I want to know that on the bad days, when the dark clouds gather and the prospect seems bleak, I may take down this book, and slowly read. And I can think: anything is possible.
PS. My eyes are squinting with tiredness, and I have not proofed this well. I know there shall be howlers. Forgive me.