Be magnificent, said the voice in my head as I woke up this morning.
Actually, that was not the first thing it said. The first thing it said was: ‘Why are you dreaming about Kind?’ Kind was Frankel’s dam, and reportedly one of the best-named broodmares ever, as sweet and gentle as the day is long. She was the star of my dream last night and the voice in my head thought that was quite peculiar.
Then the voice moved swiftly on to the magnificence.
The Be Magnificent thing is because I have had quite a lot of angst and fret lately, about a variety of matters too dull to bore you with. These are matters with which I must deal. In times like this, my instinct often is to try and explain myself. I forgot that or neglected this because I was working to a crazy deadline or my brain went phhhtt or I’m desperately trying to wrangle my career back on track after a professional setback of fairly shocking proportions.
I wish always to be understood, which is why exposition is my default. But the problem with explanations is that they often sound like excuses, and in a way they are. I decided that that magnificent thing to do was not to twist on a pin but to apologise with grace, and correct the omission, and leave explanations for the birds. It did, I freely admit, go against all muscle memory.
The next thing I asked myself, in my drive for magnificence, was: ‘What would AP do?’
(For those of you new to the blog, or who have no racing interest, AP McCoy is the most champion of champion jockeys Britain has ever seen.)
This is a novel thing for me, but it’s been cooking for a while, in the echoing back corridors of my mind. In America apparently there are some very religious people who always ask themselves What Would Jesus Do? Sometimes, to remind themselves, they abbreviate it to WWJD and put it on t-shirts. (This may be apocryphal.) Since I do not have a deity, I decided to ask myself what The Champ would do. He is a man of stoicism and steel. He buggers on where lesser humans would throw up their hands. He does not brag when things go well, and he never complains when things go wrong. I also suspect that he may be in possession of a most excellent Occam’s Razor.
I told my mother this at breakfast. She put her head on one side and regarded me quizzically.
‘What would AP do?’ she asked.
‘Ride another winner,’ I said.
‘Ah,’ she said.
‘I mean,’ I said, ‘he would not give in to angst and navel-gazing and midnight fretfulness. He would never make excuses. He would just go out there and ride another winner. You see?’
I’m not quite sure she did.
Up on the hill, with the sun pouring down like honey, and the red mare at her most glorious beneath me, I gazed over the blue landscape between her pricked ears and thought: you are my winner. As she gave me, with all the sweetness of her generous heart, the most beautiful, collected, smooth sitting trot I’ve ever felt in my life, I thought: this is that winner. And I am riding her.
Then I went home and wondered if I could be magnificent. It’s so much easier to be chipped about the edges and a tiny bit second-rate and messily ordinary. It is easier to make excuses and point to reasons and demand exculpation. I would have to pull myself up to my full height and draw on all my resources.
And then, at that very moment, someone else did the magnificence for me.
A person I know only through the internet recently asked for my address. I usually would never give out this information, despite being surrounded by fierce guard dogs and neighbours who go out lamping half the night, but this particular gentleman seemed so intelligent and kind and funny that I decided to err on the side of trust rather than caution. You get out what you put in, after all.
The thing he wanted to send me arrived today. I opened it. I stared. I laughed and laughed and laughed.
It is a little book by US Cricket Guy, the funniest spoofer on Twitter by a country mile. He galvanises the Ashes by referring to decision timbers instead of wickets and cries ‘Let’s play CRICKETBALL!!!’ when things are getting tense. He makes me collapse with laughter.
A complete stranger had gone to the trouble of tracking the book down, buying it, packing it, addressing it, and sending it all the way to Scotland, just because he knew from my intemperate Ashes tweeting habit that I love test cricket with the adoration of a true believer.
That is magnificence.
It makes me smile and smile, even as I write it. The kindness of strangers never gets old for me. Each time it takes me by surprise; each time it is as keen and new and lovely as the very first. Each time, it restores my faith in human nature. I doggedly believe that most humans are mostly good, and sometimes this rickety faith has to be held together with baling twine. Today, it was bolstered with Corinthian columns and flying buttresses.
The only problem is that it sets the magnificence bar very high. My kind internet friend has raised the stakes with his immense generosity. I shall now have to leap as if I have springs in my heels. But then, that, that is what AP would do.
Apologies to the polymaths. It’s late and I still have not finished my work so there is only time for the rampant loveliness that is my furry, muddy, scruffy, magnificent red mare:
Despite this season of fretfulness, when I am on her back, everything is all right. It is as if I have come home.