Thursday, 31 January 2013

In which the internet is kind

Warning: more language, I’m afraid. Editorially necessary. Still not nice.


There is an awful lot of received wisdom about the internet. One of the stickiest is that it is a wild, cruel place, where people have no edit button, and say hideous things from behind a cloak of anonymity.

As a sub-set of this, there are many stories about women being abused and degraded. Revolting suggestions about parts of the anatomy are offered; death threats are not uncommon. The latest example of this was the monstering of Mary Beard. To everyone’s great delight, the stalwart professor fought back like a tigress.

All this is, of course true. Only this morning, I found a comment on a seemingly benign Facebook page. One man accused another of being a ‘dumb fuck wank stain wife beating cunt’. (Sic. He clearly had no use for hyphens.) This was in regard to a piece about the South American tribes whose way of life is being threatened by the building of a vast hydro-electric dam. You might think that the people who care about this would not even know the expression ‘wank stain’, let alone use it in public. Yet there it was, in all its gratuitous ugliness.

The thing that is not much reported is that the internet is also a place of great warmth and kindness and humanity. It can be polite and charming. It can be helpful and informative. Because of it, I know things I would not otherwise know; I may witness lives across the other side of the world, about which I would otherwise be ignorant.

All of which is a long way of saying: thank you all for the lovely birthday wishes.

The virtual birthday is a new thing. Through Twitter and the blogs, and most of all via Facebook, which helpfully reminds your online acquaintances that this is the great day of your birth, happy little messages of goodwill may wing their way through the ether. They come from complete strangers. They come from friends whom you only know online. They come from real-life loved ones, and far-flung family, waving across time zones. They bring just as much pleasure as actual presents and cards. Someone, somewhere, has paused in their busy day, and taken the time to type. It is oddly touching.

I sometimes wonder if the goodness and generosity and big-heartedness of my internet circle is an anomaly. I am always wary of universalising the particular. And anecdotal evidence is, well, anecdotal. Of course my Dear Readers are of the finest and best: five star, ocean-going, fur-lined remarkables. When you were made, the mould was broken.

Yet, I cannot believe that this place, and the people who come here, are so very unrepresentative. I get glimpses, sometimes, of other people’s interactions, and they too are being funny and kind and polite. If anything, the wank stain crew seem to me to be the minority, the oddities, the furious few who, like small children throwing tantrums, almost cannot help themselves.

Being kind does not make headlines. It also does not shock in the way the ravening hordes with their swearing and their threats do. But it is real, and it is important, and it should not be drowned out by the shouty people.

I also think it matters. I’m going to go back to my hippyish tendency now, but I really do believe that sending the smallest message of affection, paying the tiniest compliment, offering the briefest good-hearted encouragement really does add to the sum total of human happiness. The increments may be minuscule, but boy, do they add up.

Thank you all. You are bloody lovely. And now I am going to contemplate love and trees.


Today’s pictures:

A gloomy old day. Dirty sky and intermittent rain. At least last night’s crazy gales have blown themselves out. But today was all about looking for the beauty in the small things:

31 Jan 1

31 Jan 2

31 Jan 3

31 Jan 4

31 Jan 5

31 Jan 6

31 Jan 8

31 Jan 8-001

31 Jan 9

The last of the snow, in a rare moment of light:

31 Jan 10

Autumn the Filly:

31 Jan 12

Myfanwy the Pony, at her woolliest:

31 Jan 14

A rather dreamy Red the Mare. She may be tired after keeping her herd safe in the high winds. She’s never been a lead mare before, and she’s learning on the job. It’s very sweet to watch. Except when she decides Autumn is getting out of line and must have a charming bite on the bottom. (Don’t worry; it’s a very gentle bite. And Autumn proves herself pretty much unfussed by anything.):

31 Jan 15

Stanley the Dog has found a most excellent stick:

31 Jan 19

Here he is, doing sit and stay. He is saying: how long do I have to sit here before I may have my good boy reward?:

31 Jan 20

Today’s hill:

31 Jan 30

Wednesday, 30 January 2013


It is my birthday. I am forty-six years old. It’s a bit of a neither flesh, fowl, nor good red herring sort of age, but it will do.

The day raced away from me like a brumby on sunlit plain. It is 6.45pm and only now have I sat down to write this.

It was a day of great loveliness. There were cards. There was an enchanting birthday breakfast. There were flowers. There were telephone calls. Stanley the Dog staged a little parade of adorableness. There were gales, so the horses put on a good old bronco show for me, wild as the wind itself. There were really good presents.

I even did some proper work. I went to one very serious meeting, driving up the valley with my notebook and my business face on, and matters of import were discussed and then an unexpected celebratory drink was produced. There was no great birthday plan, and I prefer it that way (I find birthday plans slightly embarrassing), so this ad hoc celebration was exactly the very thing.

The internet shimmered with sweetness and kindness. Facebook and Twitter hummed with birthday messages. There is something very touching about people one may never meet stopping to remember that this is the day of one’s birth.

And now there is just time for a couple of pictures, of the Best Beloveds -

The running herd:

30 Jan 1

Dozing pony:

30 Jan 2

Red the Mare, at her most demure:

30 Jan 3

Stanley the Dog, with his serious handsome face on:

30 Jan 10

And the Dear Departeds:


27 May 13

And my hill:

30 Jan 20

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

HorseBack and horses and no words left.

Been working all day on stuff for HorseBack. It’s always the hardest kind of writing I ever have to do, because it’s for such a serious purpose. This is not just for me, for my own vanity or success or amour-propre. It’s for an organisation which really does transform people’s lives. It’s a keen responsibility.

They are all so no-nonsense and funny and matter-of-fact down there it’s sometimes easy to forget what an extraordinary thing it is that they have undertaken. Since I’ve been working with them, I’ve watched a man with no legs trot off into the wild Deeside hills, talked to a gentleman whose body is filled with bullet holes, observed a laughing fellow guide a horse round an arena using his last remaining digit. People come there for whom the simple act of sleeping is a rare luxury. So these words damn well matter.

My brain is now so stretched that it is about to crawl out of my ears and hide behind the sofa, so there is nothing left for the blog. You are good people; you understand about priorities. I know that I do not have to apologise for this.


There are, however, some pictures. Almost a little photo essay, you might say. Because today was the Red Letter Day when Autumn the Filly got her first saddle on her back.

We were expecting a bit of a buck or a jump or at the very least a tossed head. But her trainer has worked so well with her on the ground that she mostly just went to sleep as the big foreign object was placed on her. Yeah, yeah, whatever, one could almost hear her saying, her ears in firm donkey position.

Hmm, and you want me to react to this how?:

29 Jan 5

I suppose it is faintly interesting:

29 Jan 6

But NOT as scary as you thought:

29 Jan 7

Really nothing to see here. Move along:

29 Jan 8

I’ll just do a bit of collected circling:

29 Jan 8-001

At this point, the Horse Talker arrived, who is the owner of Autumn, and the filly pricked up her ears as if to say MUM:

29 Jan 10-001

Look what I DID:

29 Jan 9

It was actually quite hard work, I suppose:

29 Jan 10

Meanwhile, Red was off in a doze, eating her hay:

29 Jan 11

When the thrilling decision to do some free schooling was taken:

29 Jan 12

And it was - Come on everyone, LET’S GO:

28 Jan 10

28 Jan 11

28 Jan 13

They have been very still lately, with all the weather. They had so much fun cantering about that, afterwards, Myfanwy clearly thought she was Queen of the World:

29 Jan 14

Which she almost certainly is:

29 Jan 15

And then they just hung out for a bit, very pleased with themselves:

29 Jan 15-001

But of course the main thing was that Stanley the Dog HAD HIS BALL:

29 Jan 20

Oh, yes:

28 Jan 21

No hill today. I would love to say it is lost in music, but in fact it’s lost in the cloud.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Rain, errands, class and coffee. With absolutely no swearing.

Cold hard rain belts down out of a sullen sky. It dirties the snow, which has been thawing and freezing and now lies in horrid dirty clumps.

I have to go and do incredibly annoying errands. I am so annoyed about the errands (I have WORK to do) that I shout at my mother over the breakfast table. She takes it amazingly well.

In order to sugar the pill, I bribe myself with shopping. It is my birthday on Wednesday, so I think that in order to mitigate the gruesomeness of the errands, I’ll buy myself a little present. Just a small one. (I’m not going to tell you what it is. It is a surprise.)

There was an excellent piece on the Today programme this morning about the shifting of the British class system. A clever writer has come up with a new theory that it is no longer about where your money comes from – land vs trade, most obviously, in the old days – but where your money goes. So even when you are buying a cup of coffee you are making a class statement.

This is the kind of thing that interests me very much. I thought of it when I was in the country shop, and I saw a smart and useful coat. My own coat is practically dead, after being out in all weathers all winter doing the horses, and it is in the back of my mind that a replacement may have to come. The problem with the smart and useful coat is that it was a Barbour.

Barbour have booted themselves into the 21st century now. It’s not all shapeless green wax jackets, smelling oily and faintly rancid. But still, the image of Barbour as the province of the hoorah is so ingrained in my consciousness that even though this particular coat had both utility and beauty, enough to make William Morris proud, I recoiled in horror. I could not be that person. Visions of honking great yahoos rushed into my mind.

The class consumption fellow must have a good point, I thought. I went straight to the tiny local bookshop, where an elegant and intelligent-looking woman sat at her neat desk.

‘This is a maddening question,’ I said. ‘But there was a man on Today this morning, who wrote a book about class and coffee. I can’t remember his name. I don’t suppose you...’

But she was already out of her chair. She picked up a lovely hardback and smiled.

‘I don’t believe it,’ I said. ‘That is truly the wonder of the independent bookshop.’

I was so happy and impressed that I bought three other books, all at full price. I’m a bit thrifty about books now; I mostly support my local library. When I do buy, I often go and find huge discounts on Amazon. But this small exchange reminded me why the independents, the locals, are worth supporting. Sometimes, if you can afford it, it’s worth paying a little bit over the odds. It’s a quality of life thing.

We spoke for a while about small shops, and the death of the high street, and the rapacious online retailers. We smiled at each other in perfect harmony and parted on the best of terms. I shall be back.

Then I had to go to the bank and get out terrifying amounts of cash to pay for the palatial horse shelter. The tiny local branch was empty, so I had a happy chat with the two operatives. The charming gentleman who counted out the bundles of fifties, for all the world as if I were a gangster or a professional gambler, finally looked up and said: ‘Are you buying something nice?’

‘It’s a shelter,’ I said. ‘For my horse. I have to pay the joiner.’

His colleague laughed and looked assessingly at me. ‘I thought it was something horsey,’ she said.

I looked down at my muddy coat and my scuffed old gumboots. Did I have hay in my hair, or binder twine coming out of my pockets, or dung on my jeans? I could see no tell-tale signs. I’ve obviously just got the crazed horsewoman look now. Even the bank teller can see it. It doesn’t matter what kind of coffee I buy, that is my class. It’s the lunatic equine class.

Ah, well. It could be an awful lot worse.


Today’s pictures:

Too gruesome for the camera today. Here is a quick selection from prettier days:

28 Jan 1

28 Jan 2

28 Jan 3

28 Jan 4

28 Jan 5

28 Jan 6

28 Jan 7

28 Jan 8

28 Jan 10

28 Jan 12

The three lovely girls:

Autumn the Filly:

28 Jan 14

Myfanwy the Pony:

28 Jan 15

Red the Mare, with her goofy face on:

28 Jan 16

And my one lovely boy, Stanley the Dog:

28 Jan 20

28 Jan 21


28 Jan 30

Oh, and the author of the book turns out to be called Harry Wallop. Don’t know how I could have forgotten that name. There is a good review here:


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