In some areas of my life, I am bold and flinty. I quite happily get on a thoroughbred ex-racehorse and canter about on a loose rein in a rope halter. I live a resolutely unconventional life. (Although, interestingly, it does not feel like that from the inside. It feels very normal and usual. I only remember the unconventionality from time to time because people are prone to raise eyebrows, and then I have to explain. Lot of ‘splaining to do, as the great Rachel Maddow says.)
I can introduce myself to strangers, and travel alone. I once drove all by myself from Los Angeles to Seattle and back again, taking the frankly terrifying coast road which winds its way along hundred foot cliffs with no safety barrier.
But there are areas of life where I am windy as hell. I know all about the complexity and contradictions of the human mind, but still, it always surprises me. One thing in which I am absolutely pathetic is being told off. I cringe and crumble; quite often I want to cry. I stutter and shuffle; I hang my head like a five-year-old outside the headmistress’s office.
I know that there are people who do not give a bugger. Someone scolds them, and they merely shrug it off. Either they are adept at diagnosing the source of the other person’s ire, or they have naturally thick skins, or they understand well that there are worse things happening in Chad. They are excellent at saving their emotional resources until they see the whites of anyone’s eyes.
I do not like the unexplained. If I have a reason for things, I am at once soothed. I have a fairly empirical, rationalist mind, and once I can see that tab A goes into slot B, I sigh a gutsy sigh of relief. I love fiction for this reason: it all comes back to Chekhov’s gun. Fiction makes glorious, lovely sense, where life does not.
A gentleman told me off this morning. He was within his rights. Stan the Man was barking, and the gentleman was afraid. I should, of course, have had the dog under control. I felt stupid and idiotic and caught in a catastrophic failure. The gentleman was cross, and dressed me down without let or hindrance. I knew that he had correctness on his side, which of course made it worse, and I issued a crawling apology. Inside, the livid child in me was yelling its head off. This is my place, it shouted, and that is my good dog, and how dare you point your stupid finger. It’s just a bit of barking; butch up. Then the upset infant slammed into its bedroom and shut the door and burst into stormy sobs.
The forty-seven-year-old adult, who could not indulge in such dramatics, and knew that rules is rules, and manners are manners, and that dogs should be trained better, went down to the field and looked at the sweet, expectant, equine faces with their pricked ears, whickering at the fence. The adult shouted, out loud, into the cold Scottish morning: FUCK. BUGGER. BALLS. And FUCK again.
Then I pulled myself together and rode the mare and felt the love and later I drove up to HorseBack and had some lovely jokes with one of the American Special Forces operatives, who is still there. ‘Thanks for the lovely write-up yesterday,’ he said, serious for once. He gave me back what the cross gent had taken away, which happened to be my sense of self.
The thing is that self should be internally generated. Just as I teach Red to go kindly within herself, to have a sense of confidence in the world, so that she does not need to rush or pull, I should be able to teach that to my human self. Most of the time, I am fairly stoical and robust. But oh, oh, the idiot power of the scold. It can undo me in an instant. I wish I knew why it had such power, and how I could armour myself against it.
The hill, before the storm blew in:
It was the most glorious morning, with a clear blue sky rising out of the dawn. I hoped perhaps Scotland might get lucky and avoid the brutal storm blowing in off the Atlantic. But it has arrived now, with horrid sleet and snow and high winds. I bless, bless, bless the new rug technology, so that my darling girl is huddled up to her dear ears:
PS. As my finger hovers over the publish button, I have a moment’s pause. Do you really need to know all this? Should I not give you high days and shiny days and dancing days? But, as always, I think, in some mazy part of my mind, that the sharing of frailties is a good thing. It leaves me vulnerable, because anyone could say anything. I would like to show you my best side, and not have to fret. Then I think: vulnerability is important. One cannot live in a castle keep all one’s life.