Crazy, long day, so packed with work that I thought my ears would fall off. My time management continued poor, especially as I thought that industrial amounts of caffeine might help. All that happened was that I grew slightly manic and my fingers were too trembly to type accurately.
I’m too tired to write of my day, which was interesting, and shall record it tomorrow. But one incredibly touching thing happened, and I want to tell you the story of that before I fall off my chair.
There is a tremendous organisation called The Amateur Jockeys’ Association. My father was its president for many, many years. It runs a very good Twitter feed, and I have become friendly with @amajox because they often say lovely things about my dad, and remember him well. It’s one of those interesting relationships that builds up through the ether, between people who have never clapped eyes on each other. We even make little jokes at each other, getting especially excited whenever a female jockey rides a great race, as rather a lot of them have lately. The hashtag #girlsontop gets deployed, with lots of exclamation marks and happy smiles.
Anyway, today, at dear old Plumpton racecourse, one of my father’s favourites, the 3.40 was for the Gay Kindersley Memorial Salver. To mark the occasion, The Amateur Jockeys’ Association tweeted a wonderful photograph of my dad jumping a fence, with a most characteristic gritted-teeth expression. I know that face so well that it made me laugh and it made me cry. It was the face he made when he knew he was getting away with it, because he had almost certainly been roistering about the night before. (As well as being very courageous, he was very, very naughty.)
I took the picture and put it up on Facebook, and people who knew and loved him left sweet comments.
This is what the internet can do. In between crazed sessions of work, I could take five minutes and look at the picture, and look at the remarks underneath, and think of my darling old dad, and smile. I liked thinking of those days when he rode with wild corinthians who threw their hearts over fences. I liked remembering his tremendous physical bravery. He never thought twice when he got on a horse: he just pointed it at the nearest fence and went hell for leather. I’m much more cautious. I’ve ridden work, but never faced five feet of birch at thirty miles an hour. He set a high bar.
He was loved in racing because he was bold and he was a true horseman and he did not swagger. The jokes he made were most often directed against himself. If you really, really wanted to make him laugh, so his shoulders would hop up and down and tears would fall down his cheeks, you only had to tease him about one of his own personal foibles. He did not judge. He took people exactly as they were. He asked merely that they not be dullards. (He had no time for the puffed-up or the pompous either.) He was an outstanding character in a world of characters. He was so completely and utterly himself, and that self was so idiosyncratic and without rules and generous of spirit that people used to smile involuntarily whenever he walked into a room. That is a lovely gift. I never met anyone quite like him.
I think the real reason that I got the red mare, and the real reason I write of her so often, is that she makes me feel close to the old gentleman. I miss him keenly. But today, it was the funny old internet which made me feel close to him, and lifted my heart. That is not necessarily what it was designed for. It is not what it is most used for. But alongside the rants and the trolls and the cute kittens and the inexplicable conspiracy theories, there exists, on the wide prairies of the web, something very human and very good and very true.
This was the picture:
Three things I especially love about it, apart from my fa’s expression – the magnificent britches, the kind, honest face of the horse, with ears pricked, and that wonderful old-school position. That’s what they used to do in the fifties, sit back and slip the reins.