The sun shines. The Horse Talker and I take out our mares on the sweetest, happiest, most relaxed ride ever. I’m not sure I ever felt Red more gentle and at one with herself and the world. I don’t know who is more delighted that the weather has at last grown kind: equines or humans.
I run up to HorseBack. There is a crowd there. There sometimes is a crowd. I plunge in. I have no idea who anyone is. ‘Hello,’ I say, shaking hands, ‘how do you do? I’m Tania Kindersley. I do the Facebook page.’
Eventually, I sort some of them out. Two are from a venerable organisation which I cannot yet name (secret plans). One seems to be some kind of philanthropist, but I never get upsides him. Two are very smiley and jolly and funny and sharp. One is tall, and looks like Hugh Jackman. One is shorter, and is rather like a young Chevy Chase, and just as hilarious. Within minutes, my famous British reserve has fled. There is no more ‘how do you do?’ or firm handshakes. I am doubling up with laughter and actually slapping my thigh and shouting with merriment. I also quickly fall into teasing them, since they take the piss out of themselves, with ruthless irony.
It turns out that they are of the American Special Forces. When people from the services, on either side of the pond, talk of special forces, you can be sure that the special is very bloody special indeed. You can also be sure that the more special their service, the less they will talk about it. They occasionally get that thousand yard stare in their eyes, but they do not do bragging or war stories. They do self-deprecation as if their lives depend on it. (My favourite Para uses ‘when I was shot in the head’ as a gag line, like a stand-up, doing schtick.)
These two are heaven. I want to wrap them up and take them home. They were wounded in Afghan, and have been through the long months of rehabilitation. You would not know it to look at them; they are shining, healthy specimens. One has a barely visible scar at the base of his throat, the only outward sign of what he has been through.
One is back at work, no longer in the forces, but as a contractor. ‘Are you super- secret?’ I say, merrily. ‘Are you deep undercover? Can I take your picture?’
‘As long as you get my best side,’ he says, gravely.
‘I mostly hide under my desk now,’ he says. ‘And look at Facebook.’
‘Facebook is crazy,’ says the other one, in exaggerated alarm. ‘You just don’t know what people will say next.’
I know perfectly well there is no hiding under any desk, or much Facebook either. That is just how they talk.
They crack jokes for another ten minutes, and then HorseBack’s resident Royal Marine comes out to discuss where he should take them. They want to see a bit of Scotland.
‘We could go to Lochnagar,’ he says. ‘It’s not far from Balmoral. Near the Queen.’
‘If you see the Queen,’ says the Chevy Chase one. ‘Say ‘Chip, chip,’ from me.’
‘Chip, chip?’ I say.
‘That’s what you Brits say,’ says Chevy.
‘No Briton has ever said Chip, chip,’ I say. ‘What have you been doing? Watching Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins?’
‘Never?’ He looks bemused.
‘Never,’ I say.
There is a pause. Then a shout of laughter.
‘You British need to learn to speak British,’ he says.
I think how much I love Americans. Obviously, not all Americans. I don’t expect I would have much fun with one of those crazy evangelical GOP types, who thinks that gay people are mentally ill and that the fossil record was put there by Satan. But, oh, a good American is like a gale of fresh air. I never understand where the fantasy comes from that only the British can do irony. Has nobody ever seen The Daily Show? These two are so ironical that it is as if they took a course. There they stand, in the beaming Scottish sunshine, vivid and bright and endlessly funny, and I think of all the things they have done, and all the things they have seen, and the wounds they carry, quietly, with dignity, beneath their smart coats.
As I get older, I really, really understand the idea of one day at a time. It’s an old group therapy saw, its meaning worn thin with use. But I see now that the only way to deal with middle age, and the intimations of mortality, and the griefs which come, and the labyrinthine difficulties that go into trying to live the good life, is to ask the most simple questions. What shall I do today? What did I do today? Did I add one tiny increment to the sum total of human happiness? Did I try hard? Did I read something interesting or say something amusing or do something kind?
If someone were to ask what I did today, I could answer: well, I met a man from the Special Forces who looked like Hugh Jackman, and another who was as hysterical as Chevy Chase in his pomp.
It’s not a bad answer.
The Special Forces, with HorseBack’s own Royal Marine on the right:
One of my happiest sights is the two girls out together, in the brightness, WITHOUT THEIR RUGS. The sweet Paint has had her breakfast and is waiting politely for the duchess to finish hers, so she may lick the bowl. It’s a little routine between them:
THE FIRST SNOWDROPS:
And the darling old hill, because as one of the Dear Readers reminded me, we have not had the hill for a while. It has been lost in the dreich:
One more very lovely thing did happen today, although I almost do not mention it, because the person concerned is a modest fellow who does not like compliments very much. Someone I like and respect very much gave me an unexpected present. It was a book, chosen with a great deal of thought and care, and it had an inscription written on the front page which was so touching and heartfelt, it actually made me cry.