Woke to dazzling, unexpected sunshine. The forecast was for cloud, so it felt like a present. Then I heard on the news that Michael D Higgins was coming for a state visit. I felt very happy about this, because I love Michael D, and also because I thought it would be nice for the Queen to have someone really interesting to sit next to at dinner for once. (She must have to put up with quite a lot of bores. And possibly boors, too.) Put on the Saw Doctors at full blast, in honour of the occasion.
As I listened to ‘Michael D Rockin’ in the Dáil’ I wondered how many politicians have been so beloved that a rock band has written a happy song for them. Not very many, I shouldn’t think.
I worked the mare. Yesterday’s amazement was not a fluke. Despite high winds, she still did her astonishing free-schooling voice transitions. I once again flung myself on her neck, in awe and love. She wibbled her bottom lip, as if the whole thing were nothing.
Then we had a fine ride, working on getting a lovely, relaxed canter on a loose rein, despite the wind, despite the spring grass, and I feel my joy and pride zoom off into the troposphere. Oh, oh, oh, the gifts she gives.
Up to HorseBack, for more gifts. Many old familiars were gathered. These are veterans who have come back on many occasions, and I love watching how each time they are more anchored in their sense of self. I think, as always, of the extreme mental and physical challenges they face, of the unimaginable things they have seen, and I feel lucky, and honoured too.
One of the old faces is a particularly dear one. I worked beside him a lot when I first went to HorseBack, and he was one of the first men who really made me understand what it took to see action on the front line. Funnily enough, he never spoke about his experience of being blown up directly, but described it in abstract terms. Even in the abstract, the telling broadened my horizons and deepened my understanding.
Today, quite naturally, standing smiling in the blithe Scottish sun, he told me the whole story. It just came out as part of the conversation. I didn’t have to do the usual thing of keeping my face straight and my eyebrows steady and not exclaiming, because I know him well enough not to have to concentrate on confining my reactions. Afterwards though, I was conscious that I had gone very still. Stillness is a fascinating thing. It is not my default. It is something you learn to do if you want to work well with horses. Horses adore stillness more than almost anything else. It is just as important, I reflected, with humans.
Afterwards, I drove through the ancient glacial valley to the west, where the blue mountains still had snow on their peaks. The light was lifting the landscape and throwing it into singing relief. I felt, as I always do after these stories, the atoms in my body moving about, as if something profound was shifting. I can understand and absorb and process on an intellectual level, but there is something visceral as well, something actual and physical. It is hard to describe.
I thought about living and dying. I thought about luck. I thought about stoicism and jokes and being British. (‘Must not make a fuss,’ my friend and I said to each other, laughing wryly, as he mapped the minutes after the explosion.) I thought about my horse and my dog, who was gazing happily out of the window, and this Scotland, which I love more than emeralds.
You know that I always want to draw lessons and parables and symbols out of every small thing. I am marching through the wide steppe of life, searching for signposts and milestones and meaning.
But today I’m not sure I have an easy, pat lesson for you. I just wanted to tell you about it. It was what it was. It was something.
The hill. I’m so sorry, I don’t know where the hill has been. But here it is at last: