As always, I slightly forget the absolute enchantment of the family life with the Beloved Cousin. For enchantment it is. There has been a lot of cooking, picking the last vegetables from the garden, walking, admiring the apples still on the apple trees, watching the ravishing polo herd have their happy winter off, and playing with the ravishing black dogs.
The Youngest Cousin has turned into a mine of wisdom and information. She looks at me very seriously and says things like: ‘You know, being pretty is not important. Being kind is. And being happy.’
I say: ‘How do you know that? Did someone tell you?’
Slightly reproachful look.
‘I do a lot of thinking, you know.’
She is six years old.
Then, gathering momentum – ‘Boasting is no good. Nobody likes a boaster.’
‘No,’ I say, chastened. I hope she is not referring to me. I think of all those blog posts about the wonders of the red mare and all the clever things she does. Has the Youngest Cousin been secretly reading the internet? And disapproving?
Then she moves swiftly on to information. ‘Do you know how many dinosaur names I know?’
‘No, I don’t.’
She kindly lists them.
‘Do you know that whales can hear from really far away? A thousand miles sometimes?’
‘I did not know that.’
She puts her head on one side. ‘They talk to each other,’ she says, slightly wistful.
‘What do they say?’ I ask.
‘Oh, I don’t know. ‘Hello, I’m lost’ I expect.’
‘I see,’ I say, trying to keep up.
She switches subjects like a London taxi turning on a sixpence.
‘Do you know how the Germans started the Second World War?’
I’m on slightly surer ground now. I perk up.
‘They invaded Poland?’ I hazard. ‘Or the Sudetenland?’
Dismissive frown. ‘I don’t know that country, but they were very, very cross with the English.’
‘Yes,’ I say. ‘I expect that’s what it was.’
Then I get a little break while she watches an episode of Scooby Doo.
Soon, she is back for more. She fixes me with her basilisk stare. ‘Do you know?’ she starts. I have begun to see there is a pattern here. ‘Do you know?’ is her newest and most regular conversational gambit. I sit up straight and concentrate.
‘Do you know,’ she says, ‘that King Henry put gunpowder in the holes so that when the Spain came THEY BLEW UP?’
I retire from the field, defeated. I have no memory of the Spain being blown up. Can she mean the Device Forts?
I know better than to ask.
The focus and the light is a bit dodgy in some of these, but you can see the loveliness in them, even though I lack the technical skills to make them good photographs. One of my greatest joys is watching a herd at play. Most of the horses you see here were working incredibly hard through the summer, top athletes at the peak and crest of their game. Now, they just get to be muddy, furry, playful, rowdy equines, with not a bother on them. It’s one of the finest sights in the world. It is also, I reflect joyfully, the way a true horseman keeps his herd, natural and fleet and free.