The snow is coming in over the hills. I can smell it in the air. The red mare has to forgo her spa day doing mud packs as the rug goes back on and the extra hay goes out. Stanley the Dog is feeling very festive, hunting rats and selecting absolutely enormous sticks. My mother and I have laid plans and made lists. The lovely Stepfather goes out to get Marsala for the gravy.
In the village, I see people I know and stop to talk. ‘The snow is coming,’ we say gravely. I buy two final presents and indulge myself in a little Christmas posy of red roses and eucalyptus. The ladies in the flower shop are rushed off their feet, but their blazing smiles never falter. In the general store, I have an excellent conversation about the King George with my racing friend. As do all racing fans at this time of year, we secretly quite wish Christmas Day would get on with it so that we can open the real Christmas cracker, which is the card at Kempton on Boxing Day. It is packed with shining stars, and our eyes light with anticipation at the very thought.
People are kissing old friends and wishing them happy Christmas. ‘Happy Christmas, happy Christmas,’ I say to every single person I see, even complete strangers. Without knowing it, I suddenly got Christmassy. Perhaps because I gave myself permission not to force the jollity, it came flying in of its own accord, like the snow.
I’ve been quite disorganised, and the godchildren are going to have to have New Year presents instead of Christmas ones, and I never got around to anything like sending cards, but it does not matter. The house looks pretty and smells gently of greenery, the animals are happy, the presents are wrapped, my HorseBack work is done, and I’ve even had a little ante-post wager on my dear Silviniaco Conti. I’m hopeful, as long as the ground does not get too quick. I have a fridge full of treat food, and lots of watercress for health and strength. I need the iron. My little community is filled with a generous spirit.
Yesterday, my friend the Political Operative rang up and we spent a whole hour having a joyful post-mortem on the party I went south for. (One of the Dear Readers asked what I was writing thank you letters for; it was that.) We both agreed that the greatest delight was seeing so many of the old compadres looking so happy and well. The party was given by one of our university friends, so it was filled with people we have known and loved for thirty years. All of us have had our downs and ups, our moments of glad grace and our broken hearts. We have got to the age when many of us have had lost one or both of our parents. There has been triumph, but there has been tragedy too. Life has taken us out behind the bike shed on occasion. But there was a real sense of coming through at that fond gathering, as if, despite being a bit bashed round the edges, we were still holding our heads high. We were buggering on.
‘And,’ said the Political Operative, laughing, ‘as long as you and I can still dance together, everything will be all right.’ I smiled into the telephone. ‘I can still throw some shapes, baby,’ I said, in my most ironical voice.
He and I first danced together in a garden in Chelsea in the 1980s. And here we are, looking sternly at fifty, dancing still. There is something streamingly lovely in that.
I wrote a post last week for HorseBack about how, for some people, this is not a season of jingle bells and joy, but a time of sorrow and loneliness. When it seems that the whole world is celebrating and shopping and cooking and decking the halls, a heavy heart can be a devastating and isolating thing. It can be a time when memories are not ones of friendship and love, but of pain and loss.
I am keenly aware of how lucky I am, in this beautiful, peaceful place, to have so many loves. I count that blessing every single day, but perhaps today most of all.
I hope, my dear Dear Readers, that you have love. It’s the only damn thing that counts.
And trees, too, of course. Love and trees.
That really is all she wrote.
I did take some lovely shots of the red mare, dreaming under the Wellingtonias, but I left the camera in the feed shed so here are pictures from the archive instead: