Monday, 31 March 2014


915 words of secret project. Delightful work at HorseBack, as a new course arrives. A light, flying breeze-up on the red mare of such loveliness that I have no words for it.

Afterwards, as we rode back on the buckle, we ran into a gentleman planting a hedge. He is a very nice man whom I know slightly. I hadn’t seen him about for a bit, and I greeted him with pleasure.

One of the most charming things about the red mare is that she loves human conversation. I think the sound of interested voices and happy laughter soothe her. She can stand for hours, with her dozy donkey face on, just listening. (One of the first things you teach a horse in the groundwork I practice is how to stand still, but with Red this stillness is not just learnt, but innate.)

As the gentleman and I talked, the mare settled herself in for some good chat. The gentleman ran his hands along her mane and rubbed her face and she turned towards him in pleasure. ‘You have made a friend,’ I said to him, with pride in my lovely girl.

It turns out that the reason I have not seen him for a while is that he has cancer. He has been going through desperate treatments, with hideous side-effects. As is so often the case, the treatment was almost worse than the disease. ‘I would not wish it on my worst enemy,’ he said.

I have a lot of practice from HorseBack of not putting on the pity face, when people tell you terrible things. I’m quite good now at being matter of fact, and cracking jokes. My natural British reticence and embarrassment in the face of unimaginable suffering is becoming seasoned with a more resilient practicality. So the conversation was much easier than it might have been eighteen months ago.

The gentleman has beaten his disease for now. It still exists in him, but the treatment did work. ‘I’m lucky,’ he said. ‘I am alive.’

As I rode away, feeling the lovely, easy swing of my great horse underneath me, watching the Scottish sun break through the morning haar, I felt alive too. I felt intensely fortunate and grateful that I have this day, this moment, this place, this mare, this love.

Later, I talked to someone else who might not have been alive, this time from suicide. The subject came up naturally, and was also treated with a low, matter of fact approach. I kept my eyebrows steady and did not exclaim.

It sounds a bit odd, but there is a sort of gift that people offer, when they tell you their profound truths, even if those truths are sad and sometimes frightening. I am crap at small talk and like the big subjects. I love authenticity almost above all things. I feel privileged when people tell me their stories.

And in those stories is perspective. The sharp relief of the mere fact of being alive, not haunted by demons, not beset by sickness, makes me catch my breath. Life is so unfair, so random. I feel preposterously blessed. It is not that I have escaped sorrow or loss or bumps in the road. I am subject to all the fears and hurts that flesh is heir to. On some days, I feel as if my bashed old heart is held together with binder twine. But today, I felt a magnificence in the moment. Everything was sharper, clearer, more vivid. It was day of gifts.


Today’s photographs:

The grape hyacinths have arrived:

31 March 1-001

As has the Japanese cherry blossom:

31 March 2

Stan the Man. Oh, the nobility:

31 March 4

Very sweet moment at HorseBack this morning:

31 March 5

No photographer today to capture the gloriousness of the red mare, so these two are from last week:

31 March 8

31 March 9

Friday, 28 March 2014


So sorry there was no blog yesterday. I had a bug. Still feeling quite weak and wan so today there is just the gloriousness that is Stanley the Dog.

Yesterday, he lay sweetly with me on the bed, watching over me with his amber eyes.

Every morning, when we go for breakfast, he makes my mother smile.

He was abandoned twice, in his previous life. At some stage, something bad happened to him, I’m not quite certain what. At the beginning, any raised voice or sudden movement could send him into a funk. Even now, he still sometimes becomes a bit fretful when I shout at the racing on the television. But he has grown in confidence and self. He has a charming optimism and a morning joy. Each day, I wake up to someone who thinks that marvellous things are going to happen. Come on, he says, wagging his tail and licking my nose, let’s get at it. I find it incredibly touching that a dog who had his trust tested to the limit should decide to give it another go. He is funny and dear and gentle and athletic and I am very, very lucky to have him.

Oh, and he is also absurdly handsome. And there is the thing with the ear. The ear kills me.

28 March 1

28 March 2

28 March 3

28 March 4

As an added bonus, the daffodils are finally coming out:

28 March 5

Have a happy Friday.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The art of doing nothing.

Author’s note:

It’s been a long day, and I did a lot, rather ironically, considering the title of this post. As my brain entered its traditional fugue state after too much pumelling, I suddenly had angst about today’s blog. Too long, too wandering, too much red mare. Get to the point, I hear the voice of my strict prep school teacher shout. She longed for me to get to the point, and I never did. I almost deleted the whole thing. But I’m going to post it anyway, with caveats, because the whole point of this place is that you get me warts and all. I’m not quite sure why this should be the point, but it is.

Here we go then:


Quite often, out on the horse forums which I sometimes frequent on the internet, I see poignant posts about people having problems with their dear equines. There is a disastrous ride, a catastrophic failure of nerve, a crushing setback. The forum I like the most is for people who have ex-racehorses. Everyone there is very supportive and empathetic and kind. Many helpful suggestions are posted, and a lot of shared experience offered. This exact thing happened to me, say the ladies (and they mostly are ladies); I know the feeling so well; you are not the only one. It’s one of the more touching sides of the internet.

Quite often, even though I feel very bogus doing so, since I am no expert, I offer my two-pence worth. Have you thought about giving yourself permission not to ride? I say. Have you considered just spending time hanging out with your horse? Have you wondered about doing nothing?

To me, now, this seems very natural and obvious. I grew up in the old school, which was all about riding. The ambition was to get really, really good at being on a horse, so that if it tanked off or bucked or would not stand still, you could ride it out. Ride through it, that was the cry. Obviously horses were schooled, but there was a notion that certain characteristics were built in – some were pullers and some were buckers and some were spookers - and there wasn’t much you could do about it except not come off.

This new kind of horsemanship, which goes by many names – natural, intelligent, empathetic – has the novel idea that you can teach a horse not to do any of these things. You can desensitise it, so that it will rarely spook. You can do the kind of groundwork which inspires trust and establishes you as the good, kind leader, so that the horse will listen to you and not get distracted. You can work on lateral flexion and changes in direction and slow transitions, so that it will learn not to want to pull. It’s not a question of learning to stop it, the thing does not happen in the first place.

Of course, sometimes the odd disaster will still happen, because human error is built in. Whenever something goes wrong with Red, it is because I have got cocky or am not paying attention. The other day, I let her out to graze in the set-aside when the sun was shining and the wind was blowing and she had twinkles in her toes. I should have done some free-schooling to settle her first, but I didn’t. So off she went on a hooley, and roared about with her tail in the air, and it was a while before I could get her back. She is very, very good at giving me lessons in hubris.

In her wild racehorse scramble, she scratched herself up a bit, so we’ve been off for a couple of days, her patches of purple spray reminding me of my own folly. But the lovely thing is, and there is always a lovely thing, that it’s given us a chance to do absolutely nothing together. I’ve been riding so much lately and thinking of teaching her things and trying out new approaches that we’ve been all work and no play.

Today, the sun shone and the wind gentled, and the Horse Talker and I went to hang around with our girls, doing bugger all. We gave them some hay and used special implements to remove the thick winter coats, and chatted and chatted. The dogs ran around, screaming under the horses’ legs, whilst the two clever mares did not turn a hair. (The dogs have proved our most excellent desensitising tool.)

Red stood happily, untethered, whilst I deployed the special implement, which she turned out to love. It has a good scratching action, which mimics another horse’s grooming. She blinked her eyes and had a little doze and occasionally turned her face for love.

And there it was again, the harmony. There was my beautiful, Zen, dozy donkey, come back to me. There will always be the odd hooley day, because she is a thoroughbred after all, and that empress speed and spirit are bred into her. But teaching her this way means that her default mode is stillness and peace. It is taught; it is circumstantial. It comes from her feeling safe with her human, knowing that she can trust my direction, understanding that I will be the one on mountain lion watch. And a huge part of this comes from sometimes doing absolutely nothing.

I love this idea for many reasons. But perhaps the most acute is that I am aware I ask a lot of her, and she gives me so much. It feels like good manners, a simple reciprocity, an act of grace that on occasion I ask her only to be a horse.

26 March 1

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Things of the earth.

Stanley the Dog and I return to the house after our morning’s errands to find the boiler man, hard at it.

One of the lovely things about being a tenant is that I have a most elegant landlord. The elegant landlord does elegant things, like sending round a gentleman to service the boiler. Finding and organising someone to service the boiler is one of my fate worse than death jobs. As it is, the gentleman appears like a miracle and I need not even think about it.

The boiler, although quite new and very environmentally friendly, is jammed with soot. ‘Goodness,’ I say, baffled. ‘Should that be happening?’

It turns out it is the gales. If the wind blows for day after day, as it has this season, then all the emissions are blown straight back into the flue, where they gather as soot.

The gentleman is sanguine. He has a special implement.

I admire it. The soot shall be gone in a trice and all manner of things shall be well.

‘Will it work better?’ I ask.

‘Oh yes,’ says the gentleman. ‘And it will be more efficient.’

This makes me very happy. The cost of oil is frankly terrifying.

I suddenly think that being a boiler operative is a very good job. This gentleman arrives, finds something dirty and messy, and leaves it clean and spanking, to the high delight of the owner. He has added to the sum total of human happiness. I am beside myself to think that my poor boiler is no longer clogged with soot and shall use less fuel and will generally chug along more smoothly.

I like, I realise, manual jobs. I love writing, of course I do, and I could not do anything else, but for sheer, visceral satisfaction, nothing matches the work I do with my horse. The carrying of hay, the mixing of feed, the checking of legs: this simple, daily, manual exercise has something clean and true and profound in it. Perhaps that is why I have such intense admiration for farmers and dry-stone-wallers and fencers. The fencing man who comes to do the paddocks always looks absolutely amazed when I virtually fall on his neck and exclaim in delight. But his is such a great skill; there is almost poetry in it.

I love that the farmers understand the weather and the earth and the livestock. I am in awe of the skill of dry-stone-wallers, whose sure touch and knowledge of stone is often passed down from generation to generation.

When I am in the presence of people who are good at these sort of things, I often feel quite flimsy and inadequate, as if my own profession is rather wafer-thin by comparison. (This may not be merely my own idiosyncrasy. I was once asked, by a perfectly polite, intelligent person, when I was going to get a ‘proper job’.)

I grew up on a farm and in a stable. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of gnarled old men, whistling through their teeth as they groomed the horses with wisps they had fashioned out of clean straw. I think now they were horse whisperers before horse whisperers were invented. My father, whom I followed out into the dark early morning yard like a faithful puppy, started every day mucking out. He smelt of an intoxicating combination of mud and dung and Mr Trumper’s hair oil. (It was the seventies.) I suspect this is where my ancient love of the earthed jobs comes from.

It’s funny, because all my adult life I have had something approaching worship for the life of the mind. Quickness and cleverness thrill me like a great painting or a fine sonata. I adore thinkers. Talking with someone much more brilliant than I makes me raise my game and catch a glimpse of the peaks. I get an exhilaration from it that is like a jolt of electricity.

It is not an either or. There is no zero sum here. The intellectual and the manual need not be in opposition. I still love cleverness. I love the historians and scientists and philosophers who can cast their fine minds over intractable problems. But as I grow older, I return to the things of the earth. There is something enduring and deep in them. There is something tremendous, both literally and metaphorically, in getting your hands dirty.


Today’s pictures:

The most beloved tree, down in the horses’ paddock:

25 March 1

This morning, at HorseBack:

25 March 2

Red, from Saturday, doing blinky eyes:

25 March 3

For reasons that are too lovely and too complicated to go into now, I am going to tell you Red’s real name. The Dear Readers will know that I have some bizarre imperative to give both humans and animals special Blog Names, to protect their privacy. The only exception to this so far has been Stanley the Dog, because Stanley is too splendid a name to be hid. But soon Red shall have another internet life, where she shall be known by her actual name, which is Phoenix. She is also known by me as Phoeny, Feen, Feenle Been, Bub, Boo, and Wib. (On account of the famously wibbly lower lip.) You do see there is a reason I generally do not admit these things in the public square.

Back on topic – you don’t get more earthy than a baby bison:

25 March 4

Or some top lichen:

25 March 5

Stan the Man, who likes the earth very much, for burying things in, sniffing at, and RACING over at thirty miles an hour:

25 March 6

Monday, 24 March 2014


In The World at One, the news of Russia taking the Crimea sits firmly at centre stage, like some blowsy old diva who does not know that her scene has been cut. The experts arrive. I am usually very, very happy when the experts arrive. I love experts. I thrill to hear someone who really understands that vast, mysterious landmass which gave the world Chekhov and Tolstoy and gulags. I like someone who can navigate the maze of international relations. I adore a person who can bring not only diplomatic but historical perspective into the light.

Today’s expert is Paddy Ashdown. He is very clever and very experienced and knows an awful lot of things. I listen with interest. But what really, really strikes me, as he goes on talking fluently of sanctions and NATO and the behind the scenes machinations of the G8, now reduced, pointedly, to seven, is his certainty.

I have a momentary swoon. Imagine being that certain of all the things you are certain of. It must be quite lovely.

Nothing stops Paddy Ashdown. There was that thing years ago when he had some kind of affair; I can’t remember the details. The tabloids splashed on it and gave him cruel and amusing names. The Beloved Cousin and I were once watching Question Time when a serious member of the audience actually addressed him as ‘Lord Pants-Down’ quite by mistake. David Dimbleby nearly fell off his chair.

Did that stop Lord Ashdown? Not a bit of it. He seemed to show no embarrassment or doubt, he just sailed on, cutting through the water with the wind of certainty in his sails.

Perhaps, in the silence of his lonely room, he is assailed with doubt. Perhaps he too is prey to night demons and crashing angst. But I don’t think so. I think he really is armoured in his own sureness.

I was thinking about certainty, because I’d like a little more of it. I wonder if one can grow it from seed, as clever gardeners propagate young plants. One of the things I take very badly is criticism. I have to take it for my job, so I am practised in its public acceptance. I am very polite, very open, very gracious. Of course, I say, you are quite right, I should have thought of that, I’ll do the whole thing all over again.

I smile, and leave. I do not throw things or grow bolshy or take it the wrong way. I know that criticism is necessary and one must learn from it. When I say I take it badly, I mean: on the inside. Underneath the adult acceptance is a furious wailing child, throwing food at the wall. You WHAT? the baby screams, its face red with rage. You want me to do which??? Have you any idea how hard I have worked, or how resolutely I try, or the sheer amount of difficulty that is involved? And you come along in your stompy boots and crush the tiny butterflies of my dreams?

What I never say, because I do not have the Ashdown Certainty, is: actually, I think you are wrong.

There is never any question of that. It is always I who am hopeless and feckless and pointless, whilst the critic is wise and sage and right. Occasionally, I am most ashamed to say, I indulge in passive-aggression, one of the least charming of all the character traits. Yes, yes, quite, I say, through politely gritted teeth, and then I stealthily do not change the thing at all, and wait to see if anyone notices. (They almost invariably do not.)

What I am very good at, after all this, is talking myself down off the ceiling. I deal with the immoderate fury. I explain patiently to myself that it is not personal, it is business. I remind myself that it is a tiny thing in the great scheme, and not worth getting bent out of shape over. I write it all down, or shout at the walls, or put on very loud music and dance like a dervish, to release all that wounded pride.

After about twenty-four hours, I am back on my even keel.

But I wish that I did not have to do the ceiling talk. I wish there was not the miserable flailing, the punched in the gut feeling, the awful, impotence sense of livid failure. I wish I could see at once the difference between the subjective and the objective.

I wish, most of all, that it did not hurt.

But, as I tell myself most days, one of the marks of being a grown-up is understanding uncomfortable feelings. One has to learn to sit with them. One cannot wish them away or drink them away or think them away. One has to let them exist, and watch them go.

Sometimes, though, I also wish that I did not have to be the bloody grown-up. Goodness, it is exhausting. Sometimes, I want to tell everyone to bugger off and leave me alone. I shall sit in my room and watch the racing and eat cake, and fuck ‘em all if they can’t take a joke.

I don’t do this, of course. I take a deep breath and count to ten and remember that tomorrow is another day.


Only two pictures today, both taken on Saturday morning. I left at seven-thirty to go to Aviemore to see some very old and dear friends.

The first picture is the red mare, when I went down to say goodbye, and the second is of the mighty Corgarff Castle, which delights me every time I see it, alone on its wild hillside. Whoever built that had a very great deal of certainty indeed:

24 March 2

24 March 1

Friday, 21 March 2014


Pictures first today, because I want you to see the visual joy before I give you the words.

There was a ride of loveliness and delight on the red mare.

Starting off nice and steady:

21 March 1

Then, on a whim, caution to the wind (which was blowing a hooley), and LET’S GO:

21 March 2

Coming back, nice and easy:

21 March 3

Happy face:

21 March 5

And let’s do it again:

21 March 7

Whoop, whoop:

21 March 9

And, after all the excitement, she immediately settles back down for a nice sunshiny doze:

21 March 11

We did try to get her to prick her ears for the camera, but no, donkey face:

21 March 12

And then, for a finale, we rounded up the little Paint, who was not altogether impressed, but it made us laugh and laugh:

21 March 14

I love the tender look on Red’s face. She bosses that Paint mercilessly, and puts up with no nonsense, but she watches over her and keeps her safe from mountain lions, and takes her job as lead mare very seriously indeed.

And now for the words. Which, after those pictures, might not necessarily be what you expect. They weren’t really what I expected. But this is what came out, after all that joy. Bear with me; there is a point to it all. Or at least, I hope there is a point -


I fear death. I am most ashamed of admitting this, but shame thrives and grows in the dark, so the only remedy is to throw sunshine at it.

Fear of death is fabulously illogical. Death is the one certainty in life. Fearing it has no utility. It will not put off the dread reality; it merely clouds life.

I’ve been thinking lately why it should exist, this terror. I don’t think about it all the time, but when I contemplate mortality, a clutching fist grabs my viscera.

A couple of weeks ago, I was riding the mare on a quiet Sunday morning. The sun was out, she was light as air, we were in perfect harmony.

I thought, as I rode: perhaps the fear is due to greed. I always want more. Even when I am having a perfect ride, I am thinking of the others I will have, the progress I wish for, the adventures Red and I shall have in the future.

In the early days, when I was falling in love with her, I wished for more horses. Having an ex-racing thoroughbred was such a delight, I wanted a whole field full of the beauties. I used to go to Lucinda Russell’s website, and look longingly at the retirees she had for rehoming. (I do still think that if I should ever write a roaring best-seller, or get that crazy million-to-one accumulator, I would set up a sanctuary for retired racehorses and every day I could cast my eyes over a festival of thoroughbred beauty.)

It took me a while to realise that this one glorious mare was enough. I could put all my heart and soul into her.

As we rode on, on that sunny Sunday, and I thought of this notion of grasping, desirous greed, I suddenly realised that I was in danger of missing what I had under me, which was a responsive, happy horse, perfect in that moment. There are days when we wrangle a bit, slightly out of step with each other, and I have to work hard. And there are days when I get on and all is ease and light, and I don’t have to think, and we are together in everything we do, and it makes me feel like singing. This was one of those days.

I thought, quite out of the blue: if I die tomorrow, this ride will have been enough.

This morning, again, we had such a ride.

Every day we do something different. I teach her things, and I learn from her. Today, we ended up just playing. I let her breeze, as fast as she wanted to go. I have been concentrating for months on teaching her the joys of slowness, as a contrast to her fast working life. I wanted her to learn that velocity did not have to mean adrenaline or tension. Thoroughbreds are bred for speed; it is in their DNA. The fastness they use in their working life is often accompanied by pressure and excitement – they are on the racecourse or the polo field, and there is competition, and a human on top who wants to win. It is all zoom, zoom. I was turning her from a Ferrari into a stately old Bentley.

This morning, she picked up the pace, on a loose rein, and the excitement was there – she did that lovely racing snort I remember from childhood – and I felt the energy build in her great, strong body, but it was a lovely, dancing, contained thing. It did not overflow and master her. She was the mistress of her fate, the captain of her soul.

The steadiness that I have built into her, from months of slow transitions and work on the ground, acted as a delightful ballast, keeping her earthed. I stood up in the stirrups and whooped into the bright Scottish air.

And at the end of it, she came back to me on a voice command, and then moseyed over to say hello to the Horse Talker, who was taking the pictures of the momentous moment, and had a little doze in the sun.

What does all this have to do with death? It is - and I am scrambling to put this theory together in a way that makes sense - that I think that these flying moments are my own ballast. They are complete, in themselves. I do not have to grasp and stretch for more, and regret that one day I shall no longer be alive to have them.

I suppose it is the Buddhist idea of living in the present. There will be people out there who have worked all this out years ago, and will be smiling indulgently and thinking: I could have told you that. I had to figure it out, slowly and painstakingly, for myself.

I don’t think this revelation will be a miraculous resolution. I shall still have my scratchy battles with mortality. But it does amaze me that finally, on the back of my beautiful red mare, I have had a glimpse of wisdom and truth. I always say that she is my best professor, but I did not think that she would teach me such a profound lesson.

It is so simple and yet so hard to believe.

It is that this, this is enough.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

A happy birthday.

Today, the lovely Stepfather is eighty-two years old. I took him a fold of white tulips and made him a lunch.

I woke at seven-thirty this morning, planning the lunch in my head. In the end, it was:

Rare sirloin of finest Aberdeen Angus beef from our magnificent local butcher, with a flat leaf parsley sauce.

Aubergine and wilted watercress with olive oil.

New potatoes, thickly sliced and baked in the oven with rosemary and garlic.

Sautéed red peppers.

Red onions in a white sauce.

I am not terribly good at following recipes, so most of these were made up in my head. The aubergine was inspired by Nigel Slater, and the onions in white sauce are, I think, an old French stand-by. It was all very simple, but rather good, if I say so myself.

I did everything quickly this morning so I could concentrate on the lunch. I rode fast, and the mare seemed to think this was a great joke, giving me the most glorious breezing canter. Quite often, I get on and think: what I am going to do today? Shall it be a day for transitions or getting a good bend or encouraging self-carriage? Today, I had no time. I merely wanted, selfishly, the feeling of joy I get when I am on her back. I wanted a bit of wind in my face. So I did not go through the careful steps as I usually do. I just threw the reins at her and said: let’s go.

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, she said. That’s a bloody good idea.

The lightness in her was so enchanting it made me shout out loud. Perhaps sometimes a bit of what the hell is not a bad thing.

I ran to HorseBack and did my work there.

I wrote no book. Which is excessively naughty.

And then there was the lunch. My stepbrother has flown all the way from Canada, and so there was that delight. The dogs were funny, the food was good, an excellent wine from Portugal was produced. There was cake. It was a sweet family thing.

An interesting side-note to all this is that because actual humans and human things took up most of my day, I spent no time on the internet. I adore the internet. For an introvert like me, it is a glorious thing. It tells me things about distant lives I otherwise would not know. It keeps me up to date with the news. It sends me bulletins about physics, and politics, and good deeds, and adorable pandas. I may see pictures of the newest Frankel foal, or NASA shots of the unimaginable universe. There are excellent jokes, and novel facts, and fascinating strangers I shall never meet in real life.

I’ve never understand the snobbism about the internet. There are those who insist that the whole thing is a diametrical notion. Either you are a rounded human who has a proper life, or you are a saddo freak who sits peering owlishly at a screen, only capable of virtual interaction. The empirical evidence that many, many people manage both the virtual and the actual is ruthlessly ignored. Even that last sentence is wrong. There is no opposition between the virtual and the actual. The virtual may be the actual.

But today, I must admit, it was rather lovely to be immersed in the three-dimensional world. I still maintain that the idea that one has to pick one or the other is a false choice. I shall return to the adorable pandas. Yet this small caesura reminded me that sometimes I can get a little too internetty. It is not the choice that is important; it is the balance.


Today’s pictures:

Tulips and cake:

20 March 1

Potatoes ready to go in the oven:

20 March 2

20 March 3

Aubergines, with a little waft of steam coming off them:

20 March 4

Onions in white sauce:

20 March 6

Cooking the peppers:

20 March 6-001

The mighty beef. We are very, very lucky in our butcher, and that we live in the heart of Aberdeen Angus country:

20 March 8

The elegant Mother:

20 March 10

The lovely Stepbrother and Stepfather:

20 March 11

Every time I try to take pictures of food, I am lost in admiration for food photographers. I have no technical expertise, mostly just point and shoot and hope for the best. But I do try. And I have absolutely no idea how to make edible things look lovely. They always come out a little disappointing.

Still, they did taste very delicious and that is the most important thing.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Almost not a blog

Glorious sunny morning with the horses. Out for a pick of the spring grass and then a rolling, loping canter of ease and lightness, and a little jump, just because we can. The red mare is in her happiest, sweetest mood, carrying the profound Zen calm with her that spreads like starlight. I see the very first of the daffodils and start to believe in spring.

HorseBack work, and 1261 words of secret project. I am cracking on.

After all that activity, there is the usual brain flip as my cerebral cortex switches itself off, so I have nothing left for the blog. I do sometimes think that my brain could work a little harder, and be more resilient. But, if I know one thing as I get older, it is that one must graciously accept one’s limitations. (It is a good thing that I have developed some acceptance of this, as my limitations are legion.)


Just time for three pictures today, of two happy girls, and one happy boy:

19 March 1

19 March 2

Not the best photograph I ever took of Stanley the Manly, but it does express the vivid joy he finds in sunshine and a damn big stick:

19 March 3


It turns out that I do have something to say, after all. Just as I was about to publish this, a knock came at the door. It was the very wonderful old gentleman who kindly cuts my lawn for me. This is the usual time, at the beginning of the growing season, when he returns with his mower and his jokes and his great stories of his farming days in Stonehaven.

I throw open the door and exclaim with delight and give him a kiss. Suddenly, I see something is wrong. He is pale and diminished, all that mighty farming strength gone out of him.

He says, quite simply: ‘My working days are over.’

It is a sentence of indescribable melancholy.

He has been in hospital for weeks and his body is not working properly. We talk for a while, the doleful story unfolding in all its horrid inevitability. He is of venerable age and this is what happens, but it is sorrowful and unexpected all the same. He is one of those ones who gives the impression he is carved of oak, and shall never change. Now the oak is felled.

I talk a lot about not taking things for granted. All the same, I do. I suppose one cannot be conscious of every single piece of good fortune every single moment of every single day. Health, and a good body which does as one wants it to: these are blessings of the highest order. I can leap on my mare without thinking about it. My physical self creaks a little, and does not have the stamina it once did, but it allows me this daily joy, without let or hindrance. My old gentleman does not have that liberty any more. His physical self has turned into a prison. I see the worry and regret etched in his face, and feel both sad, and lucky, at the same time.

When one loses someone, or reads of others’ loss, the instinct is to hug one’s remaining beloveds close. Now I think, furiously, passionately: give thanks for the simple, vital fact of health.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014


Too crazy busy to blog today, but I do have to tell you that THE DAFFODILS ARE COMING.

Oh, the long, long wait for spring.

And I can’t resist another picture of three of my favourite people from Sunday.

18 March 1-002

18 March2

Oh, and here is the hill too, because we have not had the hill for too long:

18 March 3-002

Particularly lovely comments in the last few days. The Dear Readers touch my heart. Thank you.

Monday, 17 March 2014

The love.

I had something good and big for you today. It was a whole human condition thing.

Then the day happened, and life happened, and work happened, and I now have absolutely no idea what it was.

I sometimes teach writing workshops, and one of the things I always tell my students is: carry a notebook with you wherever you go. Have one in the car and by the bed and in your pocket. That brilliant idea, glimmering with promise, will slip away down a back alley if you do not write it down.

Part of the reason I write this blog is because of the voices in my head which yell: write it down, write it down. The older I get, the more I think it is the small things which are important. It is not just the big, gleaming ideas which will get lost; it is the memory of the minuscule things which make a day joyful. I love to record these tiny events, these fleeting, precious moments, so I can look back and sigh and smile and say: yes, yes.

My sweetest of the small things today was, literally, small. The tiniest of the relations appeared, with her smiling mother, to see the red mare. The small relation, the youngest of the great-nieces, was wearing spanking smart gumboots, and rocking a gold sequinned skirt. It was a fabulous look.

‘Are you going somewhere special after this?’ I asked, gazing at the outfit.

‘No,’ said the smiling mother. ‘We just felt like the gold skirt.’

There is something wonderfully kick-up-your-heels about that. Why not damn well wear a gold skirt on an ordinary Monday?

The four of us set off for a walk around the block. The red mare was, as usual, entranced by a creature so tiny, and was at her gentlest and softest. We stopped on the bridge to play Pooh sticks, with the small person trotting joyously back and forth to see her sticks, and the mare delicately sticking her head out over the burn to observe the progress.

When I was young and foolish and certain about everything, I used to be rather jaded about family. Blood was not thicker, I thought. There were friends and interests and an entire globe, teeming with life. I was a citizen of the world. Family seemed rather stuffy and old-hat, and I hated the emphasis on family values with which the government of the day was so obsessed, as if everything else was second-rate and not valuable at all. I would slip the surly bonds and make a new kind of family, out of two sticks and some binder twine.

Now I think that family is a cornerstone. I adore it and appreciate it. Mine is not a neat, meat and potatoes affair. It is diffuse and complex and various. It would not fit nicely on a poster. But oh, oh, the love. And that is all that counts.


Today’s pictures:

Horse Talker, World Traveller and the smallest relation, with the red mare doing her dopiest dozy donkey face:

17 March 1

Gathering the sticks:

17 March 2


17 March H3

There they go, off to the sea:

17 March 5

The mare had slightly lost interest by this stage, so I let her have a pick in the long grass:

17 March 6

You do see what I mean about the outfit. The other particularly lovely thing about this small person is that she thinks the world is a perfectly splendid place. That smile has been a fairly permanent fixture, since she was a very small baby:

17 March 7


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