In complete contrast to yesterday, I wake up determined and galvanised. I have huge amounts of work to do, and I’m running at full stretch. There is no time for moods.
The day goes well. I do a long stretch at HorseBack. There is a film crew there, making a short feature about the rehabilitation of Brook the ex-sprinter, and the parallel journey of our veterans. I want to cover every angle, so instead of my usual time-starved gallop in and out, I clear the day. Amazingly, in my lunch break, I run home and manage to fit in an incredibly productive stint of book. This reminds me that quite often the more you have to do, the more you can do. I have a shining feeling of achievement, instead of my more accustomed muddly sense of never quite having enough hours in the day.
I feed the mare and apologise to her for my absence this morning. (A kind friend did the early shift, as I was off with my camera.) She is forgiving and does not hold it against me. I mix her up an extra special tea and give her some love and stomp off to the shop to buy my own food.
In the shop, on the front page of one of the newspapers, is a gleaming picture of Amal Clooney, with a headline saying something like Queen of the Golden Globes. She is immaculate – beautiful, elegantly dressed, carrying that indefinable air of intelligence. Her many accomplishments are listed in the field of human rights law.
In the old days, I would have looked down at my own hands, filthy from feeding time, and plucked the little wisps of hay from my scarf, and contemplated my catastrophic hair day (on account of being out in wind and snow) and felt entirely inadequate. How could I, so scruffy and goofy and perennially trying to canter about in forty different directions, ever compete with such a composed, brilliant creature? I would have compared, because that is what much of the media encourages women to do, overtly or covertly. We poor ordinary females must look at the famous, glittering, magazine women, and wonder why we fall so short. (And there is an answer, say the avid advertisers – buy our miracle cream, and you too can marry George Clooney and save the world.)
Now, I don’t compare. I have my field, which is a literal, muddy one, and the dazzling Amals of the world have theirs. Comparisons are almost category errors. The part I really like about getting older is understanding that there are dreams which can be gently, quietly let go, without regret. I’ll never learn to dress like Ava Gardner or write like Scott Fitzgerald or be an expert in human rights, and that is quite perfectly fine. I need to find my own small field and plough it well.
Not comparing does not mean not striving. I strive like buggery. I want to get better – at prose, at horsing, at life. I want to learn more, open my mind more, comprehend more. I want, perhaps most of all, to gather the art of growing comfortable in my own skin. I can admire the brilliant women then, without being intimidated or diminished by them. I can be truly glad they are there.
The regulars amongst the Dear Readers know that I swear by the perspective police. Today, I listened to two veterans, telling their stories. These tellings were not grand-standing or show-boating. We were all going about our work, and the tales came out, naturally. One was about service in the Balkans, and the things seen. (I can’t actually write them down; they were too bad.) One was about being blown up by the Hyde Park bomb. Two minutes later, we were making bad jokes and shouting with laughter, because that is what these men and women do. They see the unseeable, experience things which stretch the civilian imagination to its breaking point, and then they make jokes about it.
They don’t like it when I write that I look at them in awe, because awe is not what they want. They want, I think, simple, ordinary humanity. But all the same, they have my awe, and they remind me constantly of the virtues of stoicism and resilience and damn well getting on with it.
HorseBack runs a Youth Initiative, with which some of the veterans help out. It was this virtuous circle that was being shot in the afternoon, after Brook was filmed in the morning. One of the things I love most is watching people being really, really good at their job. This crew was good. I don’t know much about film, but I could see their qualities - from their concentration, their attention to detail, the way their minds never stopped working.
Despite my tremendous resolution about not making fruitless comparisons, there was a moment when I observed the stills photographer, with her years of experience and her good eye and her proper bit of kit, and felt a tremor. I ruefully looked at my own camera, with its ingrained mud from falling in the field, and its cracked screen from the time I dropped it from the horse, and thought of my own lack of technical skill. I love taking pictures, but I don’t really know how to do it. Every so often, I get lucky, and capture a moment, but it’s sheer chance.
And then I decided not to mind. My pictures are not for exhibition. They are not professional. They are idiosyncratic and sometimes a bit out of focus and the light is nearly always coming from the wrong direction, but I love them because they are mine, and they record those small things which bring me joy.
Here was the scene today:
This is what I mean by capturing a moment. This photograph has no technical merit. It’s all over the shop. But the smile on that young person’s face is worth more than rubies to me: