Friday, 29 May 2015

I give up.

The internet has been off again all day, and something terrible has happened to Windows Live Writer, which now refuses to recognise that I or this blog exist, so I’ve given up. Even now, the light is trembling and the whole thing is glitching at me in a most threatening manner. I’m hoping that by Monday everyone shall have finished whatever fiendish work it is they are doing. I do hope it is the upgrading work, and that I am not now in the same basket as the people of Somerset, some of whom don't seem to get the internet at all. I'm so used to super-whizzy broadband that I find it most disconcerting to be without it.

In the meantime, I leave you with some very stately sheep:

Thursday, 28 May 2015


Despite having enjoyed myself vastly when I took time out from the internet, this week I really, really wanted to use it. Laughing at me, it turned itself off. Apparently our local connection is being upgraded, or some such thing, which meant that there was no internet at all for two whole days, and then, when it would come tauntingly back on, it would either go all glitchy and scratchy, so nothing useful could get done, or hold firm for about ten minutes before running off again to join the circus.

It’s driving me mad.

That is why there has been no blogging. Forgive me. I’m hoping now we are back in business and that normal service shall be resumed.

In the meantime, the weather is fine and the red mare is keeping me sane by doing work of such delicacy, beauty, composure and softness that I am almost starting to believe that the dressage squirrels which exist as a joke in my mind are in fact real, and have been coming in the night. Actual whoops of joy may be heard daily echoing off the dear Scottish hills, and she gets a sweet, secret look of satisfaction on her face, as if she is thinking to herself that she knew this brilliance all along, and was just waiting until I was ready for it.

Friday, 22 May 2015

A vote for love.

Today, the people of Ireland are voting for love. Or, at least, that is how it has become in my mind.

I’ve never really understood the terror of equal marriage. Britain did it, and the sky did not fall. Big Ben still stands, and the Queen is still the Queen, and there is honey still for tea. The only difference is that there are now many, many people who are no longer told, by the state, that they are less than.

Because that is what it is. You, well, we’ll put up with you, with your show tunes and your comfortable shoes and your Noel Coward records, as long as you stand in the corner and don’t make a fuss. You are not quite up to cake and confetti and a list at Peter Jones, like the straights are.

It’s absurd, if one thinks about it for more than two minutes. Love is love, and should be celebrated in all its forms. There are enough natural sadnesses – droughts, disasters, earthquakes – without adding a quite unnecessary human one. It’s not as if heterosexuals are intrinsically fitted for marriage, after all. Lots of them make an absolute pig’s ear of it, having affairs and being workaholics and neglecting their children and getting into messy divorces. The odd idea that it is history that shows the way – man and woman being the superior model – is fatally flawed. I’m reading a lot of eighteenth century history at the moment, and even in the marriages where love was involved, rather than land and money, the husbands almost always had a bit of muslin on the side, or a thing with a serving wench, or a nice arrangement with an actress. The fifth Duke of Devonshire brought his illegitimate child to live with his wife, and then settled down to a curious ménage with his mistress and his wife and a further daughter born out of wedlock. All this in an age of supposed strict propriety.

If a man loves a man and a woman loves a woman, and they want to make that commitment for life in front of their best beloveds, surely that must be a matter for joy, not condemnation? Poor old marriage, which needs all the help it can get, should be delighted to be desired by a new constituency. It’s not often that lawmakers get the chance to add, directly and without hindrance, to the sum total of human happiness. Fairness in marriage is one of those delightful opportunities.

Equality is perhaps a vain pursuit. Just as nature is not a feminist, she is not a democrat. People are born with absurdly unfair advantages – wit, charm, cleverness, a musical ear, a feel for languages, ravishing cheekbones, a happy disposition. Some people merely have to walk into a room to light it up; others skulk in the shadows, shy and taciturn and self-conscious. Some people have talents, others have none. The idea of levelling the playing field may be fool’s gold, but putting up artificial inequalities where there need be none is a silliness too far.

Changing the laws of marriage is not just a discrete good, so that a long devotion may be publicly marked, it is a wider statement of intent. It is a way of society saying, to ta fearful seventeen-year-old in a lonely room, struggling with his sexuality, searching for her role models, you are all right. You are not other, or different, or below the salt. You are not, almost literally in this case, beyond the Pale. This great central societal ritual is not reserved for those who pass Go and collect £200; it is for everyone. Come in, the water’s fine.

It is an act of kindness, generosity, rightness, fairness, and, I think more and more as I get older and more auntish, simple good manners.

I hope very much for yes. Even as I write this, people are flying in from the Irish diaspora, to vote their hearts. There is a sense of hope and joy. I hope it is a mighty, resounding affirmative, a lovely, expansive thing, a cross in the box for love.


No time for pictures, as I have stupid amounts of work to do. Just my dear red girl, who was all about the love today. They say that horses mirror their humans. Perhaps she sensed that my mind was filled with love, and reflected it back at me, because she was as sweet and soft and affectionate as I’ve ever known her:

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Thursday, 21 May 2015

Spring Fever.

Spring has really sprung. All the blossom is out and the colours are growing vivid and the birds are performing frankly unspeakable acts, sometimes on the wing. I wake in the night to hear the oystercatchers singing like drunken sailors out on a spree. The swifts are here although I have still not seen my swallows. We have a new visitor in the field, in addition to the pied wagtails and the swifts and our two robins and the usual dark complement of jackdaws. He is a proud and vocal chaffinch, and is very interested in the horses. At times, he almost seems to be singing his song to them.

I am so ignorant of birds that I had to look the chaffinch up. It is known, rather distressingly, as the Common Chaffinch, on account of being the second most common breeding bird in Britain. I pucker up at this, furious on my fellow’s behalf. There is nothing common about him. His plumage is as rich and exotic as that of a Chinese emperor. He has a little blue cap and a breast the colour of old roses and singing white flashes on his black wings. He is splendid and remarkable in every way. Common, indeed.

Time is such an odd thing. As I grow older, it races past me in a hurling blur. I quite often get the days of the week wrong, and for most of this month have been captioning my photographs as April rather than May. And yet it seems years since it was spring. The Scottish winter goes on much longer than the English one, and there is no bosky transition period. We do not have the nodding cow parsley in the lanes and the tumbling hedgerows and the sense of burgeoning that comes to England. Scottish nature is much more austere and reticent. There is nothing, nothing, nothing, until it seems that the world will remain brown and bleak forever, and then, almost overnight – spring. It is as if some capricious giant has waved a wand and everything comes out – there are tiny leaves in stinging green and gaudy blossom in vulgar pink and unapologetic dandelions raising their yellow heads. Even the hills change colour, as if they have cast off their sensible winter clothing and gone to Paris for the new modes.

It is very, very exciting.

Horses, famously, go a bit wild on the spring grass, get spring fever, have spring twinkles in their toes. Perhaps humans have that too. My mind is working at eighty miles an hour. I can’t sleep because I am writing three books in my head at once. I have a new idea which I can’t possibly start, because I’m still editing two manuscripts, but this story won’t leave me alone, and I imagine convoluted dialogue in my head as I walk down to tend to the mare.

I do steady groundwork with her, to get the spring out of her. Someone needs to do some groundwork with me.


Today’s pictures:

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I cannot capture my own chaffinch as he moves too fast, but I found this lovely picture on Wikimedia, available for public use, taken by a gentleman called Michael Maggs:

Chaffinch wikimedia Michael Maggs

You see how not common.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

No blog today.

The most interesting thing about my week off the internet is that I appear to have reset my brain back to the longform. The clever neurobiologists discovered, not that long ago, that the brain remains plastic even into advanced age. As I understand it, this means that one may develop new neural pathways at the drop of a hat. Or: one really can teach an old dog new tricks.

One of the things I have noticed in the last couple of years, as my love of the web grew stronger, was that my attention span became a little hazy. The internet is a starling place, filled with scattered, shiny jewels – look there, and then here, and then over there again. Even a short tabloid-ish article is full of links, inviting one to change the subject before the piece is even read. Sitting down to long, sustained reading became less attractive. I craved distraction. I would actually say to myself, when my work was finished: ‘Ah, now I can read the internet.’

Last night, I almost panicked because I could not find my book. (Stanley the Dog had hidden it under the bed.) When it was restored to me, I was in clover. All I wanted was to read five hundred pages about the politics of the 18th century. HURRAH.

So, today, I’ve finished my HorseBack work, and I’ve posted a little story about the red mare on her dedicated page, and I’ve had a quick look at Facebook, and my internet work is done. There is no mental momentum for the blog. I would normally apologise for this, but I’m so delighted with being restored to a good old habit that I won’t. I know you will understand anyway.

Instead, here is a link to what I did do on the internet today. It was a fine morning with fine people and I’m quite pleased with these pictures:


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Tuesday, 19 May 2015

In which I get back my mojo.

Today, I talked to an equine dentist and two shrinks. I was in heaven.

I love people who are clever and thoughtful and I love people who are good at their jobs. These three were at the crest and peak of both these scales. They were funny too, and told me stories, and took me to places I had never been. The dentist had worked in Kentucky and at the Keenland sales. He told me a grand tale about being asked to get a scruffy mare ready for one sale, at which the doubtful owner thought she might fetch nine grand, if he was lucky. She had good bloodlines and would go for a brood mare, but she did not look much. My dentist had six hours to get her ready. By the time she walked into the ring, she was gleaming with so much health and shine that the bidding shot up to seventy-five thousand dollars and stayed there. The stories of the Scottish horseman who could work miracles ran round the sales like fire, and suddenly tycoons were approaching him, offering silly money and visas and a car if he could do the same for their horses.

‘But I had a fiancée,’ said the dentist, smiling. ‘So I went home.’

The shrinks are trauma specialists, so we talked about the wilder shores of human experience, and how the mind deals with that. It’s one of the subjects that interests me most. I yelped and slapped my leg and at one point actually jumped up and down, I was so interested and delighted. I sometimes wonder what it must feel like to be self-contained. (I shall never know.)

In the quiet of the mare’s field, the swifts have arrived. I saw them for the first time today, swooping low over her dear back, with their quick grace. I felt as happy as if someone had sent them to me specially, as a present.

I have my mojo back. It went away and I was sadly dashed. I don’t really know what it was all about, although I’m trying to work it out. Life, I expect. I’ve had a bit of a psychological revelation, one of those things I should have worked out twenty years ago but didn’t. It’s a slight shift in reality and I’m just getting used to it and working out the ramifications and talking it through with the mare, who is an excellent listener. Stanley the Dog does not care, because he has tunnels to dig and rats to catch and is far too busy to plumb the mysteries of the human spirit. But the mare, who loves standing still and loves the sound of the human voice, will let me chat for hours. So we shall figure it out.


Today’s pictures:

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The dentist, with dear Polly the Cob. It’s quite a lot to ask of a horse, to have that great bit of kit in their mouth, but she was very good and brave. People always talk about the hoof – without the hoof, you have nothing – but the teeth are as important. Good equine dentistry is worth more than emeralds:

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Spring has sprung at last. This is the view from HorseBack, looking south over the Dee valley. Look at the blossom:

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But at home, the doughty old oaks, as old as time, still refuse to put out one single leaf:

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Monday, 18 May 2015

A week of living offline.

Author’s note: I’ve been off the internet for a week. I should have loved to come back with a bang, all pith and wit and to the point. How shiny and renewed I would seem. How happy the Dear Readers would be. Instead, you may have guessed, I have returned with seven days of pent-up writing, so this is my usual hotch-potch of tangents, fancies, absurd length, and quite possibly no point at all. Some things, it appears, do not change.



On Monday the 11th of May I decided, for a lot of dull and complicated reasons, to get offline.

I adore the internet. I believe it mostly uses its powers for good rather than evil. I think it still carries the imprint of its great inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, who gave it away for free. (I know that Berners-Lee did not really invent the internet. The American defence department did that with an assist from various universities, British and French scientists, and help from Hedy Lamarr. And Al Gore. Or something. But Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web which is what everyone uses and what is, in daily life, the de facto internet. If I am to thank one human, he is that human.) My fondness for the internet is such that when it goes mad and starts issuing death threats to women who want Jane Austen on a banknote, I feel that peculiar sorrow that you get when a dear old friend does something entirely out of character.

Of course, there is no such thing as ‘the internet’. Just as with other sweeping collective nouns, like the electorate or the government or parliament, it is made up of the various individuals who people it. Like those individuals, it is good and bad and funny and silly and angry and generous and rotten.

Mostly, I try to fight confirmation bias, but my confirmation bias is on red alert when I go online. I see the small human stories, the moments of politeness, the daily kindnesses, the generosity of spirit, the comical pandas, the engaged and informative debates, the wonderful gaudy spree of information. All those things I would never know and all those lives I would never witness are there for me, like a dazzling human play.

But I hit a bit of a wall and my mind was too stretched and I thought: switch the machine off.

On the first two days, I remained silent – no tweeting, no blogging, no Facebook posts - but still had the odd peek behind the curtain. There was a stupid man saying stupid things which went a tiny bit viral, and I felt cross about it but did not comment. There were two people asking for help on a horse forum I follow. I sort of knew the answer, but put my bossy boots away and let others, who had more knowledge than I, sort out the problem. On the radio, a woman with an amazingly irritating voice and a mealy mouth was being annoying; I refrained from tweeting about people who cannot call a spade a spade. Instead of waking up in the morning thinking thoughts that must be shared with the group, I just thought thoughts. I did not have to photograph my dog, my horse, my garden, my life, for public consumption.

Stopping the blog and the Facebook was a bit sad. I like putting things out in the world and getting the reaction from the Dear Readers. It has a touching community aspect which I enjoy. It has brought me into contact with people I would not otherwise know and it gives me a perspective on life. It is a pressure though. I want to do something good, write some decent prose, make people smile. Every day, I try to offer something. Now, I thought, I can just think the thoughts and live the life and stay still.

The third day was easy. On the second day, I read an article in the Guardian and half an article in the Speccie and then stopped, not because I was keeping to my rule, but because my normal what are people saying about the news engine was simply not firing. After that, I don’t think I thought about the online world at all for day three. I read a book instead. I suddenly thought: I won’t have to panic any more when the electricity goes down and I have no computer and I have to sit with nothing but candles and my library.

On the fourth day, I was sorely tested. There was an And Finally item on the news. And, finally, JOHNNY DEPP HAS YORKSHIRE TERRIERS. Actually, they did not  phrase it quite like that. It was a fluff piece about him trying to smuggle his dogs into Australia on his private jet. The funniest part was a stern Australian customs man who said: ‘I don’t care if you have been voted the Sexiest Man in the World twice, rules are rules.’ It was not a story about the coolest actor on the planet having toy dogs, but that was what struck me. Johnny Depp should have sleek, athletic Lab-Collie crosses, or Weimeraners, or German short-haired Pointers, or Vislas, or a lovely lurcher, or some kind of noble hunting dog. I could see him with beagles or Dalmatians or American Foxhounds. But Yorkshire Terriers????

On a normal day I would have blogged the hell out of this. I would have made jokes about all the road trips in the world with Hunter S Thompson not redeeming Depp’s shattered image. Did he tie bows in their hair and call them Fifi and Nou-Nou? I was on the floor with amazement and interest.

Instead, I thought those thoughts in my own head and went away to write a book. After that I would read a book. I was slightly sad I could not do my Depp riff, but then I might have made people who adore Yorkshire Terriers unhappy, so perhaps it was just as well. I had a suspicion that in about seven hours I would not think it that interesting anyway. The thing about living on the internet is that you are always hunting for hooks. This story, that picture, this unlikely juxtaposition, that hysterical joke – everything must be grist to the online mill. Now, my hazy scenting mind could just see a thing as it was, turn it over, and put it down again. It did not have to be exploited for some cheap reaction. I quite liked this. Day Four was perhaps not going to be as hard as I thought.

On the fifth day, I almost broke cover. I felt slightly out of touch with the world. Of course I still had the dear old BBC and Radio Four; I heard the news. But I realised how much I gathered daily from the internet – pieces of political gossip, sudden scandals in high places, excellent analysis from sophisticated brains. International news, in particular, breaks now on the internet, and the lumbering behemoths of television and print seem miles behind.

I missed the camaraderie too. It had been the Dante meeting at York and then a new rich raceday at Newbury, with some young dazzlers and some old friends running on the sun-beamed turf. I wanted my racing posse. I wanted to talk about the cool brilliance of Ryan Moore and what on earth he was going to do with his four new watches, and the dancing beauty of Telescope romping down the straight, and the sweet, determined face of Integral, and how she ran like a tiger in defeat. I wanted to share the wonder of American Pharoah (sic) powering through the dour slop of Belmont like a doughty old warrior to win the Preakness and keep his Triple Crown hopes alive.

But I resisted. I’m not sure whether this experiment really did rest my tired brain, although it did make me realise how much of my internet use was out of knee-jerk habit. For all that, I was cussedly determined to see it through. I did damn well read books and long magazine articles and managed perfectly well without any pictures of adorable pandas. I quite liked the fact that I realised I did not have to comment on every single thing that took my interest, that the online world really did not need my thoughts and opinions, but could trundle along perfectly happily without me. I had assumed that in the burly and hurly of the antic web nobody would notice, but, rather touchingly, they did. A few kind people, used to my racing yelps of delight, daily red mare adoration, winding blog tangents, sunny Scottish photographs, and Stanley the Dog tunnel-digging bulletins, did gently make sure that I was not dead in a ditch. I was rather astonished and very moved. One of them I knew in real life; the rest were pure online friends, the absolute shining epitome of the kindness of strangers. A community is a community, even if it is virtual. The sneeriness of those who denigrate the online world would fade like breath on glass faced with the generous reality.

One of those online friends is facing the kind of profound heartbreak for which, I always think, words are no good. I love words and believe in words and am daily astounded by the power of words, but there are times when they are paltry, and this is one of those times. Yet she said, stoical and encouraging, that she missed reading what I wrote. Good God, I thought, all my absurd musings, incoherent half-formed theories, idiotish obsessions actually mean something to someone I have never met, who is facing one of life’s cruellest fast balls. Such a thing should perhaps make one feel proud; it made me feel humble.

The internet is a place of huge world events, universally famous humans, dictators, disasters, conspiracy theories, and governments. The tectonic plates of geo-politics shift and grind. It is a wide prairie of important information which effects real humans. But it is also a place where one may find illuminating, touching, startling and inspiring slivers of ordinary lives. These lives will not go down in the history books. They will not have monuments built to them; they contain no levers which  may shift the world. But there, in little flashes of online reality, they exist, provoking a laugh, a cry, a frown of recognition. They mean something.

Those lives mean something whether they are written down or not. You do not have to do a tap dance on Facebook to prove your worth. But those glimpses, seen by unknown humans thousands of miles away, are, I think, benign little arrows which fly from one ordinary heart to another.

All of which is a very, very long way of saying: I’m glad to be back.


Today’s pictures:

Are from a sunny day at the end of last week:

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Thursday, 7 May 2015

Election Day.

Up early, and out. I do some telephoning for my local candidate, asking people if they needed help getting to the polling station. I hate ringing up strangers and have to put on a very special low, grown-up voice to brush through it. It goes against everything that it means to be British. I think: I shall never, ever again be brusque with a cold-caller. (I have been known to do a horrid sort of passive aggression, sounding polite, but in fact being as mean as Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey, at her most waspish. I am not proud of myself for this and resolve to stop it at once.)

I go to HorseBack and do my work there. It’s a small course this week, only four veterans, all of them dealing with a variety of mental and physical challenges. I like the small courses because I can get to know the men and women a bit, and have time to listen to their stories, so I can feel their triumphs as if they were my own. One veteran, who served as a nurse, was really properly frightened of the whole idea of horses, but today she screwed her courage to the sticking place and rode out on a sweet-natured bay Quarter Horse mare under the wide Scottish sky.

I’m so used to horses being home to me that I find it quite hard to put myself in the shoes of someone for whom they are completely alien. I realise how hard and strange it must be, to get up for the first time on a half-ton flight animal, and not know where to put your hands or your legs or how the steering works. And then they start to get it, and they feel the movement of the horse under them, and they ask the good question and get the good answer, and that is when the smiles break out like beacons.

I edit 9,000 words of book and try to think about the shape of the thing. There is a new scene I have to write and I can’t quite work out where to fit it in. Whenever I am alone, driving in the car, I run through the scene in my head, putting myself in as the main protagonist, trying to see what she sees, feel what she feels. I have to know her like I know myself.

I roast some beef, for strength. I need the iron. There shall be beef sandwiches for the next two days, because I’ll be too tired to cook after the election. I listen to the news on Radio Four and miss the political stuff. The BBC is not allowed to broadcast anything political until the polls close. It’s slightly absurd, but it’s rather honourable too. This is the quiet day which belongs to the voters. All the pundits and commentators and professors and psephological experts fall silent, as the ordinary people who are affected by the daily actions of government come out into the light to make their own decisions.

I vote.

I love voting. It stitches me into history, into my community, into the social contract of my country. I understand well the arguments against; I know the logic of the spoiled ballot or the furious abstention. I know that first past the post means that, in some places, there is no hope for your chosen party. My own vote will almost certainly not win. But it will be counted. I choose to vote because of the women of Saudi Arabia, because of the Pankhursts, because of poor, deluded Emily Davison, because as recently as 1928 females in this country were not allowed to vote, presumably because the effort would cause their tiny pink lady brains to explode and make a mess.

I brandish my precious card. There was a horrible moment a few days ago when I got a letter saying my identity could not be confirmed by any government data base. This led to a mild existential crisis, when I felt as if I had been designated a non-person. The presiding officer looks down at her list. ‘Yes,’ she says. ‘There you are.’ I smile all over my face. ‘I exist,’ I say, rather too loudly, joyful with reality. Two or three good voters give me a bit of a look.

I go into the booth, with its little stumpy pencil on a string. I read through all the candidates. I make sure I have them all right. I put in my cross, for an estimable gentleman who has done a lot for his community. I pause, taking in the moment.

All parties have their flaws, and all politicians are prone to frailties and foibles. Some of them are dull and some of them are idiots. Some of them are brilliant and some of them are mavericks and some of them just keep their heads down and get on with the job. Some adore their constituency work and make a real difference in the lives of real people; some climb the greasy pole. Some are articulate and some are taciturn. Some trim; some stick to their principles. Very much like the electorate, in fact. I gave up tribalism years ago, and now choose the candidate I think will do her or his very best. (I vote locally, but I also read all the national manifestos and act on the one I agree with the most.) I don’t expect miracles and I don’t expect all problems to be solved and I don’t expect revolutions. I have no sense of entitlement. Everyone is not going to get a pony. I hope, Whiggishly, that the cracks might be filled and progress might be made and mistakes might be rectified. I no longer have the soaring ideology of youth, but the pragmatic, slightly battered hope of age.

I think of Churchill, who said that democracy was the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried. He also said, after he won the war and was promptly cast from office by a flintily unsentimental British public: ‘They have a perfect right to kick me out. That is democracy.

I go out into the quiet village hall, with its polished wooden floor and its high roof. The light is streaming in through the windows. I fold my ballot paper and put it into the scratched black box. I smile blindingly at the presiding officer. I say: ‘Hurrah for democracy.’ She looks faintly surprised. I can almost see her thinking: ‘Just humour the old girl. We get all sorts in here.’

I’d love to go in and do it all over again. Vote early, vote often. No, no, I think, we are not in Tammany Hall. It’s a quiet village in the north-east of Scotland. It’s a vast constituency, running from the high hills at Braemar to the low port of Stonehaven, which was established as a fishing village in the Iron Age. Tomorrow, when the country wakes up to a new order, or a constitutional crisis, or a frenzy of horse-trading, these mountains and fields will still be here, the lambs will still be skipping over the green grass, the majestic Aberdeen Angus will still be standing tall and stately in their meadows. But today is election day, and it means something to me.

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Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The pretty way home.

Since I first got up this morning, I was writing this blog in my head. Oh, it was going to be a dilly. It had fire in it, and passion, and irony, and jokes. Then life took over. There were errands, book, red mare, HorseBack work, even some mild domestic activity. The brilliant words ebbed away. Damn, they were good. But they’ve gone. I think they got bored, and could not be fagged to hang around. They may even have thrown a slight strop. Well, they said, if you’re not going to write us down, we’ll take a ferry west. I expect they have arrived at Colonsay by now, and are just going down to Kiloran beach to watch the sunset. The little tinkers.

Here are some photographs instead. I had to go up to the kind farmer who delivers our hay, the sweetest hay in Scotland, adored by the two good mares, and give him wads of cash. I’ve been so pinned to my desk, I thought I’d take the chance to drive the pretty way home. Round here, it’s all pretty way, but some ways are more magnificent than others. This is when I catch my breath and count my luck. I miss my old friends. I hate having to say no to so many enchanting invitations, because the time and money it costs to get south is so often too much for me. But I have these hills, and they are my great love affair, and I would not swap them for anything.

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Talking of pretty, here is Stan the Man and his best girl. They adore each other and are cut from the same cloth. They race and wrangle and wrestle and suddenly put their bellies to the ground and gallop flat out across the field. I could watch them all day:

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The duchess is pleased because her foot is healed, the weather has taken a turn for the better, and she’s out again in her beloved set-aside:

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Tuesday, 5 May 2015

One good thing.

I like it that people tell me stories. Apparently, I have that kind of face. (I never really know what this means.) A woman in the street told me her story on Saturday, of pain, of loss, of redemption, of pride. A veteran of the King’s Troop told me his this morning. It was filled with darkness and there were tears, the pain near the surface. HorseBack has taught me to put away the pity face. I keep my expression entirely still and do nothing but listen. I am privileged to hear these stories, although they are sometimes hard. I think: if the men and women can go through it, the least I can damn well do is listen. I have learnt not to gather the information into a tight ball of sorrow and regret, but to let it flow through me, like a river. The water is sometimes turbulent, but as long as it keeps moving, it is all right.

I see to my mare’s foot, shrug off the cold and the rain, do my HorseBack work, edit my book, have a losing bet. I think of that gentleman from this morning, and all the things he has seen, and wonder that there can be instant communion between two complete strangers. There is a loveliness in that. The story was a sad one, but I am glad it was told, and I am proud it was put into my keeping.

I’m a bit glitchy and scratchy at the moment. It’s the weather, I think. (It’s not the weather, but that will do for an excuse.) When I’m like this, I need one good thing every day. If there is one true thing, then the hours are not wasted. The glitches and the scratches will pass.

This morning, I saw another veteran work a horse in the round pen. It was her first time, and she was uncertain and a little nervous. She did really well, but she came out concentrating on her mistakes, rather than what she had achieved. That will change, over the week, and I know that she and her kind horse will make a fine partnership. I said, gently, a little hesitant, because I don’t like telling people what to do, but thinking perhaps it was worth breaking this rule on this occasion: ‘Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Think of all the wonderful things you did right.’ She blinked. I could see the critical voices quarrelling in her head. I know those voices. I think: I really must learn to take my own advice.

One good thing a day. That’s all it takes.


Here are some good things, which no amount of weather could dim:

5 April 1 4608x3456

5 April 2 4608x3456

5 April FB1 4608x3456

5 April 6 4412x2412


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