Last night, I had a dream. I did not dream I went to Manderley again but that I was chatting to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. (I know that people who tell you their dreams are among the biggest crashers on earth, so I’ll keep this brief.) He was talking about crooked vegetables, which is what he is currently talking about in real life, and then he looked at me and said ‘As for the mixed messages which women have to deal with...’ He rolled his eyes as if in actual pain. And I threw my arms round him in amazed delight and said ‘Thank you, thank you. I’ve been living with cognitive dissonance all my life. I didn’t think that men really understood.’
The swanky part of me is quite chuffed that I use expressions like cognitive dissonance even in dreams. The critical part is quite cross that in my sleeping hours I give in to broad generalisation. (I am perfectly certain that there are men who do understand.)
I am not going to bang the lady drum but I did think a bit this morning about the societal expectations of women and how amazingly confused and contradictory they are and how one just gets used to it, as background noise. I am not sure why I dreamed about that, but perhaps it is too that there are societal expectations about death and grief and those hum along in the back of the mind.
One must be stoical, but not too stoical; let it out, but don’t frighten the horses. One must feel it, but not make a drama. One must move on, but not too soon. One must honour the dear departed, but not be morbid. One must share with the group, but not too much. Even as I try to face this damn thing in the whites of its eyes, and as I do that by writing about it, there is a little voice in the back of my head which says: ‘Quick, quick, make a joke.’ One must be solemn, but not serious. Or is it the other way round?
Even as my kindest, most sane voice says there are no rules for grief, that even those famous seven stages or however many there are come packed with caveats, that one must surf it free-style as if it were a wild wave, those humming, chattering voices of the culture cannot be entirely banished. I do not live in a vacuum. I am part of the world. In my more self-regarding moments, I like to think I am a perfect maverick, like my old dad who did not know who made the rules and did not care. But that’s not quite true. I have to work hard to be true to myself. Even at such a time as this, the horrid word ‘should’ sometimes echoes through the mazy corridors of my mind.
Jung said every person that humans dream of represents a part of themselves. I am quite glad that I am in touch with my inner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. He is not hidebound by rules or expectations; he is a man of the earth and he believes in real food and he hates waste, just like my mother did. I find odd comfort in this thought.
Today, the sun shone again, and I went and stared at the trees. Stanley the Manly found the biggest stick in the wood and was quite sad when we had to go and I said it would not fit in the car. He gave it one last, tragic look, and left it on the ground. I said, absurdly, out loud: ‘We’ll come back and play with it again tomorrow.’
I salute everyone who can photograph trees well. It’s my second most difficult subject, after horses at the races, which are completely impossible. I thought of all those photographers who have mastered these two subjects and felt profound admiration.
I am so lucky to have these trees. I think every day that I don’t know what I would have done without my mares. I don’t know what I would have done without the trees either. Everyone has their thing. The trees are my thing.
After the trees, I drove up and looked at the hills. They looked back at me, serene and secure in their magnificence. I tried giving Mum to them, but they gave her back. She’s not ready to go out there yet. She’s going to stay with me.
When you look at these pictures, you have to imagine the beauty times a hundred. I can’t capture it with my puny eye. But this gives you a little glimpse of the loveliness: