In a small village like mine, everybody knows.
The posties know. ‘You’ll be wanting to get this Christmas over then,’ said Pearl the Postwoman this morning, giving Stanley the Manly his customary Bonio. (She really is one of the nicest women in the world and a brilliant postal operative to boot.)
The window-cleaners know. ‘I’m so sorry to hear about your mum,’ said the head window-cleaner, with great gentleness, after he polished up my windows.
The lady in the chemist knows. ‘You have a good Christmas now,’ she said, with a speaking look. She lost her own mother in the spring, so she too will have a first Christmas without a mum.
The ladies in the shop know. They give me the kind smiles of understanding as I buy the traditional bottle of Madeira for the gravy.
All the florists know, because I have been in that shop buying funeral flowers and wake flowers. Today, I wanted to get the dear Stepfather a little bunch of eucalyptus and a little bunch of red tulips. The top florist, making these up into enchanting bouquets (very plain, tied up with elegant stone-coloured string; none of your fancy ribbons or vulgar sparkly yuletide nonsense), said: ‘It will be hard for you, this year.’
The Rotary Club does not know, and I put on my best jolly smile for them as they pack up my shopping in the Co-op, which they do every year to raise money for good causes. I make little Christmas jokes with the gentlemen and wish them a happy day.
The knowing is rather lovely. Nobody makes a song and dance about it. The grief is accepted and acknowledged and treated with gentle respect. It is all very elegant and very touching.
The rain lashes down and then the sun comes out, that thick amber winter light which is like the light of old Italy.
I’m not going to do a big Christmas lunch. Last year, I cooked lunch for my mother and stepfather because the rest of the family had gone south. It was very fine and very lovely and the next day Mum and I had a grand time watching the King George. I can’t go into that house tomorrow, in all the jollity, knowing she is not there. I said at breakfast this morning, to the extended family: ‘I know my limitations.’
They understand and they don’t understand. Most people think that to refuse Christmas lunch is a sad thing. To me, it is a vast relief. I go for a special festive dinner tonight and then tomorrow I have silence and space.
I decided to make the day a useful one. I’m going to man my HorseBack Facebook page all day, because there are veterans for whom this time of year is not like a John Lewis ad. I’m going to put up lots of pictures and invite them to use the comments section if they need to talk and make a safe space which is not all about mandated merriment. That feels about right to me. I think my mother would approve of that.
I’m going to make a chicken for myself (that’s why there is Madeira still for the gravy) and play with my mares and my dogs and look up the form for the King George. It’s one of the best renewals for years, with almost every horse in with a fighting chance. They are all old friends, mighty warriors I have loved for a long time. I shall be quite torn by old loyalties and newer loves. I think in the end I shall go with Don Cossack, because I so adore his way of doing things. He is so laid back that even when he is running in a top class race he looks as if he is ambling out on a gentle Sunday ride. He lollops over his fences, usually quite far back, watching all the rushing ones up front with his wise old eyes. Then, as they all get to scrubbing away before him, he pricks his ears, engages turbo drive, and floats past them on a roar of acceleration and brilliance. He makes me laugh with love and joy. He’s a real old-fashioned sort, long and athletic with a straightforward, honest head and an intelligent outlook, nothing flashy about him except the sheen on his dark coat, the kind of horse my father would have adored.
It will be hard this year. But it will sort of be all right too. Loss is loss, and must be honoured.