There is snow in the air and a raw cold in the wind. In the shop, where I collect my Racing Post, the lady and I look at each other and smile rueful smiles. ‘Funny old day,’ I say. (I am British; this is the kind of thing I say to the lady in the shop,even though she knows all about my life and my dogs and my horse and my mum.) We both look out of the window, where the weather is quarrelling with itself. ‘It does not know whether to laugh or cry,’ I say.
‘I know the feeling,’ says the lady in the shop.
There are many ladies in the shop and I love them all, but this one is possibly my favourite. I once apologised to her, as I handed over some money, for my filthy hands. She looked at the ingrained mud and said, in approval: ‘Working hands.’ It was one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.
(I know one is told not to call people ladies any more, and I would rather die than do anything to make the ghosts of the Pankhursts weep, but somehow I can’t call them women in the shop. It sounds just off, to my ear, and does not convey the slightly old-fashioned atmosphere of this shop in this village, where so many people know so many people. Besides, I am old-fashioned myself when it comes to words. I still listen to the wireless and look in the looking glass.)
Then I went to the dear Stepfather and we drank coffee and spoke of this and that (Churchill and Boris and the Euro-argument) and he showed me two beautiful books. One was a first edition of Osbert Sitwell’s autobiography, inscribed by Sitwell to Dear Morgan.
Dear Morgan. I nearly swooned with pleasure.
I’ve been re-reading EM Forster, and I start to believe that everything one needs to know about life is in A Room with a View.
‘We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won't do harm - yes, choose a place where you won't do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.’
The other was a copy of Dylan Thomas in a beautiful modern binding which the dear Stepfather had had specially made for my mother.
We looked at that one for a long time, unspoken sorrow running between us. We knew everything about what that book meant.
‘I find it quite difficult,’ I said, diffidently, ‘all this talk of Mothering Sunday.’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Horrid.’
‘I miss her all the time,’ I said, keeping my voice level. ‘But there are times I miss her more than others.’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I know.’
‘It’s not people’s fault,’ I said, as if he might think I wanted the entire media and the internet to shut up shop just because I don’t have a mother this year. ‘They don’t know.’
‘No,’ he said.
Then I showed him how to get up The Night Manager on the iPlayer so he could watch the first two episodes before the third one is shown tomorrow night, and then I went home to get ready for the racing at Newbury.
There is a veterans' race today. It's a grand series and a brilliant idea. Some racehorses love their retirement, and some don’t, so much. They still feel fit and strong and want to go on jumping over fences; they don’t know that they are twelve or thirteen and that the younger legs will outpace them. So an imaginative person invented the veterans’ races, where the glorious standing dishes can compete against each other out on the bright green turf which they still think of as home.
It’s a fine sight to see these great campaigners, with all their canniness and knowledge of the game, still fired with enthusiasm even if they are not quite as fleet as they once were, bowling round with their ears pricked. They are still capable of breathtaking leaps, and they are clever enough to put in a short stride and fiddle a fence, and they sometimes seem to have all the racing wisdom in the world in their sage old heads.
Each Saturday, I would take Mum her racing paper and talk to her about the runners and we would reminisce over old friends and get excited about the new young stars. Each Saturday, after the racing was over, the telephone would go and I would hear her voice, often shaking with love and emotion. ‘Did you see that?’ she would say. ‘Did you cry?’
The answer was always yes.
She remembered Arkle and Mill House and would often speak of them, a mystical note in her voice. She always said, of Arkle: ‘He had the look of eagles.’
Pete the Feat, my favourite horse in the veterans’ race today, is not in the same league as those legends, but I adore him because he is bold and brave and tough and he loves his job. He might win and he might not, but he’ll do his best as he always does.
Today, there will be no telephone call, no voice saying ‘Oh, Pete the Feat.’
There are times when I miss her more than others.