Down in my quiet Scottish field, the sun shines and I work the horses. Yesterday, I cheered myself up with horses. The beautiful and brave Harzand won the Irish Derby to add to his English one and I shouted him home. My sweet domestic thoroughbreds are equally adept at lifting the heart.
Every so often, though, I feel something clutch at that heart. It is fear, and dismay, and regret. As if it were not enough that the global economy is rocking and rolling (I never knew the world would pay so much attention to little old Blighty), that pre-referendum promises are being torn up like old betting slips, that there are already plans for a Scottish breakaway, the two main parties have plunged into an orgy of internecine warfare. In the blue camp, the Anyone But Boris bus is revving its engine. In the red camp, half the shadow cabinet is on the brink of resignation: the stage is like the final scene in Hamlet, littered with corpses. The sunlit uplands seem very far away.
I sternly tell myself to retrieve my Blitz spirit. I shall be the little ships of Dunkirk. Every woman must do her duty. I shall work twice as hard. I shall write only cheering books, because everyone is going to need cheering books. I will look on the bright side. Perhaps Schumpeter’s gale is blowing; perhaps this is creative destruction. The Beloved Cousin said on Friday, as I told her of some of this: ‘Yes, we must rise like the phoenix from the ashes.’ I remember the seventies, and the three day week, and the feeling that poor old Britain was finished. She was not finished. The old lady rallied. She may rally again.
I quite wish everyone was not so cross, but perhaps they need to be cross. Perhaps there has been a great store of crossness building up in their breasts and it needed to be released. Even the winners are cross, oddly. Some of the losers are furious, but more of them seem to be sad and baffled. Many of the winners appear to be livid, which I don’t quite understand, despite my study of the human condition. (Study human condition more, I tell myself, adding another resolution to my list.) ‘Stop whining,’ they shout, on the social media. ‘Suck it up.’ I think, slightly bizarrely, that they should watch the racing more. Racing people are amazingly good at losing with dignity and winning with grace. They tend to be humble in victory. The trainers always give credit to anyone but themselves: a great horse, a great team, we were very lucky, they say, with sporting good manners. Nothing that is happening now is very sporting.
Work harder, be resilient, look for the silver lining. Dunkirk boats. Rally, rally. I put the horses back in their field and go to see the dear Stepfather. I think: I must make a joke, to cheer him up. My job, since my mother died, has been to cheer him up. If I can bring a smile to his poor face each morning, then my job is done. I make a slightly mordant joke about the forty new trade deals that must be negotiated, and the fact that Britain has no negotiators. Job opportunities there at least. I suddenly realise that was not really very funny. I try to make a Boris joke, but that does not quite hit the mark either.
He sits down, looking defeated. He is over eighty and he can’t see a way that any of this is going to get any better. I try my rally, rally tactic, but it gains no traction. In the end, I just listen, quietly, to his sorrow. All I can do now is give him an ear. I wonder what the stop whining brigade would say to this old gentleman, if they could see him. Would they tell him to butch up, to get with the programme, to savour his new freedoms? I wonder what, precisely, those freedoms are. I wonder: what happened to empathy?
The little ships of my mind put out to sea. Dunkirk was a disaster, by any calculation. Yet the British cherish it as a kind of victory, in the odd way that Britons adore their defeats. A phoenix did flap her wings over that troubled sea, rising from the ashes of Europe. Can I be the captain of my small ship, the mistress of my soul? We are a sea-faring nation. Perhaps we can chug, chug, chug over this stormy ocean.