Despite the fact that I was pretending to be very butch about it, I was rather dreading hitting fifty. I know it’s only a number and it doesn’t really mean anything, but I felt the cruel whoosh of life galloping past my ears and wanted to say stop.
As is so often the case, the dread of the thing was nothing like the thing itself.
The thing was bloody marvellous.
Once I was in it, I realised I didn’t feel any different and that age could be a mere state of mind. (I expect I won’t think that when I’m eighty and I have to be winched onto my horses with ropes, groaning about my replacement hips, but fifty can exist in the mind for now.) I had one of the most glorious days I can remember. The bright frost glittered and gleamed and the sun shone and the dogs raced along the burn and I cantered the red mare up the hill to look at the snowy mountains.
Family and friends rang up and sent messages and I talked and talked and talked. I got sweet presents and enchanting cards. Two of the people I love most in the world staged a birthday surprise of epic proportions. My jaw actually fell open as if I were in a cartoon and I lost the power of speech, which is not something that happens to me very often. It was more surprising and more brilliant than if Sir Mark Todd and Sir AP McCoy had pitched up singing show tunes. (I think everyone needs a brace of singing equine knights in their lives.)
Fifty, schmifty, I thought. This is a blast. I want to be fifty every day and twice on Sundays.
One of the most touching things was my Facebook page. I scrolled down message after message, making little ah-ing noises and letting out rueful chuckles and sudden shouts of laughter. There were horse pictures and dog pictures and antic emoticons by the score. There were messages from close family and extended family, people I knew when I was a child, friends from my teens whom I have not seen for thirty years, the best beloveds I talk to every week and the ones I have not seen for too long because I never get to the south just now.
There were the internet friends – people I’d met on Twitter whilst cheering some great chaser home, and people I’d run into on horsemanship forums, where we had discussed how to get a soft canter on a loose rein. There were people I’d bonded with over the intricacies of herd behaviour or people I’d become friends with because they remembered my dad in his glory days. There were people who’d found me through the red mare and her little brown cousin, or their love of my sweet Stanley’s adorable lurcher ears, or their delight in dancing Darwin the Dog. There were the blogging people, my first online buddies, and the people who shared my adoration of the thoroughbred, and the people who would not know one end of a horse from the other but who sweetly and patiently accept my equine obsession. There were my HorseBack veterans, who put up with my bad jokes and strange hats and my habit of yelling at them to hold it right there because I've found the perfect angle with my camera even though they know perfectly well I don't have a clue what I'm doing. There were people from Australia and America and New Zealand and all parts of this dear old island nation.
There is a fashion in certain circles to sneer at the internet. Oh that social media, say the sceptical; don’t you have a real life to go to? For me, real life and virtual life trot together as happily and harmoniously as the Queen’s Windsor Greys coming down the straight mile at the Royal Meeting. But there is no doubt that there is a lot of ugliness out there in the wilder corners of the web. The opposing political gangs square up against each other and the gender wars break out as if the Pankhursts never happened and only this morning I saw some toughs cursing at each other because they could not agree on what was going to win the Gold Cup. (‘Thistlecrack? Cunt.’ At which point I felt slightly faint and had to go and have a little sit-down in a darkened room.)
But there, there on my page was this generous, embracing, expanding expression of human kindness and affection. I write a huge amount of nonsense every day and put up idiotic amounts of horse and dog pictures and sometimes get all hippy dippy on your arse because I do really want to teach the world to sing, and I often forget the edit button and sometimes let my flakiest self roar around like a Mongolian pony out on the Steppe. Even I sometimes wonder if I am going to be arrested by the Too Much Police. And yet nobody seemed to mind and they all took the time to say happy birthday and make the horse and dog jokes and I smiled so hard my cheeks ached with it.
There is a lot of crossness and a lot of intemperance and a lot of the very worst of human nature running around unchecked on the social media, but there is the very best of human nature too, and I think that wins. It won yesterday, for me. It won in a canter with its head in its chest. It will definitely stay the extra two furlongs and if it were running in the Gold Cup I'd back it ante-post right this minute, even against Thistlecrack himself.
I can’t thank all those kind people enough. Faith in human nature can be a fragile thing and sometimes when I am insisting on believing the best instead of the worst I feel as if I am rolling a boulder up a hill. Not yesterday. The dazzling Facebook posse made my day.