Today, I went from sheer joy to sheer terror within ten minutes.
I had ridden up to HorseBack for my riding lesson. It’s about two and a half miles along the Deeside Way and it’s a pretty ride. The red mare was then very brilliant and very brave in her lesson and did many new and gloriously clever things that made me smile and whoop. An old friend appeared which was a real treat and so I started the ride off home in tearing spirits.
Perhaps that was the problem. Perhaps the spirits were too high. Perhaps the hubris demons were chattering in my ear. Across the road there is a place where I have to get off and fiddle with a gate. It’s quite tricky, with a chain and a padlock and not much room to move and it’s on a slope. Usually, I loop the reins over my arm, but what with the spirits being so high and the head full of hubris demons having a bloody cocktail party, I just put a hand on the rein. It’s the red mare, I thought; she invented the Standing Still Olympics.
And then something flew out of the bushes and made her start and that rein was out of my hand and I stared in horror and disbelief as her great thoroughbred quarters disappeared round the corner.
She’ll stop, I thought. She just got a fright. She’ll trot off and then she’ll stop.
She did not stop. She’d had a long morning and she’d worked hard and she was damn well going home.
I famously can’t run. I don’t really know how to run. I ran. I sprinted after her, breath coming in great fearful gasps. I could see death and disaster in my mind, as if I had walked into the middle of a horror film. Panting and sobbing, I called in the cavalry. ‘Don’t worry,’ said the soothing voice of my brilliant teacher. ‘I’ll get the quad bike out.’
The path ahead was ominously empty. I’ve ruined everything, I thought, running and sobbing. One moment of thoughtlessness and I’ve lost the light of my life.
A car, coming slowly down the road, flashed its lights and stopped. The most wonderful gentleman in Scotland said: ‘Have you lost a horse?’
I scrambled madly over a fence and across a ditch and into his incredibly clean car. A beautiful liver chestnut spaniel put its comforting wet nose into my hand as if in reassurance. ‘You are so kind,’ I said, my breath coming in great gulps. ‘I’m so afraid.’
He turned round and went back up the road and there were kind, clever people who had stopped their cars and were not panicking. There, galloping up the road as if she were in the Oaks, was the red mare, right as rain. Another brilliant gentleman leapt out of his car and I leapt out of my brilliant gentleman’s car and the red mare saw the gap and swerved into a heavenly safe green field. I’ve never loved a field so much in my life. I showered garbled thanks on my saviours and ran after her. She stopped, and looked at me, as if to say: where the hell have you been? She dropped her head and I picked up the rein and I had her back.
There had been no death and disaster. Everyone was all right. I had been petrified by the thought that not only would the mare be injured, but that she might cause a crash. But there, in the pale Scottish sun, was everyone in one lovely piece. I rang the cavalry to tell them they could stand down. I rode home, chastened by my own stupidity.
This morning, the news was truly awful. There was one horrifying story after another. There was cruelty and abuse in care homes and prisoners barricading themselves in their cells because they were too frightened to come out and helpless refugee children from Syria facing unspeakable dangers from predatory men. I had thought that I was going to write a blog about how on earth one could maintain one’s faith in human nature against that barrage.
I do have faith in human nature. I have a great big fat belief in the human heart. I choose to think that most people are mostly good. I think that they try hard, often against horrendous odds, and that they all want to love and be loved and that they want to leave the world a little better than they found it. This is my most profound creed. The news was battering that creed. Perhaps I had been wrong all along and I was going to have to face that wrongness.
And then my good Samaritan stopped his clean car and took me to save my mare.
One kind act in a world of sorrows does not make everything all right. It does not wipe away all that bad news. But you know, it’s something. It’s Shakespeare: ‘How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.’ It’s an amulet, a totem, a mark of faith.
I could not even thank my kind gentleman properly. I was in such a state and although I think I did say ‘thank you, thank you’ I was mostly panting and gabbling. I have a tiny dream that someone might see this, on the internet, that someone might know a practical, generous man with a maroon car and a beautiful liver Spaniel, one that looks as if it is a proper working dog, and that person might ask that man if he was driving along the A93 at lunchtime today, and might say: you know, that lunatic woman with the horse would like to thank you from the bottom of her heart. And all the other people in cars were so good and kind and sensible, and seemed to know exactly what to do, and did not hoot their horns or look furious, but seemed concerned and ready to help.
Instead of being filled with despair at the state of the world and the battering ram of the bad news, I am now filled with a diffuse, almost disbelieving love for all those people whose names I shall never know, because they were so stalwart and good and proper. I was an idiot, and I deserve a rap on the knuckles and a stern talking to, but instead I got the benign consolation of the group. It was as if, in that moment, on that country road, with the slumbering blue hills looking down on us, there was the wisdom of crowds instead of the madness of crowds. It was as if, just for a few minutes, everyone gathered together to do what they could for that errant horse, all their focus and purpose directed like a laser on restoring the situation to safety and normality.
Perhaps that is a little romantic of me; perhaps some of them were drumming their fingers on the steering wheel and cursing. But it did not feel like that. It felt as if that disparate group cohered, and put its arms around me, for all my folly, and said: don’t worry, it will be all right. And it was all right.
I was so blinded by fears and imaginings that I would not even recognise my rescuer. But somewhere out there is one man and his dog, who did a very, very good turn to a frantic human in dire need. And that candle throws his beams an awful long way.