Thursday, 15 February 2018

A Perfect Parade of Beauty and Love.

I have decided that living in the menopause is like living in an area at high risk of tornadoes. For stretches of time, everything is pretty normal. You occasionally catch an intimation of danger in a too-vivid sunset, or notice that the birds are doing something frankly peculiar. But you get on with your life, with your daily sorrows and joys and chores and pleasures. Then, wham, the fucker hits, far too fast and vicious for the early warning system. The people at emergency command don’t know what the hell to do. You dash into your hurricane shelter and batten down the hatches and exist on canned goods for the duration.
And then, one morning, you cautiously open your hatch and peer out. The sun is shining. The air is still. The livestock are grazing serenely. Your house is still standing. The storm has moved on, to ravage another town.
This storm was a bastard. It howled and wailed and moaned. It would not let me go. It lasted for four days. Today, the air was still again. I am still standing.
In the heart of the maelstrom, I posted a sweet picture of my mares, for Valentine’s Day. ‘My funny valentines,’ I wrote, the song playing in my head. Usually, on the red mare’s Facebook page, I tell endless stories of her charm and brilliance. I once did this in a slight spirit of show-boating. Look what I did with my grand thoroughbred! Then I started to see that I was writing the story of her life, of our lives together, so that when she gallops off to the great prairie in the sky, I shall still have her with me. I don’t do it now for claps on the back; I do it for its own sweet sake. I do it for love.           

I’m not very interactive. People come and leave kind comments and I have grown to recognise a few regulars, but I don’t really know much about my readers and I don’t ask them questions. I’m just glad and grateful that they are there. On the Valentine’s Day post, I most uncharacteristically asked for pictures. Show me the loves of your life, I said; I need photographs. I was so battered and gloomy that I thought a few nice horse pictures would cheer me up. I thought I might get about four.
The photographs came flooding in, the moment I stopped typing. I woke up this morning to find a hundred and thirty-five of them. Some were comical snapshots, a little blurred, some were photographs of rare quality and grace. They came from all around the world. There was the singed outback of Australia, golden and exotic in the sun. There were the lush hills of New Zealand, all blues and greens, speaking of life and growth. There was the sunset over the glittering ice of Norway, with a line of sharp mountains in the distance. There was the big country of America, the kind of country where you could ride all day and not see a human. There were the quiet shires of dear old Blighty.            

The horses came in all shapes and sizes. There were furry minis and giant workhorses. There were individual beloveds and happy herds. There were aristocratic Arabians and sturdy cobs. There was a Swedish warmblood and a ravishing Paint and a stylish Morgan. There were dappled greys and shining bays. There were adored veterans, old-timers in their thirties, dreaming their retirement away. There was Henry the Mustang, saying hello from Oregon.

There were horses on the beach and in the stable and grazing quietly in a lush pasture. There were roly-poly Shetlands and fine thoroughbreds. There was an ex-racehorse who had once run in the Melbourne Cup. There was a comical herd in Colorado and a dreamy show horse in England. There were groomed and gleaming ones and woolly and muddy ones. There were dreamboats who seemed to be posing for the camera and comedians who were larking about for the lens. There were glorious names: Atticus and Merlin, Zaf and Limerick, Beau and Ezra, Jasmine and Teazel. There was an Argentian polo pony, and a clutch of red mares.                

The cumulative effect of this was extraordinary. All these horses and all these humans had their own stories, their own characters, their own fascinating lives. The love poured out of each word, each picture. These were quiet, profound partnerships, where trust and understanding grew in green fields and hidden stables. They would not be seen on the front page of Horse and Hound; they were not headline acts. They were not famous horses, who could be seen on the television on a Saturday afternoon. But they were all the stars of their own movie, with their own talents and quirks, their own beauty and their own brilliance. They all made their humans’ hearts sing.

 From across the world they came, as if to a rally or a round-up. Here were the majestic creatures who comforted their humans in times of sorrow, who made the sun come out on a dour morning, who scattered the humdrum of daily life with a little glance of stardust.                

It was one of the best things I ever saw on the internet. The people who did not have horses sent pictures of charming dogs or dancing lambs. There were three mules, of such grace and loveliness that I caught my breath. Some people did not post a picture but left a message saying how much this parade of loveliness had cheered them up.
It cheered me up. It was so simple, so heartfelt, so human. It was a Best in Show of pure love.
I’m not sure why it moved me quite so much. Perhaps it was the generous authenticity. People were not shy. ‘Here is the love of my life,’ they wrote. The red mare is the love of my life and I sometimes feel a little foolish when I write that. She’s only a horse, after all. But this outpouring of pride and affection showed me that I am not alone, that there is no such thing as only a horse, that these joyous creatures who exist across the species divide, on their own mysterious plane, can lift the spirit like nothing else. They graciously consent to enter our human lives, to understand our funny little ways, to do the peculiar things we ask of them. They do flying changes and forge out into the hills like frontier settlers and leap over daunting obstacles. And when their work is done, they rest with us and give us peace.

It was a thing of absolute beauty, and I shall remember it always.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

The Glorious Power of Friendship

I woke rather grumpy and sluggish after a night of odd dreams. Four hairdressers were fighting over my custom. They were all gloriously camp and funny and I adored them all and did not want to hurt their feelings by choosing one over another. I have no idea what this can mean. I cut my own hair with the kitchen scissors and dye it out of a box from the chemist. Perhaps my subconscious is trying to tell me it’s time to go to a professional.
Sometimes, when I wake in a rotten mood, I write the day off before it has begun. I don’t know if this is a mid-life thing, my raging hormones getting the better of me. Perhaps it is just life. Anyway, today was going to be a written-off day. I could tell, as I brushed my teeth, that it was not going to come to any good.
I took the red mare out for a ride only because I am still determined to find my debit card, which I lost in the woods. But then the day started to change its complexion. My grand thoroughbred was at her most charming, fascinating, characterful best. She was being funny and interesting and my heart began to rise in my chest. Then my dearest cousin rang up. You should not really talk on the telephone whilst riding a half-ton flight animal, but the mare was going along on a loose rein like a trail horse so I took the calculated risk.
The conversation danced and sang. We told each other stories of the old days, which made me laugh so much I almost fell off. I talked the dearest cousin through the ride through the woods, so she could see it in her mind as she sat on her southern train. She was passing Swindon, I was telling her of the dappled Scottish sunlight in the mossy groves. She talked about Chekhov, which made me absurdly happy because I had not thought about him for a long time and I was glad to be reminded of how much I love that old Russian. (I rushed straight home afterwards and looked up three of my favourite of his lines.)
And there it was. The day was redeemed. One grand mare and one glorious human had put my scratchy, fractured self back together again. I went at once to my desk and wrote 1472 words. I felt galvanised and inspired. The world was possible again.
My life, this blog, everything I love – all are now composed of the small things. And in a way, a telephone conversation in a sunlit wood is a very small thing indeed. But having a friend who can put you back together with baling twine and glue is a vast thing. Having a friend who has known you for thirty years and seen you through all the deaths and all the despairs and all the heartbreaks is a huge thing. Having a friend who believes in you is an extraordinary thing.
It’s such a sturdy, delightful, enhancing love. It’s not the thing of hearts and flowers, of wild romance and high drama. It does not make headlines or get written into epic films. It’s the enduring love of someone who is on your side, in your corner. It’s the love that can banish grumpiness and self-doubt with a wave of its kind, generous wand.
It never ceases to amaze me, the friend love. It’s like the red mare, in that way. It’s a part of my daily life, so regular and usual that I could almost take it for granted. There is my grand horse, there is my grand friend. And without asking for anything in return, they give me glittering gifts beyond compare. 

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

In Which the Universe Sends me a Present. Or, Turning the Negative into the Positive.

This is a very, very long story. You might want to get a nice cup of tea.

Last week, my poor old car catastrophically failed its MOT. Luckily, the Garage Man is used to me and  my peculiar ways, and accept that I run my perfectly nice Audi as if it were an ancient Landrover. It goes across muddy fields and up potholed tracks and it is full of timber, hay, and horse feed. There are two dandy brushes and a rather nice leather girth on the front seat. It is not a thing of beauty, and but it’s got a lot of poke, and that’s all I care about. So he smiled with understanding and set about putting the jalopy to rights. This morning, I had to go and pay for it. At which point, I discovered I had lost my debit card.
The critical voices fired up in my head, high on gin. What an idiot, they said. How many more times are you going to lose that card? What are you going to do now?
The last time I lost the card was in the set-aside. Luckily, it had just been snowing, so the little blue bit of plastic showed up against the white. A new blizzard was blowing in and I found it just in time. Then, I promised myself I would never, ever again put that card in my pocket. Yesterday, for no known reason, I put it in my pocket. Now it was not in the pocket.           

I stumped down to the horses, chastising myself. A friend had come to take the mares for a walk. ‘Right,’ I said. ‘We are on a mission. We have to go to the woods and see if we can find my debit card.’ I had a picture of it nestling in some mossy grove, like Hansel and Gretel.
My friend took this on the chin.
Off we went to the woods, the mares moseying along behind us on their long ropes. We retraced my steps. We scoured the ground. We went up by the golf course and ran into the postie. I told him all my troubles. He took my number and said he would keep an eye out and call if he saw the errant card. That’s my village, I thought. Everybody is ready to help.
Of course there was no sign of the stupid card. The critical voices were doing their drunken cackle again when I suddenly looked at my red mare. She had her head up and her ears pricked. I suddenly realised where we were. We were looking at the Evil Golfers on the Hill of Doom.
The Evil Golfers on the Hill of Doom were the villains of my last horse book. They had become emblematic of everything I had not yet achieved with my horse. I wrote about them with as much raw honesty as I could, but I could not exorcise them. They haunted me.           

I’ve worked for four years to get my mare confident and relaxed. I’ve taught her coping skills. I’ve concentrated on getting my own head right so I can give her all the trust and belief that she needs. Working a horse in this way is not a technical thing. It’s not flying changes and kick on. It’s a soul thing. I’ve watched her go from an unsettled, uncertain, reactive creature who could not deal with a puddle to an easy, peaceful person who gives rides to children. I feel absurdly proud of this.                

But one day we went up to the woods by the golf course and she saw the Evil Golfers and she completely wigged out. I could not comfort her. Those damn golfers were had a cunning plan to kidnap her herd and she would not be reassured.
The Evil Golfers stayed in my head like a nemesis. They were the visible marks of how I had failed my horse. If I was good enough, if I was empathetic enough, if I was clever enough, I should be able to convince her that the golfers were just ordinary humans who had no intention of committing grand larceny.
Yesterday, on account of the car being in the garage, I rode the three and a half miles to do my work at HorseBack, a local charity for which I volunteer. It’s a long old trek, and the mare dealt with it pretty well. But on the way home, she suddenly had an Evil Golfer moment. She lost all her confidence. I still don’t know what it was that upset her, but the world was suddenly too much. I had to think hard and act fast. I tried a few things and I got her back, in the end. In the end, we cantered all the way home on a loose rein.
I should have been very happy about that and in some ways I was. She is a complex character and she always asks me for my best self. I was pleased that I had been able to set her to rights. But in the dim light of the evening, I started having the Evil Golfer angst. She should not be getting frightened if I am doing my job properly. I was missing something. I would have to go back to the beginning again.
I was also afraid that I had been quite hard on her. I had listened to her and I had been empathetic and steady, but I had also been very firm. Perhaps I had been too firm. Maybe we had taken a huge step back.
And then, this morning, she looked up to the Hill of Doom, the place that had once had her unglued, and pricked her ears and had a little think. I could almost see the thoughts running through her head. ‘Ah,’ she said. ‘This was the place where the Evil Golfers hatched their evil plots. But I don’t think they are going any of that nonsense now.’ And she dropped her head, relaxed her ears, wibbled her bottom lip, and went into her Zen mistress mode.
I stared at her in astonishment. Yesterday, her heart had been beating like a big bass drum at a phantom I could not see and now she could deal with the Evil Golfers.
I whooped. I exclaimed. I flung my arms round her neck. I told her she was the bravest mare in the world.
My friend watched this with polite interest. I told her the whole saga of the Evil Golfers and the endless chorus of the critical voices.
‘The amazing thing is,’ I said, ‘is that if I had not lost that stupid debit card we would never have come this way and I would never have known that the red mare has conquered the Evil Golfers. It’s the best present in the world.’
I felt like Charlotte Dujardin breaking another world record. It sounds a bit bonkers, but this is beyond question the greatest achievement in my horsing life. I felt like I could do anything.
The kind friend walked back with me and took me to the garage where she generously offered to pay the bill. ‘I have no card,’ I said to the Garage Man. ‘But I have a friend.’
He smiled at me. It was not a problem. I could come in and settle up when I was back to rights. He really does know my funny little ways. He’s a very nice man and I felt a warm feeling of belonging. People are talking a lot about community at the moment, and how it can literally save your life. It’s more important to life expectancy than eating well or laying off the hooch. There are TED talks about it.
I had so much community this morning. I had my kind friend. I had the lovely postie. I had my little herd, who do not fear the golfers. I had the understanding Garage Man.
‘I don’t think that would happen,’ I said to my friend, ‘if I were living in the Finchley Road. I am part of this village. They know me here.’

They know me, and my mighty horse knows me. She knows I won’t let the Evil Golfers get her. She could not have given me a greater gift than that conviction. 


Blog Widget by LinkWithin