I sometimes dream of those sanguine, swaggery people, who bowl through life, laughing at the blows. I wonder what it would be like to be those people. I yearn to be those people. I wonder: do those people actually exist, or are they only real in the winding corridors of my mind?
On Twitter this morning, someone called me prejudiced. I defended myself as politely as I could, but he kept coming. He was convinced that I was a prejudiced person, as surely as if he spoke to me every morning. He is a complete stranger. I have never communicated with him in my life. He got prejudiced from one jokey tweet.
Over the years, I’ve learnt some pretty good internet resilience. I have all kinds of mental tricks. I am sometimes quite proud of these. I am not sanguine or swaggery, but I had to teach myself to toughen up a bit for the hurly burly of social media. Today, all my good tricks deserted me. I felt profoundly shocked and hurt.
I was rather dismayed. Can I really be such a wimp and a weed? I was having a lovely morning, dreaming of Might Bite winning the Gold Cup, and I allowed one unknown human to wreck it. I felt shaky and hollow.
I took a deep step backwards. Perhaps I cared so much because he was secretly right. Perhaps I think I have this tremendous open mind, when in fact, as I get older, I am allowing calcified prejudice to snap that mind shut. Perhaps I have fallen into lazy thinking and cheap assumptions, all the things I hate. Perhaps I’ve been talking a good game all this time, and, underneath, nasty little bigotries have been making their smug and cosy nests.
I thought about this for a long time. I should be thinking about what is going to win the Foxhunters’; instead, I was furiously examining my brain for bugs. It’s exhausting. But perhaps I should thank that man for not letting me slide into complacency.
Perhaps the blow hurt so much because Cheltenham hurls me into a storm of emotion. By the fourth day, I have no reserves and certainly no defences. It always makes me think of my father, and miss him more than usual. My old uncle died on Saturday, and that gave the melancholy feeling of the end of an era. It was his time and he had run his race and he went in grand style, but it is very sad, all the same.
It’s only the third Cheltenham without my mother. I used to collect her Racing Post each morning, deliver it to her, cook her a sustaining breakfast, and listen to her talk with joy of Ruby and Annie and all her other favourite horses and humans. She would tell me tales of Arkle, and Vincent O’Brien, and Michael Scudamore, and Fred Winter, and Dave Dick. She had known well the giants of the game, and she remembered them all with spreading fondness. One of the saddest days after she died was the day I went into the shop and told the sympathetic ladies that the Racing Post order was now for one.
It’s not just loss, this week. It’s that I can’t ever tell myself it’s only a horse race. I fall in love with these brave, beautiful, brilliant thoroughbreds as if they were my own. When Katie Walsh cried in front of the cameras as she spoke of seeing her brother with his broken leg, I felt her love and worry as if she were part of my own family. I feel for the small trainers, up against the big boys. Yesterday, the bonny Sam Spinner carried the flag for the little guys. He bowled along with his ears pricked, as if knowing that he was there for something special. When he was swamped by the chasing pack, my heart cracked. Yet nothing awful happened. He ran with honour and he’ll be home now, in his stable, happily eating his hay. He’ll be back. He is still a glorious horse with dazzling talent and courage.He'll fly the flag on another day.
I’m trying to teach myself not to mind too much. This lesson is not going that well. I have literally lost my voice from shouting my loves home, and I feel as if I have nothing left in the tank. I’m running on fumes. And this is my holiday. This is supposed to be fun. I’m going to need a holiday to get over my holiday. There will have to be medicinal amounts of green soup and iron tonic.
But then, I believe in passion. I believe in love. I believe in going all in. There’s a price to pay, in raw vulnerability, but I’m starting to understand that vulnerability is a good thing. It’s not an easy thing or a comfortable thing, but I think it’s an important thing. Caring about something with every fibre of your being is quite tiring, but indifference must be a long, slow erosion of the spirit. Perhaps the price is worth paying.