Wednesday, 31 July 2013

All about Dawn Approach

It is Sussex Day. My heart beats like a big brass drum. Even as I run around, down to ride the mare (our best one yet, leaving me smiling so hard I thought my head would fall off), up to HorseBack for my work there, back to the computer to put on a respectable day’s word count, my mind is filled with Dawn Approach.

I love Toronado. He is just the stamp of horse I like: fierce, clever, strong, burly – a real competitor. At the time of the Guineas, I rather hoped he might stage an upset. But as the season has gone on, my heart, which was won last year by Dawn Approach in his two-year-old incarnation, has gone back to him. It was that awful moment in the Derby, and the courage he showed when he came out so quickly after that debacle, and lit up the Royal Meeting at Ascot. He won that day on heart and character as much as talent, and that is why today I shall be roaring his name.

He has a very slight look of Red. Well, he is chestnut, and he has a white blaze. He is of course related to her through the Northern Dancer line. I can’t tell you how glorious she was this morning; the kindest, sweetest, most relaxed ride. As I slid off and stood with her for a moment, in quiet and gratitude, I told her that I would be watching her cousin later in the day. She nodded and looked at me out of the corner of her quizzical eye. She often looks at me as if to say: I’ll just let the old girl do her thing. She quite obviously thinks that the thing is sometimes a little peculiar, but she is too polite to say so.

Up at HorseBack, the filly foal is galloping round the field as if she is practising for the Sussex herself. In the round pen, men for whom a night’s sleep is a dreamt-of luxury (PTSD, like Macbeth, murders sleep) are smiling with almost disbelieving delight as the dear quarter horses they work with perform quiet miracles for them. It’s a good day for the equines.

But only one equine champion fills my mind now. I want Dawn Approach to blaze, to stamp his class, to make the crowds gasp and roar. He is today’s great love, the one that makes my idiot old heart beat. I shall be shouting his shining name.


Just time for some very quick pictures:

This girl was very wonderful at HorseBack this morning. She made a veteran who has been through things I can’t imagine very, very happy:

31 July 1

The foal, going like the blazes:

31 July 2

My ivy. Bet you weren’t expecting ivy:

31 July 3

My champion girl:

31 July 4-002

Giving me The Look:

31 July 4-001

The hill:

31 July 4

Happy trails, my darlings. May all your horses win.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

No time to blog

It is Glorious Goodwood and the Galway Festival, so something has to give. Turns out it is the blog. How ruthless I am. The spirit of my galloping, punting father lives strong in me just now.

Today was: Red the Mare, sweetness, riding, learning of thrilling new things, Stanley the Dog, HorseBack, work, work, work, RACING, work, and finally – there will never be time for the blog. The Dear Readers, I think, hopefully, will understand.

As I watch Red’s relations stream over the undulating green turf, I think how funny it is that she was such a hopeless racehorse. With all her mighty breeding, she just trundled round at the back. This morning, she was as dear and docile and gentle as she has ever been. She listened quietly to every question I asked her and the answer came back yes. Yesterday, she was fiery and remembering every inch of her thoroughbred ancestry. But today, she was all stillness, as if every dancing atom in her beautiful, athletic, muscled body was at peace with itself.

When you are with a mare you love and she is in that place of utter peace, there is no feeling on earth like it. It is a gift beyond diamonds.

No wonder she was useless at racing. How she must have hated it. What she really, really likes is having one person, with whom she may gently grow. She likes affection and attention and being read like a fascinating book. She likes to stand, and be. I like to stand with her.

If she were a human, she would be one of those ones who always remembers to stop and smell the flowers. She would make other humans smile, involuntarily, before they could stop themselves. She is beauty, all the way through, from her pretty face to her glorious heart.

My fancies at Goodwood are all getting beaten hollow (although I should say that I had a perfectly splendid first night at Galway yesterday, mostly thanks to the Mullins family and the very wonderful Wicklow Brave) but I don’t care because the real punt was taking home the red mare on a complete whim, and that one pays out every single day.


This is what she looks like as she mooches through the thistle patch when I whistle:

30 July 1

30 July 2

You do see.

Monday, 29 July 2013

The seas of the internet continue stormy. But there are shining shafts of light.

I have, as usual, yet another secret project. I am always starting secret projects and then getting distracted and letting them lapse. This morning, I write 1079 words of this one and wonder whether I shall stick with it. It is a long-term project, and I love it, but I am not certain if it will come to anything. Still, some imperative drives me on, and I blindly obey.

Then I must turn to the other work of the day, attempt to get my house in order as the family begins to gather for the highland games, and do some particularly knotty and rather dispiriting admin. I hate admin because I am very bad at it, and it reminds me keenly of my own glaring shortcomings. (Why, why, why can’t I be one of the Organised People?)

In the midst of all this, the internet still throws up its outrages. A writer I follow is being pestered by a nasty Twitter troll; not violent or abusive, but unkind and persistent. The writer, not surprisingly, feels sad and beleaguered. Hannah Bettss writes a measured and sane response to the whole Caroline Criado-Perez saga, and expands it to encompass the amount of abuse that many female writers get when they venture online. Beneath the piece, in the comments section, on the august Telegraph, that elegant old lady of Fleet Street, one man writes that ‘Speaking for myself I abhor the notion of violence towards women, but that doesn't change the fact that I wish, most of the time, that they'd just shut the hell up. Women talk too much. They always have, and they probably always will.’ Another instructs that feminists should lock themselves up with their dildos. To the Telegraph’s credit, this comment was later moderated, and the dildo part removed.

Oh dear, I thought, demoralised. All my vain beliefs in the goodness and kindness of strangers were tottering and rocking under a wave of general crossness and intemperance.

And then, an enchanting thing happened. There is a woman I got to know online who works for a big and ancient and storied organisation. I had the pleasure of meeting her in real life this spring, and I follow her both in her professional capacity (she organises, very brilliantly, the entire online life of her important organisation) and in her personal incarnation on Twitter. We share a love of thoroughbreds and racing, and it proves a delightful bond.

Today, she put up a particularly enchanting picture on Facebook which made me smile through all my fraught stressiness. I sent a little comment, saying how much it had cheered me. And she replied that she had been thinking of me when she posted, and had hoped this might be the effect.

In the rush and dash of the worldwide web, this is a fleeting act of kindness. It would not make headlines or put a dent in the furious rows which are currently raging about online life. But to me, it was a shaft of light and reason and goodness and sanity in a mad world. I WAS NOT WRONG. Look, there, there, is the good heart, the thoughtful pause in a busy day, the moment of blazing generosity. This is the lifebelt which keeps me afloat on a stormy sea.

I’m not saying the sea is not stormy. I’m not so Pollyanna-ish as all that. I may cling to a kind of defiant naivety, but I am not an idiot. What I do say is that the lifebelts are there, the small boats, the brave little fleets that sail out into the teeth of a gale. And there are enough of them to make a difference.


The fraughtness continues, and the time management does not improve, so no time for the camera today. Just one picture, especially dedicated to my kind online friend. You know who you are. And a picture of my duchess, with her goofy face on, reaching over the fence to get the tips of the lush long grass is my best thank you.

29 July 1 29-07-2013 12-42-57

Oh, that face is saying: the absolute, sheer, absurd DELICIOUSNESS of the long green grass.


And one more thought before I go. Sometimes, in the clamour of the internet, one may feel shy to say something nice, or complimentary, or plain encouraging. The person does not need to hear from me, you may think. I often do. I am oddly bashful about offering words of kindness. Perhaps it is the British in me. Perhaps I am afraid they may come across as mildly patronising even. Oh, well done, pat on the head, blah blah.

But you know what I think? Risk it. Say the thing. If in doubt, write the kindness. Put up the picture of a sweet foal for your friend who loves foals, even if half the rest of your more urban followers will think you an idiot. (I did this yesterday. I know my friend in Brooklyn will have been rolling his eyes. But my friend in Norfolk was in transports.)

Because the only way to counter the mean voices is not to challenge them directly – they will shout back at you even louder and call you names, because their bitterness and misery is too deeply rooted – but to lift your own voice in generosity. It’s like a good choir belting out show tunes to drown out the sound of death metal. If there are enough determined singers, then Oh What a Beautiful Morning wins.

And that is my thought for the day.

Well, that, and: fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Love, hate and Twitter. Or, the good and bad of the internet.

Yesterday, someone called me a pompous, sanctimonious arse.

I was ill for three days; that is why there has been radio silence. There was a fairly ordinary state of health one moment, and then – hit all over with hammers. It’s that kind of thing when you can hardly move or speak, just groan. It made me think of how I take health for granted. I always say of course, of course it’s the most precious thing, but I’m not sure I really stop to appreciate the actual truth of that. When your entire body hurts and you can’t move, nothing is worth anything. You could have a cellar full of rubies downstairs, and it would not matter a damn. I thought of all those people who struggle with chronic pain every day of their lives, and felt very small and very grateful.

Anyway, it’s a Sunday, so I’m going to tell you a rambling story. Yesterday, I was a bit better, but still very tottery, so I lay in bed with my swimmy head and Stanley the Dog gazing at me with his best Florence Nightingale eyes, and watched the racing. I still get rather grumpy with Channel 4 for aspects of their coverage – they have the maddening habit of putting banging, non-specific music over all their montages and even across Clare Balding saying interesting things about the history of Ascot, almost drowning out her accomplished words – but I do appreciate that they allow me to watch the racing live on their website. (I have no television in the bedroom.) It was good racing and even though my eyeballs felt like boiled sweets I was enjoying it.

A mighty German horse called Novellist absolutely hosed up in the big race of the day, under the great Johnny Murtagh, and, because it is that time of year, all thoughts turned to the Arc.

Twitter is fascinating in its sociological and cultural make-up. Quite unexpectedly, the racing community has adopted it wholesale, and you will find everyone there from jockeys to betting shop managers to clerks of the course to work riders. One of my favourite Twitter friends turns out to be the head of Coral, which I find rather grand. It’s clever too; he is so nice that I now bet with Coral as well as with William Hill, which is my default account.

So, immediately after the race, where the classy French horse, Cirrus des Aigles, underperformed, and the German horse smashed the track record, a great post-mortem broke out. One gentleman got very shouty and I suddenly could not deal with it, in my weakened state. Instead of sensibly just unfollowing him, I announced it.

This is the danger of social media. It’s in its infancy, and the rules and mores and small etiquettes are still being worked out. Also, I find that when I am in a Twitter storm, which happens usually during sporting events, I often type before I think. I get into a zone, and everything goes public. Some of my kind followers find this faintly diverting, but sometimes it is dangerous.

I did not mention the gentleman by name. I just wrote something like: ‘Am unfollowing cross people. Too weak.’

The cross people clearly knew who they were. Back came the reply: ‘Good riddance.’ Hm, I thought, mazily. Ungracious. I pondered what to do. He is a stranger, and I generally do not have conversations with him; the online ones who have the power to hurt are those with whom one has struck up a relationship. I was not wounded, but perhaps my pride, or something, was a little dented. Foolishly, I wrote another tweet. It went something like: ‘Don’t take it personally, cross people. Festivals of crossness must not be stopped. Just not my thing. Each to each.’

I admit, this was a bit passive-aggressive. The rational part of me knows that some people find a bit of expressed fury marvellously cathartic and invigorating. I believe ardently that speech must not be shut down. On a purely subjective level though, I really do hate it. I do wish that everyone was polite and minded their Ps and Qs. So I was being a little disingenuous. If I had been entirely honest, I would have said: oh, for God’s sake, Cross Person, stop being so grumpy and shouty and rude. I was especially narked because he was shouting at another racing person whom I rather like, and for not much reason.

And that was when he got really cross. ‘You are a pompous sanctimonious arse,’ he wrote.

Well, I thought, that’s that. I went back to the racing, and felt happy as clever, canny Sir Mark Prescott, one of most idiosyncratic characters in the whole of racing, had a quickfire double, with two tremendous, doughty campaigners, Big Thunder and Alcaeus, both of whom are on an unstoppable winning streak. I had them in doubles and trebles and a fivefold accumulator, and I won a shed-load of money, even with my viral load, and I felt that that would show the cross person.

But it’s slightly scratched away at me ever since. I was not hurt, because, as I have discovered online, you need to have built up a degree of intimacy for a sudden attack to hit the target. I am vulnerable on the blog, and on my Facebook page, but not to random Tweeters. On the other hand, there was a part of me that really did want to punish that rude person for being so disobliging and intemperate. I wanted to smack him back and hang him out to dry, even though I knew that would be ridiculous, and the only thing to do was gently move on.

Just as I was examining all these feelings, I came, rather late, to the saga of the Jane Austen hate club. I don’t know if you have followed this story. A woman called Caroline Criado-Perez started a campaign to get dear Jane on the British banknotes, and succeeded, and all was lovely, until she started getting a vicious, concerted set of tweets, some of them containing rape threats.

This put my little spat in perspective. I at once went over to sign a petition for Twitter to put up a Report Abuse button, so that these kind of haters can be dealt with. This felt meaningful and pointful, and I forgot my own tiny pinprick.

The whole thing made me think again about the nature of life online. I choose to regard the internet as a benign place, and treat it as such. Most of my blogs and tweets and Facebook posts are positive; I try to resist the temptation to let my inner bitch come out and dance. I feel I should confine her to the privacy of my own room. Unless Channel 4 Racing drives me to a pitch of distraction, which I admit it sometimes does, I attempt to emphasise the positive and skip over the negative.

In particular, when writing racing tweets, I have a very strict rule not to criticise jockeys, even if they do make a hash of a race, because I grew up with a jockey and I know damn well that even the most brilliant will have an off moment, run into traffic, misjudge the pace, and that they will be far too busy criticising themselves to have any need for outside help. Besides, I suspect that the armchair jocks have absolutely no idea what it must be like to have to make split-second decisions whilst going at forty miles an hour on half a ton of youthful thoroughbred, perched on a saddle the size of a postage stamp.

Generally, I find that I get back what I put in. At the very same time the cross man was calling me names, another lovely gent, with whom I have bonded over our mutual love of lurchers, was sending messages of ineffable funniness and sweetness. The good and bad were marching there together, and I chose to let the good win.

But I am perhaps a little naive, even wilfully so. As the blameless Caroline Criado-Perez found, you can do something which seems utterly ordinary and uncontroversial, and suddenly insane people are threatening to violate your very body.

As always, I’m never quite sure what to make of all this. I shall bash on in my hopeful view of the online world, because 90% of it is charming and funny and illuminating and generous and kind. I get glimpses of other lives, radically different from my own. I get sudden belly laughs from complete strangers when I am feeling low. People I shall never meet ask after Stanley the Dog. Properly useful information is shared. There really is wit, and quite often wisdom too.

There are moving collective outpourings, such as the very touching concern for St Nicholas Abbey, as he recovers from a life-threatening injury and two complicated surgeries. He is a great horse, not much known to the general public, but hugely beloved by racing aficionados, and the hope for his welfare touches my heart.

If the price I pay for this is the occasional sanctimonious arse, I think I may count myself lucky.

As for the real, vicious haters, the ones who attack women from behind the craven cloak of anonymity, the interesting thing about them is they do seem far outnumbered. The majority has risen up against them, pointed the finger and said no. They may never go away. We shall never know what private miseries and bitternesses drive them to their own twisted outpourings. But I do know this: they shall not prevail.


Today’s pictures:

Pouring with rain outside and still too tottery for pictures, so here are some quick beloveds:

Stanley the Dog does not give a bugger about the internet, BECAUSE HE HAS A GREAT BIG STICK:

28 July 1 23-07-2013 15-46-45

And now he is going to look for another one. You can’t keep a good dog down:

28 July 2 23-07-2013 15-47-23

And Red the Mare, after our last lovely ride, thinks only of the green, green grass:

28 July 3 24-07-2013 10-00-58

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

No time

The hours have defeated me. There just are not enough of them. Also, there is a bug going round the village and I can feel it trying to get me, its crabbed old fingers stretching and clutching at my poor body. Bastard. I cannot be ill. I have too many responsibilities. I shall dose with Echinacea and iron tonic and chicken soup and, if that fails, bottles of whisky. The bugger shall rue the day.

Just time for two very important pieces of equine news:


24 July 1 24-07-2013 14-16-52

She just figured it out yesterday. She is so overcome with delight at this new skill that she suddenly takes off, zooming round the field like a barrel racer, squealing with delight as she goes. Then she stops and stares at us, incredibly pleased with herself, asking DID YOU SEE THAT????

Her dear, calm mum, who has seen it all before, looks at her as if to say: steady on, small person, don’t run before you can walk. But the two-week-old filly foal will not be quelled. Two, three, four times she makes the circuit, at top speed, cornering as if she is on rails. Then comes the Look at Me whinny again, which is hysterical, because she may be fast, but she has not worked out the voice thing at all. The whinny comes out pitched high, rather ragged, completely unsyncopated. It slightly startles her, because it is clearly not the sound she intended, and she takes on a thoughtful look, as if she knows she must go back to the drawing board.

There is something irresistibly comical about her. If she were a human, she would be Lucille Ball.


And then there was my own mare, who was at her peak and crest of delightfulness and dearness this morning. We did extended walk, quick transitions, yielding the hindquarters, backing one foot at a time. I am teaching her all this on a long rein, hardly using my hands at all. It’s coming from the body. The idea is to teach her to stretch out her neck, which would have been carried taut and high most of her working life, and develop a new set of long, low muscles. She learns so quickly, and pays such good attention, and is so willing to give me a try, even when she is not entirely sure what I am asking, that it makes me want to explode with pride and gratitude.

After her brilliant work, I got off and stood with her for a while, just communing. She put her head on my chest and we contemplated the green world.

I love her every day, but there are times when the love is so intense that I can’t find words for it, when I think that my beating old heart will just lift off into the ether, and float away into the blue sky. This was one of those days.

24 July 2 24-07-2013 10-02-05

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The bells ring; or, in which I refuse to be a cynic.

The day escaped me. There was a lot of loveliness and a lot of rushing about. My beautiful mare had her back done by a brilliant woman. Red was at her sweetest, kindest and best, and it makes my heart sing that now she shall be free from tension and muscle strain.

I have no time for writing now, hardly time for thought. I am still finishing my day’s work and trying to write this blog at the same time. But I did have one thought. It is: I am singingly glad that the bells rang out, and there was a forty-one gun salute, and that the band of the Scots Guards played Congratulations for the royal baby.

I was oddly touched by a picture of happy people waiting outside a London hospital door, sheltering under practical British umbrellas, holding out banners of celebration. The sneerers will sneer, and the mockers will mock, but I think they reveal themselves as nothing more than snobs. They think they are being frightfully clever and egalitarian, wheeling out their republican complaints and their buckets of cold water. What they are really saying is – you, you idiot crowds, you sheep-like rejoicers, are less discerning, less clever, more easily gulled than we are. We, we sophisticates and intellects, see through the flim-flam, the absurdity, the paper-thin circus, to what really matters. You are just being fooled by bread and circuses.

I’m with the Ordinary Decent Britons on this one. I think it is enchanting to have a day of national delight. I’m all for collective celebration. A young prince is born; let the trumpets ring.

Of course it is an oddity to be born a princeling; of course it makes little rational sense. But it is stitched into the national tapestry; it has echoes of Shakespeare in it. It is a happy, gaudy, historical absurdity, and it brings joy in its wake, and I never, ever look the gift horse of joy in the mouth.

If you dissect anything too much, you can reduce it to flimsy. Cricket is nothing more than five long days with a bat and a ball, with rules no one can understand, with commentators saying ‘my dear old thing’, with silly mid-ons and leg before wicket. Yet it brings the same wild uprush of happiness.

A new life has arrived, and if he gets forty-one guns blasting off in Hyde Park instead of a bunch of petrol station carnations, I say hurrah for that. Sometimes I think being a cynic is a cop-out; it’s a defensive crouch, a cheap shot, a drawing back. Expressing uncomplicated enthusiasm is more of an emotional challenge, because it lays you open to mockery; balloons exist to be burst.

The bells are ringing now, as I write this last sentence. I smile as I hear them. Let them ring.


No energy left for proper pictures now. Just a very small selection:

This HorseBack mare is called Red. I love her. She worked her magic on a visitor this afternoon:

23 July 1 23-07-2013 14-16-11

Stanley the very Manly has a sodding big stick:

23 July 2 23-07-2013 15-46-43

And he’s off to find another one, EVEN BIGGER:

23 July 3 23-07-2013 15-48-02

The HorseBack foal:

23 July 4 22-07-2013 15-12-09

A delphinium:

23 July 5 22-07-2013 18-04-00

My own ridiculously beloved Red, never afraid to look goofy, even with her own excessively posh bloodlines:

23 July 6 20-07-2013 10-18-48

23 July 7 20-07-2013 10-20-45

If she were a human, she would be a princess, and I let off metaphorical 41 gun salutes for her in my head every day.

Monday, 22 July 2013

This land

Warning: crazed insomnia last night, so there is a very real danger none of this may make any sense at all.


I read something today about how humans miss the natural world without even knowing what it is they lack. Most people in Britain live in cities or towns. Cities are glorious, thrilling things. I think they are good things, because they must surely decrease fear of The Other. The Other is there every day, in the streets, on the tube, waiting for the bus. Insularity must be more difficult, in that great melting pot. And there is culture and entertainment and architecture and all the other sophisticated pleasures of which city life is made. When I lived in London, I loved her like a sister. I used to refuse invitations to go away for the weekend because I wanted to mooch about in the sunny streets of Soho, or go to a double bill at The Electric. I wanted smoke and pavements.

People still think it mildly eccentric that I should live so far north, so deep in the hills, at such a distance from the theatre and good Chinese food. But I’ve been thinking about the whole love and trees thing (and love of trees), which is probably why the article on missing the earth caught my eye.

I struggle, as does every sentient human in the middle of life, with all kinds of frets, profound and superficial. I battle with mortality. I worry about all the usual things: money, death, illness, work. I feel the mid-life regret at the scattering of friends. Some live very far away, across wide oceans. Some are only in the south, but might as well be in Ulan Bator. It’s logistically demanding to get a family of four onto an aeroplane to Aberdeen for the weekend. We rely on the fact that we can pick up where we left off, because we have twenty years of hinterland behind us. But still, I miss them.

And yet, for all the frets, I am mostly cheerful. I am occasionally haunted by the spectres of loss, but I do not wake every morning with the black dog of despair snapping at my heels. I read something lately too about depression, the proper kind, not the mild down-in-the-mouth to which people sometimes carelessly apply the word. This was about the real thing, the kind that makes the sufferer feel as if they are in a dank, slimy pit and may never climb out. I feel incredibly blessed that I do not have to crawl out of that pit. Even among all the worries and fears, I find daily joy. I laugh a lot, often at myself. I have a lot of love. I love my mare, I love my family, I love my dog.

I wonder, suddenly, whether this oddly cheery resilience is lent to me by the place itself. I know I bang on about the hills, but it does lift the spirit to see them each day. I regard green things, growing things, ancient earthed things. On Saturday night I sat outside under a venerable stand of oaks and ate sausages and drank beer. It was the glorious trees that gave the evening its savour. I walk on grass and smell clean air. I hear birdsong. I watch the swallows fling and play, as they teach their young ones the mastery of aerodynamics. I stare at lichen and dry stone walls and bark. I happily observe the sheep.

Everyone, even the most fortunate human, needs a little help. Life is baffling and inexplicable and sorrows are inevitable. No one may insulate themselves from loss and heartache. Everyone needs an existential walking stick, to negotiate the rocky paths. I think this dear old land is my stick. Perhaps that is why I show you the daily pictures of it. Look, look, I am saying: this is what saves me.

I think far too much, always have. This is a good thing, and a bad thing. Too much thinking can lead to despair. There are too many unfairnesses, tragedies, inexplicable cruelties, for one paltry mind to reconcile. Love and trees, my darlings, love and trees. And hills and sheep. And Stanley and Red, out in the gentle Scottish air, where they may stretch and play and become one with the majestic landscape they inhabit.


Today’s pictures are a little selection from the past few days. No time for the camera today. I’ve been doing actual work, 1648 words of it. Something, as always, has to give.

In random order:

22 July 1 19-07-2013 07-59-20

22 July 2 19-07-2013 09-03-14

22 July 3 19-07-2013 10-07-03

22 July 4 18-07-2013 12-13-05

22 July 5 18-07-2013 12-38-50

22 July 6 17-07-2013 12-46-22

22 July 7 15-07-2013 12-07-04

22 July 9 11-07-2013 12-22-35

22 July 10 11-07-2013 12-23-15

22 July 12 10-07-2013 13-10-51

22 July 14 10-07-2013 13-56-32

22 July 16 07-07-2013 18-20-26

22 July 17 07-07-2013 18-20-50

22 July 20 09-07-2013 12-30-50

Sunday, 21 July 2013

A quiet Sunday dream

The smallest, sweetest, quietest, most private thing: a Sunday ride through the green grass, with my horse and my dog.

The dog is a novel addition. Usually, he does not come with. He can get fractious and excitable when I put the mare into a trot on the ground. When I get up on her, his separation anxiety reaches a fighting pitch. Today, everything was so slow and low-key – it was not as if I were going for A Ride, I was just getting on and ambling about – I thought I would let him roam and see what happened. The horses are so used to him now that if he jumps and freaks they merely raise their heads and look down their elegant noses at him. I could get off and put him in a place of safety if it all went Pete Tong.

But as the red mare and I moved off down the wide grassy track, another calm russet figure trotted at our heels. I turned. He looked up at me, grinning. Yeah, he said, that’s all just absolutely completely fine.

We wandered down to the end where the cows browse on the farther slope. ‘Stanley,’ I said. ‘Don’t go near the cows.’ Stanley did not go near the cows. He turned and followed, in step with the horse.

I put Red into a trot. Stanley the Dog broke into a lope.

I had seen pictures of this, I suddenly realised. For some reason, I think they are in places like Africa, out on some veld or other. It’s a vague sense memory.

I always felt envious when I saw people who could go out with their horse and their hound. My antic sight-dog, I always thought, would forever be too barky and leapy to do that faithful heel-trot. It turns out I was wrong. Without it being a big thing, the impossible happened, and there I was, with my two best beloveds, on a little veld of my very own, living the dream.

I laugh as I write that. It’s such a very, very small dream. It’s not winning the pools, or being awarded a glittering prize, or making the headlines. But I suppose the really good dreams are the ones you can achieve on a quiet, sunshiny, Scottish Sunday, with no one there to watch or clap.

The small private dreams are potent, because they really can come true.

The mare was lovely, and happy. We did a lot of ambling, on the end of a loose rein, because I think of all that hard racing and polo work she did in her previous lives, and I want ambling to go into her muscle memory.

We practised moving one foot at a time. She can do this on the ground, in her sleep; now we are doing it under the saddle. It has utility; it will be brilliant should we ever go out into the wilds and find a tight spot or a tricky gate. But the truth is, I love teaching her that for its own sake.

‘Back one,’ I say, giving her a little signal, and she moves a discrete foot. She is so damn clever, I want to shout, to the hills.

It is a movement so minute as to be hardly discernible, yet it fills me joy. It’s hard to describe in words. It’s the stillness and ease and kind responsiveness of it that delights. It’s like dancing a Jane Austen quadrille.

We did a slow trot and a fast trot and a little canter and some fast, tight turns. Barrel racing, I whooped, in my head.

We had fun. It would win no rosettes, but it was lovely. I wanted to write it because it was one of those things that is contained and entire and perfect in and of itself. It exists for nothing else except to exist; two hours of intense, plain pleasure and communion.

It’s easy to think everything has to be for something: to prove something, signify something. I’m always looking for significance. This just was what it was: three sentient creatures in a green field, having a nice time.

I wanted to record that.


The Best Beloveds:

21 July 1 20-07-2013 10-21-38

21 July 2 20-07-2013 10-24-41

21 July 3 20-07-2013 10-25-49

21 July 4 06-07-2013 09-48-41

21 July 4 07-07-2013 18-20-07

21 July 5 07-07-2013 18-22-02

21 July 7 07-07-2013 18-21-59

21 July 8 03-07-2013 11-40-53

The quiet green field, where the loveliness happened:

21 July 10 20-07-2013 10-23-54

21 July 11 20-07-2013 10-21-46

21 July 12 20-07-2013 10-20-38

Friday, 19 July 2013

A quiet Friday

Ha. After spending all week telling my students about how they may drive off the dark, destructive critical voices, defy The Fear, and believe in their own true selves, I spent all last night tossing and turning, convinced that every single word I wrote here about writing was utter buggery bollocks. The irony elves were busy in the small hours, the little tinkers.

It’s probably because bone-tiredness has set in. I have used up all my energy, so today I am going to sit very still, with a bottle of iron tonic and Test Match Special on at full volume. The voice of Blowers will restore me to sanity and calm.

The dear mare gave me a restorative morning too. Even though the sun started to beat hard from the moment I woke, the set-aside was still cool and shady. We have new neighbours; the sheep have been moved into the high east field, and are wandering and calling as they get used to their new home. I had a long, soothing chat with the farmer this morning. One of his girls was in distress on Wednesday, and I got a message to him so that he could come and get her, and before breakfast he roared up in his dark blue Landrover to thank me. ‘Is she all right, your ewe?’ I asked, concerned. I am very fond of these sheep. The good news is that it was a vitamin B thing, and she will be fine. I love talking to the farmer. I love people who do good things on the land, people who know livestock and weather patterns and are rooted in the earth.

After that lovely beginning, I went down to Red, who is finding the savage sun all a bit too much. She has a heat rash, so I cooled her off with buckets of water, and a little witch hazel, and spent fifteen minutes soothing her poor coat. She does a very touching thing when I do things like this for her. Whether I am anointing a scratch with wound cream, or applying citronella for the flies, or giving her this water treatment, she seems to know that I am doing something for her. She submits with a sort of gentle gratitude, standing very still, offering me her head, looking at me with soft eyes. I am almost certainly making this up in my addled brain, and she is not thinking anything at all. She is a horse, after all. But it does often feel as if she understands that I am here to help.

Then I let her out into the wide set-aside for a pick at the lush grass. I used to take her out on a rope, but now I let her wander freely. She is not going anywhere, and comes at once when I whistle. It was an enchanted thing, watching her find her way through the shady trees, searching out the most delicious patch of grass. She was her most peaceful, equine self, at one with her surroundings; just a horse, at home in a green world.

Neither of us is going to do any work today. We are going to have a lovely Friday holiday. We are just going to be.


Today’s pictures:

19 July 1 19-07-2013 10-06-59

19 July 2 19-07-2013 09-15-31

19 July 3 19-07-2013 07-59-10

The farmer, on the right, coming to have a morning chat:

19 July 4 19-07-2013 07-59-28

Red’s blissful morning:

19 July 10 19-07-2013 09-01-02

19 July 11 19-07-2013 08-58-30

Look at that happy face:

19 July 11 19-07-2013 08-59-11

Do you want me to come now?

19 July 14 19-07-2013 08-58-34

The hill:

19 July 20 19-07-2013 10-07-10

Housekeeping note:

It has been brought to my attention that there are Dear Readers who have broadband that is less than whizzy, and find the blog slow to download, on account of the pictures. I love putting up lots of photographs, so you can see the full Scottish beauty. On the other hand, I imagine it must drive you mad, waiting waiting waiting, for the damn thing to appear on your screen. I’m not quite sure how to resolve this. Too tired to work it out today, but those of you who are seasoned bloggers might have ideas.

In the meantime, have a lovely, sunny Friday. And if you are cricket fans, fingers crossed. Australia about to bat.


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