Saturday, 31 August 2013

Edward and Stanley

Last week, the Mother and Stepfather took delivery of Edward the Puppy, a Norwich Terrier. You might have thought that Stanley the Dog would have been a bit disconcerted or jealous or growly or territorial. You might have thought tiny Edward would be freaked out by enormous, leaping Stanley. Not a bit of it. They fell in love at first sight and now spend every morning playing games of their own fiendish devising. Edward likes to stand on his hind legs and shadow box Stanley with his little fat paws. Stanley enjoys rolling Edward over and over with his nose.

This morning, there was a new game. You shall see.

They started off with traditional sniffing and exploring:

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Then, having a rumble, as my friend M always puts it:

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Pause for thought:

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And the inception of the new game. This is entirely invented by Stanley the Dog. It involves doing top greyhound speed in perfect circles, and JUMPING over Edward in the process:

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Edward gets the gist quickly, and lies very, very still:

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Stanley: ‘Look what I DID!!!’ Edward: ‘I’m just going to stay here for a bit, if you don’t mind.’:

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The good companions:

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As you know, for some improbable reason I can’t quite identify, everyone on this blog, even the animals, get special pseudonyms. Privacy, I suppose. Stanley was the first person to appear under his own name, because it was so splendid. Edward too gets the same treatment. Mostly because I love the sound of Edward and Stanley. It makes me think of two old-school gents, with bowlers and rolled-up umbrellas.

Friday, 30 August 2013

A little tangent for a Friday afternoon.

A lot of wisdom and kindness from the Dear Readers this week. One of my favourite Twitter gentlemen, a fellow racing fanatic, asked me yesterday how I do a blog every day. (Well, not quite every day, but pretty close.) I replied that I could only thank my weirdly obsessive nature.

I like doing it. It is not for money or fame or the ghastly idea of building the brand, which it seems everyone must do now. It is a marking of the days, a recording of my beloved Small Things, a small existential stamping. Yes, yes; here I was.

And yet, there is an oddness too. I feel a very faint bat’s squeak of obligation. This is nuts, of course, but sometimes I do not fight my nuttier imperatives. This audience has settled into a small and exceptionally select band. I can’t tell you the pleasure it gives me when I see a comment from some of the old faithfuls, who have been with me since the beginning. I also glean particular joy from the international correspondents. You come here, and give me the gift of your time. I feel that in return, I must give you something, as many days as I can. I sometimes feel bizarrely guilty when I go missing in action, even though there is usually the most excellent excuse of life getting in the way.

That really is quite strange. My finger hovers over the delete button. The truth is that today I am tired from a long week and I was not going to write anything, just give you some nice Stanley the Dog pictures. On some days I have a tale to tell; on others, the brain is filled with mud, and I can feel my synapses snapping off, one by recalcitrant one, and there is no story. I am like that today, but I wanted to thank for the kind comments of the week and before I knew it, I was off on this peculiar tangent. (I am fatally addicted to tangents.)

The finger hovers, and then stops. I’ll let it run. I feel a curious liberation in sometimes giving space to my less explicable thoughts. Why not? I write often that I believe people should have the moxie to follow their own goofy star. Perhaps I should put my money where my mouth is and reveal my own profound goofiness. The entire humming theme of Backwards was that the hunt for perfection is a snare and a curse. So in some ways, offering such imperfection feels like putting down a marker. Sometimes I like to tell you the good parts of my day, but I resist the shiny magazine trend for offering gleaming, seamless lives, with all the contradictions and muddliness and small moments of failure airbrushed out. (I think that was why it seemed important to tell you of my shaming crash onto my arse yesterday, and not just confine myself to the glory jumping.)

Shame thrives in secrecy. It lives and feeds in the dark. The moment one admits the flaws, the failings, the idiot notions, the moments of sheer folly, the crashings down to earth (literal and metaphorical, in my case) they lose their power.

And that, my darlings, is my winding and tangential Thought for the Day.

If you can call it a thought.


Today’s pictures:

Are a selection from the week.

We haven’t had any garden pictures for a while:

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The lovely colours of some of the HorseBack herd:

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This splendid gentleman arrived in the feed shed this morning:

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Stanley the Dog:

30 Aug 7

Can you hurry up with the tea?:

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Thanks, it was delicious:

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King of the Absolutely Enormous Stick:

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The very dear Myfanwy the Pony:

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Excellent yoga stretches:

30 Aug 19

Can’t resist one more of me and my darling duchess:

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The hill:

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Thursday, 29 August 2013

Highs and lows. Or, lessons from the horse’s mouth. Or, beware those flappy wings of hubris.

I’m always banging on about the life lessons my mare teaches me. I think that horses in general are tremendous professors. On some days, the good old universe joins in, and sends me an excellent corrective too.

Today was such a day.

The mare and I did some wild jumping. Zoom, zoom, she went; whoop, whoop, I went. She has taken to leaping as if it were the thing she has been waiting for. All those years she raced on the flat and played polo offered her no opportunity to express herself in this glorious aerial way. Now there is no stopping her. She’s still learning, still working it all out, but she is willing and eager and she gives me the great gift of trust. If I ask her to do this novel thing, she will damn well do it.

I can’t tell you how thrilling it was. There we were, out in the open green spaces, in only the rope halter, soaring over the homemade course that the Remarkable Trainer had rigged up. The jumps were absolutely tiny, but we didn’t care. We were as excited as if we were galloping around Burghley.

She did not pull; she did not waver; she did not refuse a single request. Quite frankly, I forgot that I was riding an ex-racehorse without so much as a bit in her mouth, I was concentrating so hard on sitting her well, and keeping her straight and confident, and going with her. It was only afterwards that I thought how remarkable it was. She is so clever and I am so proud. I shouted out loud and threw my arms in the air.

An hour later, I was flat on my arse on the sandy floor of an arena.

My dander was so high by this stage that I had rashly agreed to scramble bareback onto a horse I had never ridden before. I was clumsy in my mounting attempt, because my middle-aged body is not agile enough, and this particular mare was not having it. She bronced three times in protest, and off I thumped. (She was right, by the way, and I was wrong. She was perfectly correct to object.)

I hate falling off. It is not the bruise to my coccyx I resent; it is the blow to my pride. That is what hurts. I had been flying so high, not only proud of my glorious Red, but, I am ashamed to admit, rather proud of myself, as we mastered our new, thrilling jumping game. Look at me; I am all that. La di bloody dah.

The screeching bird of hubris flapped its treacherous wings. The universe and a determined horse brought me crashing down to earth. I write this with rueful fingers. Never fly too close to the sun.

I’ll get the feeling back in a while, that spiralling, dancing, delighted joy that Red gave me today. They can’t take that away from me. I’m a bit bumped and bruised and humbled just now, is all. I can’t do the things at forty-six that I could do at sixteen. I must remember not to be an idiot, especially when my competitive spirit is drumming in my ears.

What it does make me realise though is that Red is even more kind and forgiving than I had thought. If such a thing were possible. I do scramble onto her when I ride bareback, and she does not move. As if the scrambling were not enough, I make terrible ancient oofing noises, which she also bears with perfect equanimity. My muscles are still not as strong as they should be, and she does not mind. I point her rashly at jumps when I have not jumped for thirty years, and she generously consents to do something quite new to her.

There are a lot of things about her that impress me, but perhaps her generous nature is the one that I admire the most. She has a high spirit in her; she is a thoroughbred, after all. She does not forget her gracious bloodlines. She could turn her nose up and refuse my requests, if she chose. She is not a push-button old dope, going through the motions. Instead, she offers so much, with an open heart.

After I wrote this, filled with rue, I stumped down to the field to give her her tea. She was still looking pretty pleased with herself. She gave me her customary whicker, that low, throaty, Lauren Bacall whinny which makes my heart dance. She pricked her ears and nodded her head. She stood polite and still as I gentled her neck and chatted to her and told her what a brilliant person she was. She breathed contentedly through her nose and wibbled that beloved lower lip.

She doesn’t care that I just made a fool of myself. I am her person, and that is all. So I left her, as always, feeling better than when I arrived. That is another of her great, great gifts.


Today’s pictures:

Are a little hit and miss. Some of them are rather blurry. But I wanted to give you an impression of the flying. And even though the jumps were only about eighteen inches off the ground, it DID feel like flying.

Starting off gently:

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I have my concentrating extremely hard face on. I swear that Red is POSING for the camera:

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Whoop, WHOOP:

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You can see her still figuring it all out here, as she lands a bit in a heap, but on she still goes. Nothing will stop her. Nothing will stop us:

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I know this is very blurry, but imagine it with the International Velvet soundtrack. (Those of you who were horsey children will know what I mean.):

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Love this face. Oh, look, a very small JUMP:

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Now she’s starting to look unbelievably professional. She is one of the fastest learners I ever met:

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The tiny, tiny fence built of silver birches:

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And the double:

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Back in the quiet of her field, with her most adorable Good Evening face on:

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And The Mare Who Objected. You can see there are no hard feelings. How could there be?:

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Wednesday, 28 August 2013

In which I did not intend to write about the news.

The day goes:

Red the Mare, breakfast with The Mother, where Stanley the Dog and Edward the Puppy wrestle and play and fall more in love by the moment, HorseBack work, sweet interlude with the Younger Niece. Goodness, she does make me laugh. 1245 words of book. One small bet at Worcester. (It won.) Rather amazingly, LOBSTER for lunch. The local fishmonger has it on special offer and it’s cheap as chips, fresh off their own boat, and so delicious I don’t know what my name is. Lobster here normally is shipped off to Spain and France: they are eating our crustaceans in the Alfonso XIII and the George V. Rather a lot of Mozart. (Good for the thinking parts of the brain.) The usual amount of procrastination. I have two horrid pieces of admin which my recalcitrant brain absolutely refuses to deal with.

I think about the news. It is dark and fraught. When I started this blog, I had a lot to say about the events of the day. I liked to think of myself as an engaged and concerned citizen. Now, there is hardly time for the news: the work at HorseBack, the day job, the mare, the family, the dear canine take all my hours.

But I sometimes think that is a bit of an excuse. I catch fleeting glimpses of the horrors in Syria and turn my head away. I can’t really deal with it. The opinionated people all have their stern opinions; they are very sure of the things they are so sure of. I used to be a liberal hawk. How soothing that was. Of course the West must march in and create happy democracies where women and minorities may be free. What an idiot I was. Iraq and Afghanistan and the Arab Spring showed the labyrinthine impossibilities of any such simple solutions.

I know a lovely man who is employed as a top political operative with responsibility for advising on the Middle East. He is as clever and thoughtful and nuanced as anyone I know. He has fought bravely and well in battle. He has all the credentials one could wish. He said to me, not long ago, quietly, ruefully, a tinge of despair in his voice: ‘there is no solution to the Middle East.’ I’m not sure how many people in Britain can even imagine the tribal complexities and religious convolutions that obtain there. All I know is that innocent people in Syria are dying hideous and needless deaths, and no amount of sabre-rattling or summits or presidential telephone calls or recalling of parliament can make much difference.

Funny, I was really not going to write about that. I was just going to give you a quick canter through my own, tiny day, and put up a dog picture or two. But I caught the news headlines, and it made me think of the vast spaces of impossibility with which the ordinary brain is faced, as the global events are beamed hourly at ordinary citizens from radio sets and television screens and the winding trails of the internet. What can one person do, when the world swings crazily to hell and back?

That is why I cling to the smallest of small things, or I should run mad. It’s not just the love and the trees, although those are important, to quiet a frenzied mind. One individual might not to be able to save the world, but a single human can give and receive love and that’s not nothing. It’s also, perhaps more importantly, the work I do up the road. HorseBack itself is only a small charity, although I suspect it shall grow, and the model may be replicated. At the moment, each year, it takes a limited number of injured servicemen and women, and veterans fighting their lonely battle with PTSD. But it touches actual lives, ones which may have seemed shattered almost beyond repair, and gives hope. So, I can’t solve Syria, any more than the best brains of their generation can, but I can make my own small contribution to that proper cause. Even so, it feels a little paltry. But I think it has to be enough.


Today’s pictures, of some of my small things:

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Pose and Momo

28 Aug 20

Two damn typos yesterday. How polite you were not to point those out, and laugh and mock. I have a horrible feeling there might be more today. Never, ever, enough time, especially not for proper proof-reading. I know I say that imperfection must be embraced, but there are limits. So, usual apologies for potentially flawed prose.


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