Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Just a day.

2553 words of secret project. (The proper manuscript is with the agent, so I have to have a secret project to keep my mind off it.) Sunshine in the morning, and a lot of wild canine activity. A splendid pack of three comes to play with Darwin the Dog. Poor Stanley the Manly is not allowed on this adventure as he wanders from the field and frightens the farmer, whose ewes are about to have their lambs. Stan does not chase sheep, but the presence of a socking great big lurcher anywhere near a ewe at this time of year is enough to make the hardiest farmer either faint or reach for his shotgun. I ride the red mare and lope about pretending I am a cowgirl.

Then there is work, work, work, work.

I keep thinking: this is the last year of my forties, and I must record memorable events. But after all those words my mind is blank and I can’t even remember what I just heard on the news. I did not even have any deep thoughts, which is most unlike me. Pretty much the most riveting thing that happened was that the boiler man came. I love the boiler man, a fact which seems to baffle him slightly.

Be fascinating, shouts the critical voice in my head. But I have no fascination left. It was a good day, a long day, a productive day. It was just a day. 

Friday, 25 March 2016

The quick and the dead.

I lost a couple of days down the back of the sofa. There has been so much going on that there was no time for the blog. So sorry about that.

The great news is that the little brown mare is home. The red mare and the sweet Paint were so pleased to see her that they put on their own rodeo show to welcome her back. She is a little sore and diminished, in that post-operative way that you see in humans. She has an open wound the size of a hand on her leg, but the vets have done a grand job and she is healing well. I am feeding her back up to fighting strength and, even in the space of thirty-six hours, she already looks like a different horse. There really is no place like home.

I’ve been writing thousands of words for my new secret project. The regular Dear Readers will know I always have a secret project. This one is entirely speculative, and is occupying my mind whilst my agent deals with the manuscript for the official book. If I do not have a secret project then I fret and worry and imagine that something terrible will happen and I shall never be published again. I try to be strict about not worrying about things beyond my control. As you can tell, I am not always successful in this ambition.

The dear Stepfather has gone away for a holiday. I drove him to the airport yesterday and said a fond goodbye. Every day when my mother was alive, I would go to their house and cook them breakfast. We still continue the tradition without her, and I talk to him about politics, which we both love, and make him eggs, and do a little metaphorical tap dance to try to keep his spirits up. He is a very brave man, and we don’t say it out loud, but we still miss her sorely.

This morning, I went to the house to check on it and have a cup of coffee and collect his paper. As I was sitting in the suddenly very silent room, I felt a great yawning gulf of regret. The Stepfather will come back from his holiday, but then he will move down to the south, to be near to his family and his old friends. This room, where he and I and my mother ate breakfast, and watched the Derby and the Grand National and the Gold Cup, and had Christmas and Easter, will be truly empty then. It will no longer be mine, with my ghosts in it. There will be another tenant, and I shall drive past the door and not go in.

It’s been a good week, really. I’ve had to deal with a bit of stuff, but everybody has to deal with a bit of stuff, every week. I’ve got a lot done and seen my beloved horse come back to us. But I am a little haunted by that empty room. Just a little. 

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The real and the not real.

Good riding; HorseBack work, where I listened in awe and fascination to one of the most interesting men I know; 2257 words of book.
            The sun shone for a while, with all the conviction of summer, and then the day reverted to a sulky, sullen state, with the winter chill still in it, and the world looked brown and low. But I got a lot done and had interesting talk and thought many thoughts.
            And that was all, really. It was an ordinary, good, productive day. It had no banner headline; it was mine and it was fine.

            Out in the world, there were bombs and horrors. The news filtered through into my ordinary day, feeling distant and unreal. In the social media, everyone had something to say about it. I don’t know what to say when the horrors come. I feel that words, the words I love so much and in which I have so much faith, falter and fail in the face of hatred and nihilism. What can one say? I go doggedly on with my ordinary day, as if good humans and good horses and these good hills and trees can anchor me to another reality, a sane, kind reality, where people do not blow each other up in the name of God. 

Monday, 21 March 2016


The sun shone this morning, and I took my mare out into her favourite glade in the wood and let her put her head down to graze whilst I spoke on the telephone to the Beloved Cousin.
            The cousin is not only my relation, but one of my oldest and dearest friends. We’ve been together for thirty years and I don’t know what I would do without her.
            It was one of those intense, knotty conversations. We had both been dealt blows; we both wanted to ask each other about the best way of dealing with them. We listened and spoke and thought and got right into the knotty hearts of the problems. We offered each other sympathy and empathy and support and encouragement and all the life wisdom we have both picked up in our combined hundred years.
            Once we got the serious part over, we wandered about all over the shop. We talked about Trollope. (We have a mutual love for Lady Glencora in the Palliser series.) We pondered over the latest political news and the resignation of Ian Duncan-Smith. She suddenly told me a story about her late father, one of the best men I ever knew, which made me laugh so much I really nearly fell out of the saddle in hilarity.
            When I put the telephone down, I thought of friendship and what a mighty force it is. It can restore me to myself like almost nothing else. It sets everything to rights, everything back in its proper place. After such a conversation, I feel a vast sense of relief, as if a great granite stone has been lifted from my head. Everything seems brighter, better, more explicable. The world suddenly shines with possibility.
            It’s not just that the cousin is a tremendous human being, although she is. It is that she has faith in me. We have tremendous belief in each other, and there is something profound and lovely in that. I think everyone needs someone who is completely on their side, who gets them, who thinks they can do anything they set their mind to. It’s the great, human version of iron tonic.
            Then I cantered the mare about the field in giddy, liberated cowgirl fashion, one hand on the reins, the green grass of Wyoming in my head. Yesterday, we did serious schooling work. We were Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro. The mare worked so hard she got up a sweat. I could feel all my muscles stretched to their limit. Today, we were not working but flying, dancing our own joyful dance, in perfect harmony with each other. It was as if the Beloved Cousin had removed such a weight from my mind that the mare sensed it, and responded with her own soaring, stream of freedom.

            Then I went to my desk and wrote 1357 words of book and felt that perhaps, just for the moment, everything would be all right.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

A rather extraordinary week. Good, bad; high, low; happy, sad - and all the spaces in between.

I wanted to write you a tremendous report of the last days at Cheltenham, but I ran into the wall of mental and physical exhaustion. Usually, I take Cheltenham week off, but this week I was doing my day job and my HorseBack job and then studying the form and watching the racing and by the end of it all, I hit the wall. I could hardly think, let alone type a coherent sentence.
            Cheltenham is always an emotional turmoil for me, because I love those brave, beautiful horses so much. My heart is in them as if they were mine; they feel like old friends. I love the stories of the humans behind them, and, having grown up in a National Hunt yard, I know well the hopes and dreams and love and care that go into those glittering equine athletes. I am incapable of watching in a calm, detached manner. I pace and fidget and hide my eyes and shout my head off. After four intense days, I have entirely lost my voice from roaring the great champions home.
            This year, quite apart from the fairy tale of Sprinter Sacre coming back in glory, which induced an outpouring of adoration and joy such as the festival has not seen for a long year, there was the hard fact that I was watching these races for the first time without my mum. If I was at home, I would go in to her house each morning and discuss the day, dream of new stars, remember old triumphs, let her tell me about the times when she would watch Arkle soaring over those great fences to his own immortality. If I had travelled down to the racecourse, I would ring her up between each race on the mobile and shout out inarticulate, antic reports of what was going on. ‘There are grown men crying in the Jockey Club stand,’ I yelled, after Coneygree flew up the hill last year. ‘The Champ did it!!! The crowd has gone mad,’ I bawled, when AP rode his last festival winner on Uxizandre, for an astounding pillar to post victory.
            All her favourites won this year, and I felt her absence and wished she could have been here to see Annie and Sprinter and the mighty Don. I cried an awful lot of tears, of joy for the dazzling performances, of missing for a voice that was silent, of memories for a shared passion.
            Today, it was the dear Stepfather’s birthday. It was the first one without my mother, so I made a special effort. I cooked him a fillet of glorious Aberdeenshire Angus beef for his birthday lunch, and he got out a bottle of 1990 Cheval Blanc, which my mother, who knew all about good claret, had hidden away in the cellar. It was one of the most elegant wines I have ever tasted in my life, and we drank it in her honour.

            This has been her week. I don’t really believe in other lives, but if I did, I would like to think that she was looking down, and smiling her sweet smile.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

The old king rises. An equine story and a human story.

The old king, sagely, calmly, and without fuss, took back his crown. He saw the outstretched grasp of the young pretender, shook his wise old head, and said: ‘No, no, not yet.’
            I had convinced myself it could not be done. I did not even dare to hope. But Sprinter Sacre shone like the stars in the sky. He soared over the early fences, with that extraordinary, almost ethereal action I remembered so well. Un De Sceaux scampers along like a little terrier, his head down, his colours nailed to the mast. Sprinter seems to defy the laws of physics – when he meets a fence just right and launches over it, it is as if he goes into slow motion. He is stately and grand and fine and entirely other.
            As I watched those early leaps, a tiny hope rose, like a bird in my chest.
            But no, no, it could not be done. Surely, it was too much to ask.
            At the top of the hill it seemed that the new kid, all fearless youth, convinced of his own immortality, was running away with it. But then they turned the bend and the old Sprinter unfurled like a flower in springtime, ranging upsides, astonishingly, impossibly, going on.
            He went on, and he kept on. Nobody, on this day of days, could catch him. The grand monarch was, once more, in his rightful place, emperor of all he surveyed.
            I cried and shouted. The crowd cried and shouted. Anyone with a human heart cried and shouted. The roof lifted off the stands, as one of the great comeback stories in racing history revealed itself before their joyful eyes.
            In all this grand equine story, there was a quiet human one.
            Sprinter Sacre was ridden by a young jockey called Nico De Boinville. He is not a household name, even though he won the Gold Cup last year with an audacious front-running ride. He was, for a long time, the very definition of a backroom boy. He rode Sprinter in all his work when the horse was in his pomp, and then stepped back to let Barry Geraghty take the ride in public.
            He rode in races as an amateur, then took out his license, and, when Geraghty was taken on as retained jockey to JP McManus, replacing the retiring AP McCoy, started to get more and more of the Nicky Henderson rides. He had worked for Henderson for long enough, and the guvnor must have seen something in him, because he was up on the proper horses.
            I spent a lot of time, in my yelping, exuberant racing tweets, complimenting de Boinville on his skills. I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. He is cool under pressure, brave, thoughtful, and a proper horseman.
            As Sprinter Sacre started out on his improbable comeback trail, de Boinville got the gig. He dealt with the weight of expectation and guided the good horse to victory both times. But yesterday was a whole other kettle of fish.
            I can’t tell you how hard it is to ride a fit thoroughbred in a race. There is half a ton of athletic flight animal under you, a sea of imponderables before you, split second decisions, crucial tactical moves, high speed, unforgiving obstacles, and an ambulance trundling along behind to pick up the pieces. That’s just on a wet Wednesday at Wincanton. The armchair jocks, who have never ridden so much as a bicycle, laugh and scoff and call you names when you fall off at the last.
            At Cheltenham, with the eyes of the world upon you, you are going faster and harder than you’ve ever gone in your life. There is no room for error. The other jockeys, pumped up for the big occasion, give no quarter. I’ve heard good riders speak in shock about their first experience of the festival.
            De Boinville carried the stretched hopes of a vast sporting crowd, who would have given anything to see Sprinter Sacre defy the odds, rewrite the history books, and turn over the hot favourite. He had the responsibility to that good guvnor who had given him his chance, to the hopeful owner, to the fine horse under him.
            But none of that is the human story.
            The story is that Nico De Boinville’s mother died, two weeks ago.
            I thought of my own mother, as that grand horse strode up the hill, the king back in his castle. I thought of how she would have loved it and how she would have wept along with me. I missed her horribly, and regretted bitterly that she could not see her hero back to his swaggering best.
All I had to do was watch and wonder and shout and weep. That jockey had to do the business. Two weeks after my mother died, last October, I could hardly go to the shop. This man just won the Champion Chase.
            I knew none of this in the build-up to the race. The Channel Four Racing team, perhaps sensitive to grief, did not mention it, even by vague implication. I was struck, when they cut to a shot of De Boinville in the weighing room, by how sombre he looked. His eyes were distant and unfocused; his face grave. I thought he was bowed by the weight of all that hope and expectation. I think now that he was thinking of his mother.
            Immediately after the wining post, he rose briefly in his stirrups, his expression set and serious, almost defiant. His face did not split into the great, glorious Cheltenham grin. (When Ruby Walsh rides a winner at the festival, you can actually see his smile from high up in the stands, gleaming like a lighthouse beam.) For a moment, de Boinville wore an air of weary gravity. He bowed his head, almost as if in defeat.
            The microphone was held up to him, with welcoming, enthusiastic congratulation. He tried to gather himself, to say something to the waiting public. After a few stuttering sentences – ‘I’m speechless about that; he means so much to us’ -  he said ‘Can I just say a big thank you to all our close friends and family and to the wider racing community? We’ve had a really tough past month with my family and this is just, uh, the icing on the cake. And I’m very happy.’ His voice failed and he moved his horse away, and then there was a smile for the cameras, bittersweet, slightly forced, joy and sorrow in it.
            I write all the time about the bravery of these horses and these jockeys. It is why I love them so much. It is why I love racing so much. My father was a brave man, who, years ago, flew up the Cheltenham hill twice in the Kim Muir. I spent my childhood with that physical courage.
            But this was a different kind of bravery, a different, more muted, more profound story of sheer guts.

            I don’t know what gave Sprinter Sacre wings yesterday. A brilliant, dauntless trainer, who simply refused to give up and who pulled off a training feat for the ages, a group of dazzling experts in equine health, the devoted team at Seven Barrows, those unsung heroes who rise at dawn to look after him, come rain, come shine – all played their part. Perhaps it was just his day. Many horses have their day, when everything simply falls right and the stars align. He had a damn good jockey, who rises to the big occasion, for all his youth. But the romantic in me, the dreamer in me, the griever in me, wonders if somehow, somewhere in his sage, horsey old head, Sprinter knew that Nico De Boinville was riding this race for his mum.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The old kings.

Yesterday, the mighty mare set the stands on a roar. Annie Power confounded her doubters, and showed the boys how it should be done. Douvan dazzled and dumbfounded and delighted with his sheer, untrammelled brilliance. And dear Vroum Vroum Mag, the most matter-of-fact horse in racing, gently rolled up the hill as if she were going out for a nice day with the Galway Blazers.
            Today, the story is of two great old kings.
            A year ago today, I stood in a quiet backwater, as, thirty yards away, a raucous, swelling, shouting party went on. The sounds of triumph from the winner’s enclosure floated on the air. In the melancholy stretch of grass where the losers go to unsaddle, hidden away as if to conceal their shame from prying eyes, stood a small group of worried humans and one very downbeat horse. It was the grand Sprinter Sacre, brought low.
            Sprinter Sacre used to win at Cheltenham as if he were out for a schooling canter. He is an emperor of a horse, and he owned this place. Prestbury Park was his, and the crowd saluted him for it. He had a swagger and a power and an exuberance, and good people tipped their hat to him, knowing he was one of those once-in-a-generation horses.
            Then it all went wrong. He pulled up with a heart murmur and it was suspected that we might never see him again. But Nicky Henderson, despite his smiling affability, has a core of steel, and he would not give in so easily. He threw experts and vets and professors and the kitchen sink at the problem. Slowly, slowly, Sprinter started to come back.
            But last year he was a pale shadow of his former self and I looked at that deposed monarch with keen, sad eyes, certain I would never again see him in his pomp. I thought they must retire him; that his race was indeed run.
            This season, to my amazement, he was back again. He was growing in strength and confidence. If the swagger was not quite back, the talent was still visible. He came out and won. Then he won again. He had to scrap for it a little bit, which he had never done before, but I took that as a sign that his heart, literally and figuratively, was mended.
            Now he returns to the place of his greatest festival triumphs, and if he could pull it out of the bag today, the roof would come off the stands, he is so brilliant and beloved.
            But he is up against one of the most complete natural talents in chasing, in the dashing Un De Sceaux. Un De Sceaux roars off in front, eats his fences for breakfast, and says catch me if you can. It’s a fairly high-risk strategy, and he has been known to tip up, but last time at Ascot he was polished and professional and devastatingly strong. He probably will win. He probably should win. Passing the crown from the old king to the new king is one of the great traditions of jump racing.
            Sprinter owes us nothing. He has delighted us enough. I would weep tears of disbelief and joy if he could pull off the miracle, bask once more in the sunshine of the Cheltenham love. But really, I just want to see him happy, conducting himself with honour, coming home safe.
            In the next race, the heartstrings will be pulled even harder. The new king of the cross-country race is the determined and dogged Josies Orders who sticks his neck out and charges up the hill after many long miles. He’s ridden by Nina Carberry, as brave and dauntless as her horse.
            But there, below him in the betting, is the old monarch – the adored Balthazar King. Balthazar loves Cheltenham like no horse I ever saw. He’s won over the regulation fences; he made the cross-country his own. He lights up when he comes to Prestbury Park. Then they sent him to the Grand National and he was cannoned into by another horse, breaking his ribs. He received devoted care at the Liverpool hospital and then went for a long, healing summer at his owner’s farm.
            The master that is Philip Hobbs has nursed him back to health and here he is again. He’s a big, strong, handsome, honest horse, and he doesn’t know how to run a bad race. He did not scale the dizzy heights of Sprinter Sacre, but he’s almost more loved, because he’s so genuine, such a standing dish, as good and reliable as a Swiss Watch.
            I think his mountain is an even steeper one to climb than Sprinter’s. He’s twelve now, and he would be getting ready to pass on his crown even without his injury. His old partner Richard Johnson will look after him, and if for a moment he feels something is not quite right, he’ll pull him up. But oh, if that brave horse could glitter and gleam once again, it would be my shining moment of the festival.

            I love the new kings. There is something viscerally thrilling about watching young horses leap into their own brilliant future, as if they know that the sky is the limit. But the old kings, those grand, sage rulers of all they once surveyed, they are the ones who fill my heart like nothing else.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

The mare did it.

Annie Power won the Champion Hurdle, and I cried tears of joy.
            Mares don’t really win the Champion Hurdle. The last time that happened was twenty years ago. This mare had gone to Cheltenham twice, and come up short each time. She was beaten in the World Hurdle. ‘Will Annie stay?’ was the cry. She did stay, but she was bettered by a faster horse on the day. Then she went for the Mares’ Hurdle. ‘She only has to stand up to win,’ everyone said. She was tanking into the last. It was a sunny day, and there was deep shadow in front of the hurdle. She jumped the shadow and landed on her elegant nose.
            Then she disappeared. She had niggles. There was something not quite right. She finally returned to the spotlight in a little egg and spoon race which she won as she liked, but which told nobody anything except that she was fit and well. She was still Annie, but was she the supermare she was once supposed to be?
            It was not precisely the ideal preparation. Off the track for months and months, one nothing race in the bag, no big trials or expected tests. But Annie is Annie and Willie Mullins is a genius and the normal rules don’t really apply.
            Now, everyone said: ‘Will she be quick enough for two miles?’ Will her jumping be neat and accurate enough? Will she have it in her to beat the boys?
            The race cut up and she was backed in to favouritism. She was a sort of false favourite, as the bookies desperately tried to protect themselves from a possible Mullins/Walsh accumulator, as is becoming tradition on the first day of the festival.
            You could see her winning by ten lengths, or making a muddle of one down the back and not recovering. Anything could happen. There were plenty of others for whom cases could be made.
            I love Annie Power. I’ve loved Annie Power since she first burst onto the scene. She is big and bold and imperious. She’s a great slab of a mare, nothing delicate or retiring about her. She goes into a race like she’s the boss, and when she wins, she wins as she likes, dismissing the others with disdain. She is not sweet or pretty or gentle. She is mighty.
            I wanted her to win so much I convinced myself that she could not possibly win. That way I could avoid crashing disappointment. I am very fond of The New One, a stalwart in the race, and I thought it might be his year. There were other hopes from Ireland; Nicky Henderson was bringing one of his stars back from a long absence, and there is nobody who can do that at Cheltenham like Henderson.
            This morning, I got onto my own little dancing chestnut, my own little Annie Power, and stood up in the irons and imagined the Cheltenham hill before us. She caught my excitement and flew up the slope and we passed the imaginary winning post with nothing but the emerald green track in front of us. My red mare is as different from Annie Power as can be. She never came close to winning a race; she never made a single headline, except for the crazy ones in my own head. The two horses have only their colour and their gender and a few hundred thoroughbred cousins in common. (All thoroughbreds end up being related; hardly a one does not go back to Eclipse.) But my own red mare is still the supreme champion of my heart.
            In the end, I let that heart rule my head. I threw loyalty cash at Annie Power, and went all in. I could not desert her now.
            She won in a canter, measuring each hurdle to perfection, dancing round those undulations as if she were doing ballet.
            Annie Power won the Champion Hurdle, and I cried tears of joy.
            Later, I took the dogs out into the cool Scottish air and looked at the sky and looked at the hill and listened to the quiet. I had been shouting and weeping and leaping up and down. Now all was still. I was, literally and metaphorically, hundreds of miles from that cauldron of emotion, that great natural bowl of hopes and dreams.
            I looked at the view. I wished very much I could tell my mother about Annie. She had loved her too. ‘Oh, Annie,’ she used to say, a wistful note in her voice.
            ‘Mum,’ I said, even though I knew she was not there. ‘Annie Power won the Champion Hurdle. And I cried and Ruby cried and Rich Ricci cried and even Willie Mullins looked as if there was a tear in his eye.’

            ‘Mum,’ I said. ‘The mare did it.’

Monday, 14 March 2016


Dazzling sunshine; 1799 words of book; a grand schooling ride on my dear brown mare; a lot of HorseBack work; and dreams and dreams and dreams of Cheltenham.

I thought I might be sad, thinking of my first Cheltenham without my mum. There will be so many brave, bonny horses running this week that she adored. I’ll miss the early morning excitement as I would take her a copy of the Racing Post; I’ll miss the post-race telephone conversations. But the melancholy which has been floating about seems banished by the sunshine. It’s my favourite four days of the year, and this year I shall be shouting for two.

I hoped I might be able to take the week off and give myself my traditional Cheltenham holiday, but there is too much going on in my work. So I’m going to be juggling pure pleasure and serious responsibilities, which sounds about right. I can’t just stop the world because the best horses in Britain and Ireland will be gathered together under the benign, timeless gaze of Cleeve Hill. But oh, oh, oh, the glory. There will be all the things I love and admire most – bravery, beauty, dour determination, dazzling natural talent, enthusiasm, grace, a refusal to give up. There will be the old friends and the new shooting stars. The crowd will sing Ruby, Ruby, Ruby. (My mum used to ring me up and say, a dying fall in her voice: ‘Oh, Ruby.’ As if he were a cherished son who turned out to be a prodigy.) Willie Mullins will wear his special hat. The hot favourites will be nailed on, as if the memory of Annie Power plunging at the last is not seared on every punter’s mind, and, as always at the festival, absolutely anything could happen.

The Mullins battalions seem invincible, but never far from my mind is the year that Norton’s Coin won the Gold Cup at 100-1, having been driven to the races in a trailer by his trainer, Sirrell Griffiths. Nobody goes to the Gold Cup in a trailer. Griffiths had been up at dawn to milk his cows and only had two other horses in his stable. Yet he lifted the greatest prize of all. Colin Tizzard has a few more than three horses, but he also is a milker of cows, three hundred and fifty of them, so perhaps that is a sign for dear old Cue Card. Cheltenham is the place for stories, equine, bovine and human. I’ve heard those stories all my life, since my fearless father stormed up the hill in the Kim Muir. Absolutely anything can happen, and I can’t wait. 

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Most people.

Not long ago or far away, someone suggested that I do a thing I had not done. ‘That’s what most people do,’ she said, in laughing reproach.
            She was right. The thing I had not done was what most people would do. She had reason and rationality and common sense and empiricism and correctness on her side. I had nothing. Except that I am not most people.
            It was not said with any rancour or unkindness. It was a mere statement of fact.
            It was a knife to my heart.

A lot of the time, I am perfectly comfortable with the fact that I am not most people. At those times I don’t even know who most people are. Surely each individual human is as idiosyncratic as a snowflake?
            Then there are times when I yearn to join the glorious cohort of the Most People. They do exist. They have conventions and cultures and things in common. They have the steadiness of the majority, because they are the majority. They, without even knowing it, get the blessing of the zeitgeist, because they play by its rules.
            They have sorrows and setbacks and losses, just like everyone else, but they don’t have to paddle madly against the current, because they go where the river goes, gracefully towards the sea. They may take this for granted, because they don’t know what it’s like to be going the wrong way.

When I was much younger, I took what seemed to me a very ordinary and logical and rational choice, but what the wider world considers a radical and even bizarre decision. I knew, deep in my bones, that I did not want to get married and have children. I hate doing things that I am not good at, and I knew that I would be no good at those things. I looked in awe and wonder at the people who were good at them. I look in awe and wonder still. I watch those who make a great family in the way I watch Yo-Yo Ma play the cello or I once watched AP McCoy ride a finish. I take off my hat.
            This is not what most people do. It is especially not what most women do. It is taken as read, carved in stone, preached in pulpits, written in newsprint that all females long for marriage and babies. There are quite a lot of people who consider this the grand fulfilment of their life and their biology and their very being. It is really hard for those who naturally follow that river of the majority to understand what it feels like not to paddle down that stream.
            Every atom floating in the culture tells you that you are odd and other. I suspect that married people don’t realise this, because it is so usual to them that it becomes like white noise. But every time you turn on the radio or get a cold caller (‘Is that Mrs Kindersley?) or open a magazine or read a newspaper or have a conversation with a stranger or watch the television, the notion of marriage as normal, wonderful, expected and admired is present. Those who don’t want husbands and wives and children and family life are so beyond the pale that they don’t really feature, except for the occasional article where some poor woman has to explain, at great length, why she refuses to fulfil her biological imperative. She has to twist herself inside out like a pretzel to prove that she is not vain and selfish and weird and cold and generally peculiar. However articulate she is, nobody really believes her.
            Even good friends, with kind hearts and intelligent minds, don’t always get it. ‘You have a womb, surely you must use it?’ (That person had a first in classics.) ‘What is she doing up there in Scotland, all on her own?’ ‘You’ll change your mind when you meet the right man.’ ‘If you refuse to find a husband, why don’t you get a proper job?’ Because I not only won’t get married, I sit at home and write books, a job that comes with no regular salary and means that it is financial feast or famine, so that there are times, like now, when I annoy everyone by having to refuse all invitations until I can get a deal, and I don’t know when that deal will come because it’s not a proper job.
            Nobody throws a party for the stupid single people; there are no white weddings, no gushing speeches, no anniversary celebrations, no greetings cards, no diamond rings. Married people damn well should have a party, in my book, because making a good marriage is incredibly hard work and the ones who make a success of it should get prizes. But it’s a zero sum game. Those on the outside, the ones who are not most people, are invisible, and not to be celebrated, the bolshie buggers. Why can’t they just stop making a fuss and do the decent thing?
            As if my strange decision not to procreate were not enough, I am an introvert. Introverts are about 25% of the population, and, if you are as far along the spectrum as I am, that minority status grows even more acute. Introversion is hard to explain because it is so often misunderstood. It falls constantly into category error. People think that introverts must be shy and silent, when in fact many are garrulous and perfectly composed in company. The difference between introverts and extroverts is that introverts are exhausted by people while extroverts take their energy from them. An introvert may be the life and soul of the party, but she will then have to sit quietly in a silent room for three days afterwards to fill up the tank. I often turn down perfectly lovely invitations for this reason, which causes raised eyebrows and wounded incomprehension.
            Solitude, which I love and cherish, is considered another oddity. Most people, perfectly naturally, don’t want to sit in a quiet room. They live in families and work in offices and go to pubs and move in packs. I like eating in restaurants alone; I like going to the races alone; I much prefer going to the cinema alone. Odd, odd, odd.
            Most of the time, none of this matters. If I am robust and at home in my skin and have taken my iron tonic, I can make jokes about it and accept it and even, if the light is coming from the right direction, take a little secret pride in it. When I am a bit bashed and battered, as I am at the moment, I feel wearied and worn down by it.
            I don’t generally complain, as the Dear Readers know, except about dangling modifiers and people spouting jargon on the Today programme (‘What does that mean?’ says poor John Humphreys, driven to distraction by acronyms and management-speak). I am too keenly conscious of my luck. But occasionally I give in to a little wail. Today, I’m having a wail. Today, I’m lacerated and when that happens, I have to write about it.
Nobody reads this blog on a Saturday anyway, so I can shout into an empty room.
Occasionally, my wailing self says, I am sick of having to explain myself, of having my oddities questioned, of being so damn other. Occasionally, I look with envy at Most People, and wish that I could canter along with them. Occasionally, I wish they might understand.

            Perhaps this is part of the reason I love my red mare so, quite aside from all her glorious qualities. She is a horse, and she has no idea what most people do. She does not do the funny laughs or the funny looks or the funny comments. She takes me just as I am. She does not wonder what I am doing, all on my own. As long as I feed her well and work her well and love her well, she does not care about the rest. If I leave my cares at the gate and give her my best self, she thinks I’m pretty damn fine. 

Friday, 11 March 2016


Today, I heard the birds sing. I don’t know if they have been singing like this for a while and I had been too busy thinking of other things to hear them, or whether they are really revving up for spring.
            The pied wagtails have arrived, which is always a hopeful sign, and one came and wagged his tail at me on the gate. The dear, faithful robin who stays with us all winter was flitting and hopping from perch to perch. I always think of robins as fat, stolid characters, mostly I suppose because of the Christmas cards, but in fact they are nervy, athletic creatures, always on the move.
            I worked my little brown mare and then we stood in the rain and listened to the birds.
            I suddenly thought of the more urban of the Dear Readers. Is it odd, I wondered, to be sitting on a bus or a train reading about a slightly flaky woman listening to birds in the rain?
            I adored the city when I was in it. I loved the myriad of faces, the Babel of languages, the feeling that all the world was there in London. I loved the taxi drivers and the men in frocks and the old timers down the North End Road who were such Londoners that they were almost a caricature. I loved jumping on and off the grand old Routemasters and standing on the platform holding the pole with the wind in my hair. I loved the elegant arcades of Mayfair and the greasy spoons and the old-fashioned barbers which still had the red and white swirling thing outside. I loved the dodgy basement clubs in what was still the front line (that part of Notting Hill where gentrification had not yet reached) and the wide open space of the Serpentine and the tan ride at the bottom of Hyde Park where the army horses exercised at dawn.
            I loved all of it and I never thought I would leave and then I left.
            I fell in love with these hills like you fall in love with a person. Now, I spend my life with mud on my jeans and hay in my hair and mysterious little smears of dirt and horse feed and other imponderables on my forehead. I wear absurd hats, not for fashion but to keep off the weather. I stand in the field with a gentle thoroughbred mare and listen to the birds.

            I remember the birds from my childhood. We would ride on the downs, that grand, sweeping arc of country that rose out of the Lambourn valley. My mother would lift her head and look up and say: ‘Listen to the lark on the wing.’ I can hear her saying that. I can see her face, lifted to the sky.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Gordon's alive.

This morning, in the Co-op, my favourite check-out lady and I were having a little chat about the vicissitudes of existence.
            ‘Life,’ said my favourite lady, rolling her eyes. ‘What a business.’
            ‘I know,’ I said, eagerly. ‘I like to think that I am a student of the human condition, but then I realise I know nothing.’
            Beside me, a bright-eyed woman was putting her groceries on to the counter. She gave me a laughing sideways look, and said, with all the dry pragmatism of this part of the north-east: ‘I should stick to dogs.’

I laughed my head off. I was still laughing when I went out to the car and drove home. That’s my blog for the day, I thought, right there.

I laughed not just because it was very funny, but because today a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. Both my horses have been on the sick list, and despite the fact that I pretend not to indulge in worry, which is a pointless emotion and does neither them nor me any good, I have been fretting so much that I could not sleep for two nights. I love those mares so much and the thought of losing them was pressing down on me like a malevolent stone. Today, both were better. They were back to their true selves. The red mare was dreamy and dozy and duchessy, at ease in her world. The little brown mare was bright and light and comical. (If she were a person, you would say that she had a twinkle in her eye and a mischievous sense of humour.)
I don’t think I had quite realised how heavy that weight was until it was removed. I am used to pressure. My work is very, very pressing at the moment, and I’m driving myself on mercilessly, and constantly trying to think of new ideas and working on new secret projects and typing and typing and typing and thinking and thinking and thinking. There’s a bit of a make or break aspect to the thing, just now. I think I was so used to having pressure on that I did not recognise how heavy that extra weight was.

The horses are usually where I cast aside all care. They are my lightness. They carry such authenticity and goodness, they are so present in the moment, they are so honest and genuine and true that they have the power to banish worldly worries. In the first weeks after my mother died, when I was carrying grief around with me like a heavy bucket of water, the only place where I did not feel sad at all was on the back of my red mare. I still wonder at this. It was not a conscious letting go of grief for half an hour or any switch in perception, it simply happened. I sat in the saddle and the sadness went away. I got back on the ground, and it came back. I’m still not certain how this came about, and I don’t know anything else which has that power.

But in the last few days, and with the brown mare over the last few weeks as her hideous sarcoid grew and grew and I had more and more doleful conversations with the vet, that lightness went away. I would go to the field with dread instead of joy in my heart, fearing one would have bled to death and one would have succumbed to a raging infection. Today, the red mare’s leg is no longer filled and hot, and the brown mare, having got rid of her ghastly sarcoid herself, is bright and healing. She will still have to have an operation to clean up the last of the mess, but it will now be a fairly simple procedure, not the high-wire act I was fretting over.

Don’t worry, say the sages, over things which have not yet happened. I know that wisdom intellectually. I tell it to myself. I even think I am doing it. But in my gut, away from my rational head, I do run those doomsday scenarios, and they wear at my spirit. Words of comfort spin off me, unable to gain purchase. I grow convinced that these gentle creatures, whom I love so much and who illuminate my days, will be lost to me.

But this morning, there they were, in all their glory, amazingly alive and vivid in the mild Scottish air. They are furry and muddy and happy and here.

I am determined to use them as a cautionary tale. It really is high time that I learnt not to waste precious emotional capital on those things which have not yet happened. I am going to wait until I stare disaster in the whites of its eyes before getting myself bent out of shape.

I sometimes wonder how many times life has to send me its lessons before I learn them. I always thought I was a quick study. Apparently not. The lessons come, over and over, and one day, eventually, some of them will stick. I shall be learning until the end of my days.

In the meantime, the sun is coming out. I hear Brian Blessed’s voice, roaring in my head, yelling in his blazingly theatrical way: ‘GORDON’S ALIVE.’ The mares are alive. And the dear old hills are alive too, with the sound of music, as I sing songs out loud into the lightening, brightening sky. 

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The day is saved.


I slept badly, wracked with horse anxiety. In the morning, the Today programme told me that George Martin had died. I felt very melancholy. I remember years ago watching an interview with him and he was so self-deprecating and dry and witty and elegant. He made The Beatles, and now he was gone.
            He was ninety and it sounded as if he died well. He had run his race, with great glory. It should not be so very sad, really, yet it was. There was another of the grand old gentleman, from that grand old generation that remembered the war and knew stoicism and could teach the rest of us young shavers a thing or two, gone. Every time a member of that generation goes, I feel bereft.
            Then the Today Programme played A Day in the Life, and I cried.
            That song was written partly for my uncle. ‘I read the news today, oh boy, about a lucky man who made the grade; he blew his mind out in a car, he didn’t notice that the lights had changed.’ Tara, my father’s half-brother by my grandmother’s second marriage was one of those impossible golden boys of the sixties. He was gentle and charming and funny and he knew everybody and then, at the age of 21, he was dead in a car crash.
            On a chill December dawn, my father drove up the M4 to identify the body. I have often wondered about that black morning drive. Not long before she died, I asked my mother about it. ‘Bill Payne took him,’ she said. ‘He could not drive on his own.’
Bill Payne was one of my parents’ most stalwart friends. A trainer and true horseman, his roots deep in the country earth, he used to go up on the downs and pick dandelions for his racehorses because they were good for the blood. He was cheerful and bluff and no-nonsense and he trained good horses out of a tiny yard in Eastbury. He once saved my sister’s life, when she rushed through the hall and put her hand straight through a plate glass door and sliced open an artery. Bill Payne was the only person there who knew how to apply a tourniquet, without that, she would surely not have got to the hospital in time.
            And then, as if that was not enough, he drove my father to see his brother’s body.
            ‘Your father was broken when he got back,’ my mother told me. ‘I just tried to be there for him, to help him. I held him and he cried and cried.’
            She was heavily pregnant with me. I would be born six weeks later. Mum was heartbroken too. Tara was an urban boy to his fingertips, all Chelsea and nightclubs and glittering parties. But sometimes it must have got too much for him, because he would suddenly appear at our house in the Lambourn valley, often in the small hours, and Mum would get up and sit him down on the sofa and make him tea and let him talk.
            My grandmother had lost her third child, and never really recovered. She was a tiny, bird-like woman, but she must have had a streak of steel in that tiny body, because she somehow survived those crushing griefs and lived until she was eighty. She used to make the driest, most ironic jokes, with deadpan timing, but she wore an air of melancholy like a Dior coat until the end of her life.
            I was thinking of all this, in my sleep-deprived state, as I went down to the field to look at my poor wounded horses. The little brown mare is on the mend and bright as a button. She, too, has perfect comic timing, and even though I was feeling sad, she made me laugh. The red mare is still doleful and needy, and I had a sudden burst of tears, looking at her poor, sore leg. ‘I can’t lose you too,’ I said, out loud. (She’ll be fine, of course she will be fine, but I fear infection like the very devil.)
            What with the lack of sleep and the maelstrom of emotion and the family memories, I thought the day was a write-off. I would have to cancel everything and put myself back to bed and make up the hours at the weekend.
            Then I went to the dear Stepfather for breakfast. He wanted me to help him book an aeroplane ticket. He still find the internet and the computer baffling, but they are where I work every day, so I love amazing him by formatting a document in three minutes or solving some little software glitch in the flash of an eye. I was confident at least I could get him his ticket.
            But British Airways were not going to let me have it easy. First of all, they tried to fob us off with a ticket which cost half the national debt. ‘Ha,’ I said. ‘I think we can do better than that.’
            So I dug about and found the discounted seats. There were only five left and the clock was running, so when all those stupid extraneous screens came up – Do you want to register? Do you want to create an account? Do you want to rent a car? Do you want to take up our offer of a special credit card? – I started yelling, no, no, no, no, no. There was a degree of swearing. The dear Stepfather laughed and laughed.
            And then – fatal moment – there was an error message. Contact your local representative, said the screen, cold and unfeeling.
            So there was telephoning. There were forty-seven options, stupid modulated voices, plinky plonky music. I swore and swore. No, the booking did not exist, said an actual person. I stopped swearing, since my rule is that I am only allowed to be rude to automated systems. Transferring you to the sales department. Thank you so much.
            Ah, said another idiotically cheerful computer voice, we are experiencing an unusually high volume of traffic. Fifteen minutes’ delay on the line.
            Bugger, bugger, bugger, I bawled.
            Back to the website. My blood was up. I would not be defeated. I typed and typed. I filled in all the asinine forms all over again.
            THERE IS AN ERROR.
            Swearing reached epic levels. If I was going down, I was going down cussing like a longshoreman.
            One of the cheap seats had gone. There was a new, more expensive price. ‘The bastards,’ I shouted. ‘We should sue them for eight pounds and emotional distress.’
            More typing. More forms. More pointless questions.
            At last, at last, through sheer bloody-mindedness, cussedness, dander and straight rage, I got the adorable words: Your Booking Number Is...
            I hurled my arms in the air and celebrated as if I was watching Desert Orchid win his Gold Cup all over again. I had got the dear good man his ticket. I had not given up.
            This ridiculous episode saved my day. I did not write the day off. I came home and wrote actual words of book, 1796 of them.
            I wrote this absurdly long blog. I am so shattered in the head that I have no idea why I am telling you all this, but I am past questioning. You are my dear readers, and you get all the stories, some of which make sense and some of which don’t. You are so kind and good and generous that I know you understand the flaky, goofy days and don’t hold them against me.

            This day is not my best day. But it was saved, for all that.

A note on the photograph:
This was taken in Ireland. My father is on the right, his brother Garech next to him, and his brother Tara on the far left. You can see the fondness and affection and love lighting up my father's face. I remember that smile. I find it impossibly moving.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

A little bit broken.

Here is a sentence I never thought I would say out loud: ‘The sarcoid is in the fridge.’
            The sarcoid, a revolting growth that suddenly put on a spurt and expanded to the size of my clenched fist, was hanging off my sweet little brown mare like a life-sapping vampire bat. An operation had been scheduled, and in the meantime, she was confined to close quarters with a ligature on. Then, suddenly, the thing wrenched itself off. I had been terrified that if this happened she would bleed to death. I kept telling myself not to worry, because worry does her no good and me no good and does not achieve anything, but for all that, I’ve been living on my nerves.
            The thing came off and she did not bleed to death. She has a small wound which is healing. The brilliant surgeon will still come and she will still have to have a procedure but it will be nothing like as dramatic as the operation which was planned. The clever little mare just did it herself. She is a bit stiff and sore, but she is as dear and friendly and calm and faintly comical as ever. She is a trooper.
            When animals are ill, not themselves, in discomfort or pain, I find it lacerating. I can’t explain to them what is going on. I can’t tell them that I am doing this to make them feel better, or doing that to keep them from harm. I can’t tell them about the devotion of the vets or the brilliance of the surgeons or the hope in my heart.
            In the meantime, the car has to go into the garage for the third time in a month and we have to make heart-breaking decisions about my mother’s things, and I am desperately trying to keep up with my work, and my To Do list sprouts tentacles like some alien being, and I feel stretched to my very limit.
And then, just as I beadily eye my remaining emotional and physical resources, the red mare goes lame. There is heat and swelling in her leg. The drama behind this is too long and mad to go into now, although I might write that story later.
            The kind vets come again. I feed the mare her special concoction of antibiotics and painkillers. I try to push the terrifying fear of infection from my mind. She is doleful and needy and wants me with her. I stand in the field and stroke her head gently and beam love and strength into her. She is no longer a proud duchess, but a creature who is a little bit broken.
            I feel a little bit broken.
            Well, I say to myself, that is not surprising. It’s one damn thing after another. Your adrenals are fucked.
            I make chicken soup and more chicken soup. I need the protein. I need the comfort.

            We are all a little bit broken. But we shall get mended. The car got mended. So shall we. 

Oh, and PS. Just in case you are wondering why precisely the sarcoid is in the fridge, it is because I want to preserve it for surgical analysis. Also, it's so freaky that I have to keep staring at it in wigged-out wonder. (No wonder my adrenals are buggered.) It's got an internal structure that looks like some kind of hitherto unknown sea creature. My poor sweet mare. I can't quite believe that someone so beautiful could have something so ugly on her glorious body. 

And PPS. I'm so exhausted that my eyes are crossing, so there is a very real possibility that this blog makes no sense and is riddled with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Forgive me. I'm going to sit very quietly in a darkened room and regroup and shall be back to fighting strength soon.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

In which my plan absolutely and categorically fails. Or, one brilliant horse puts a spoke in my idiotic wheel.

I had a really good plan for today. I was going to wake up feeling cross and resentful about all the idiot hullabaloo of Mothering Sunday. I would stump about muttering about the stupid, crass commercialism of Mothers’ Day. (I used to say this, with some force, to my mother every year on this day, and still give her flowers anyway.) I would then feel doleful and melancholy and miss my mum a lot.
            I started off brilliantly, fulfilling every part of the plan. I was sad and cross and I went furiously to the field not to greet my mares with joy but in the spirit of just getting them seen to. I would heft the hay and check the water trough with sullen, heavy steps and then bugger off.
            I did this part of the plan in dashing fashion, ticking all the gloomy boxes. I had a good old blub as I carried the stupid hay.
            And then I realised that the sun was shining and the birds were singing and the red mare was looking at me with a question in her eye.
            Oh, all right, I thought. I’ll do five minutes of lateral flexion. But that’s it. I’m far too busy with my plan, The Plan of Unrelieved Misery.
            The red mare, as she so often does, saved me. The lateral flexion was dreadful. That’s almost being too generous. At some points, it was not there at all. (For non-horse people, it is not important to know what this is or what it means or why it matters. In basic terms, it’s bending the horse’s head around, and if it is not soft and sweet then one of your most vital foundation stones is missing.)
            The mare even seemed to be having a joke, as instead of giving lightly to pressure she leaned against it and appeared to go to sleep.
            I’ve been working on this for three years, I thought, in amazed chagrin, and we’ve suddenly lost our lateral flexion? What the fuck is going on?
            What was going on was that the mare had no brief for my asinine plan. She had a plan of her own. She does not deal in sub-standard humans. She requires me to be my best self and she will not countenance anything less.
            So I had to go right back to the beginning and work on that damn lateral flexion as if I were teaching an unbroken two-year-old. It took seventeen minutes before I got the first real softening and a great, relieved, equine sigh, which gusted out into the bright Scottish air, as if to say: yes, thank you, that was what I wanted.
            Then I spent another fifteen minutes refining it.
            By this time, I was in that state of flow that the brilliant Hungarian gentleman with the unpronounceable name (it sounds something like chick-sent-me-high and I’m not even going to try to spell it) identified as the highest peak of happiness. My plan was gone to buggery. I was so immersed and focused, so in harmony with the beautiful thoroughbred creature beside me, that I had no time for gloom and doom.
            On we worked.
            Then I got into the saddle and we went deep into the woods and stood in our favourite glade and took our ease and looked at the trees. The mare sighed again, this time it seemed in profound satisfaction. Then we did some dressage diva trotting, and, finally, in our full pomp, we did the loping cowgirl canter on a loose rein, round and round the wide field. I whooped and told her she was brilliant. ‘Now you are rolling,’ I told her, in triumph. ‘Rolling, rolling, rolling.’
            ‘And,’ I said, about to say something else, but she came to an abrupt halt, stopping on a sixpence. I shouted with laughter. I’ve taught her voice cues, but I suddenly realised that when I say Whoa I always presage it with a drawn-out Aaaannnnddd. So now she stops dead on ‘And’. For some reason, I found this deliciously comical. I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed.
            This really was not in the plan. The HMS Plan of Unrelieved Misery steamed out to sea, without me on board. I waved at that silly old boat, as she sailed over the horizon.
            Then I went up to see the dear Stepfather and he showed me some of his first editions, which is my favourite thing, and gave me some beautiful books that he did not want any more so that it felt like my birthday instead of the Day of Gloom.

            My plan, it turned out, was a crashing failure. My mother would be so pleased. 

Saturday, 5 March 2016

There are times I miss her more than others.

There is snow in the air and a raw cold in the wind. In the shop, where I collect my Racing Post, the lady and I look at each other and smile rueful smiles. ‘Funny old day,’ I say. (I am British; this is the kind of thing I say to the lady in the shop,even though she knows all about my life and my dogs and my horse and my mum.) We both look out of the window, where the weather is quarrelling with itself. ‘It does not know whether to laugh or cry,’ I say.
            ‘I know the feeling,’ says the lady in the shop.
There are many ladies in the shop and I love them all, but this one is possibly my favourite. I once apologised to her, as I handed over some money, for my filthy hands. She looked at the ingrained mud and said, in approval: ‘Working hands.’ It was one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.
(I know one is told not to call people ladies any more, and I would rather die than do anything to make the ghosts of the Pankhursts weep, but somehow I can’t call them women in the shop. It sounds just off, to my ear, and does not convey the slightly old-fashioned atmosphere of this shop in this village, where so many people know so many people. Besides, I am old-fashioned myself when it comes to words. I still listen to the wireless and look in the looking glass.)
Then I went to the dear Stepfather and we drank coffee and spoke of this and that (Churchill and Boris and the Euro-argument) and he showed me two beautiful books. One was a first edition of Osbert Sitwell’s autobiography, inscribed by Sitwell to Dear Morgan. 
Dear Morgan. I nearly swooned with pleasure. 
I’ve been re-reading EM Forster, and I start to believe that everything one needs to know about life is in A Room with a View. 
‘We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won't do harm - yes, choose a place where you won't do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.’  
The other was a copy of Dylan Thomas in a beautiful modern binding which the dear Stepfather had had specially made for my mother.
We looked at that one for a long time, unspoken sorrow running between us. We knew everything about what that book meant.
‘I find it quite difficult,’ I said, diffidently, ‘all this talk of Mothering Sunday.’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Horrid.’
‘I miss her all the time,’ I said, keeping my voice level. ‘But there are times I miss her more than others.’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I know.’
‘It’s not people’s fault,’ I said, as if he might think I wanted the entire media and the internet to shut up shop just because I don’t have a mother this year. ‘They don’t know.’
‘No,’ he said.

Then I showed him how to get up The Night Manager on the iPlayer so he could watch the first two episodes before the third one is shown tomorrow night, and then I went home to get ready for the racing at Newbury. 
There is a veterans' race today. It's a grand series and a brilliant idea. Some racehorses love their retirement, and some don’t, so much. They still feel fit and strong and want to go on jumping over fences; they don’t know that they are twelve or thirteen and that the younger legs will outpace them. So an imaginative person invented the veterans’ races, where the glorious standing dishes can compete against each other out on the bright green turf which they still think of as home. 
It’s a fine sight to see these great campaigners, with all their canniness and knowledge of the game, still fired with enthusiasm even if they are not quite as fleet as they once were, bowling round with their ears pricked. They are still capable of breathtaking leaps, and they are clever enough to put in a short stride and fiddle a fence, and they sometimes seem to have all the racing wisdom in the world in their sage old heads. 
            Each Saturday, I would take Mum her racing paper and talk to her about the runners and we would reminisce over old friends and get excited about the new young stars. Each Saturday, after the racing was over, the telephone would go and I would hear her voice, often shaking with love and emotion. ‘Did you see that?’ she would say. ‘Did you cry?’
            The answer was always yes.
            She remembered Arkle and Mill House and would often speak of them, a mystical note in her voice. She always said, of Arkle: ‘He had the look of eagles.’
            Pete the Feat, my favourite horse in the veterans’ race today, is not in the same league as those legends, but I adore him because he is bold and brave and tough and he loves his job. He might win and he might not, but he’ll do his best as he always does.
Today, there will be no telephone call, no voice saying ‘Oh, Pete the Feat.’
            There are times when I miss her more than others.


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