I met Jenny while hellhounds and I were out hurtling today. Some of you will remember Jenny. She has a horse farm/stables/yard at Ditherington. I rode her gorgeous mare Connie for—was it about a year? I’m pretty sure both the beginning and the end were recorded in this blog—until the ME started letting me know in fairly graphic terms that I couldn’t ride regularly, week after week . . . and there’s no frelling point to riding any other way than regularly. At least not at my age and when I’ve done enough riding and hanging out with horses in years past that I’m not interested in anything less than a relationship, and preferably a training relationship, with an individual horse, in which one or the other of you and probably both are learning stuff you didn’t know before. I miss riding. I miss hanging out with horses, but while Jenny always says I’m welcome to stop around any time, it seems so pathetic when I can’t ride.
I miss Connie.
Connie was lovely. She was a Connemara/thoroughbred cross, which is a popular breeding because it produces a lot of good horses. She was one of them. She could do anything if you asked her nicely—she was positive and willing and clever, a ‘schoolmaster’ (or perhaps schoolmistress), as they call such horses, without being a push-button robot. She paid attention, and if you didn’t ask correctly, you didn’t get what you thought you wanted. She also needed your help: she couldn’t do it alone. She engaged. She was right there for you.
She had an accident out one day in the field, no one knows what or how, the same harmless, as-much-as-anyone-ever-can-horse-proofed field she spent all her days in. And had to be put down.
She can’t have been more than her mid to late teens. She should have had another ten years of teaching humans to ride—Jenny’s son was due to have her when he outgrew his pony—and some years after that of being a pasture ornament.
I missed the Metropolitan Opera Quiz because the blasted bride was forty minutes late. Not to mention a lot of Renee Fleming. Singing, I mean. Renee Fleming was not late.*
We–Peter, hellhounds and I–were supposed to be in Gloucestershire tonight for a major clan birthday party.** During one of the lulls of canine digestive mayhem we’d booked a cottage that takes dogs*** because I was having one of my spells of total sanity loss, when I believed the vet had figured it out. Foolish me.† So we cancelled.†† This meant I was not going to miss Renee Fleming singing Massenet’s Thais††† which would recompense me for almost anything. And then Niall went down with flu, for pity’s sake, Niall doesn’t get ill, let alone ill enough not to ring bells, which is his purpose in life, which meant that the wedding I’d been supposed to ring before I found out we’d be in Gloucestershire and had to cross my name off the list, was short a ringer . . . this was now after I’d noticed what this week’s Saturday at the Met was going to be, drat it, but I am both loyal and very, very local, so I swallowed hard and said okay.‡
And then the bride was forty minutes late. And the service took longer than the schedule looked like it ought to. Sigh. I’m presently listening to my old Beverly Sills Thais‡‡, which is some comfort. And Connie and I cantered away like anything this morning. I didn’t quite dare try a ten metre circle, but we were probably doing fifteen, and she was right there ready to be asked to spiral down a little more. But because the universe is in perfect balance in all its minutiae, even to someone riding a horse in circles, our trot work was pretty terrible. We began okay but as soon as we started cantering it was all over. Cantering Connie is a good way to wake up her trot, if she’s in need of waking, but she hasn’t been in need of waking in a while‡‡‡. And my impression was that she too was saying, Yaay! We’ve finally got the canter sorted! Silly woman! I thought she’d never learn! So let’s canter! –We had some really splendid walk to canter transitions too. Some of them I’d even asked for.
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* Renee Fleming would be fired if she were late. There are a lot of brides out there I think need firing.^ Don’t talk to me about major one off event planning: I’m not interested. Sure, I know the stories about the twelve-car collisions on the M3 and the six hour tailbacks: those brides I absolve^^. The rest of them . . . I’m a cynical old curmudgeon but I would bet you that if it were in the contract that every paid professional involved in a wedding started getting time and a half for every minute past fifteen that the wedding was late starting, a lot more weddings would happen on time. Of course I’ve just missed the Met opera quiz and a lot of Renee Fleming, so I’m not in a good mood.
^ There’s a (bad) joke here about building fires under them, but I’ll leave you to finish it for yourselves
^^and some department of social services should provide a free bottle of champagne every year on their anniversary, as a kind of pension
** Somebody else turning 80. Been there, done that. And a hellhound interfered with that one too.^
^ Peter’s 80th last December. And Chaos had a throat infection and was really really really really sick. The whole story is back on the old lj blog, if anyone wants to revisit past adversity.
*** Perhaps our error was in not doublechecking that they took hellhounds, and fate said tut tut mustn’t have this carelessness. WHAM.
† I now have some frail and trembling cause to hope I may have figured at least some of it out, but I’m not going to talk about it in public yet. It’s been a long scary two years and I’m pretty shellshocked. Make that extremely shellshocked.
†† I have very mixed feelings about this. I dread huge parties, but it’s really nice to see everyone. One at a time, preferably, in corners, between hors d’oeuvres, etc.^ It’s also a great excuse to dress up.
^ Good luck.
††† Thais is the courtesan. For anyone who is puzzling over the title of this entry. She’s a pretty interesting character, especially for a woman in a 19th century opera: there’s this monk who decides to try to save her from her wicked ways–so far so standard–but then she actually does convert and he suddenly realises that he has the hots for her. She dies of one of those mysterious invisible symptomless diseases^ Hollywood would make famous a few decades later–Massenet is fond of mysterious diseases: he kills off his Manon the same way–ecstatic, with a vision of heaven, and the monk collapses, babbling of his desire for her, with a final cry of Pitié! (which is, just by the way, very effective, like Alfredo crying Violetta! at the end of La Traviata or Rodolfo crying Mimi! at the end of La Boheme. Anguish and despair are great ways to end an opera). No less an authority than the New Grove Dictionary of Opera agrees with me that Thais is sadly underrated. The music is really interesting. It’s all sort of . . . French.
^ The Plot Device Disease
‡ And the torment doesn’t stop: I’m ringing some damn thing tomorrow evening (as well as service ring in the morning, of course. With Niall hors de combat I hope we’re not ringing plain hunt on three). I don’t even know what it is. I just know I have to turn up at x tower at x time and pull on a bell rope. Probably another of these frelling carol services.^ I’ve told you before that I’m a strong believer in bells: we should ring more things rather than fewer–more weddings and particularly more funerals, and more just . . . things. I think those two-minute silences on Armistice Day should end with a lot of people pulling bells off. For example. So I’m completely hoist by my own petard. But I do find it frustrating that there are a lot of perfectly functional rings of bells around here that have no ringers so when someone wants bells they have to go scouring around other people’s towers for spare and/or mad ringers to fill in. Learn to ring, you guys! It’s fun! It’s good exercise! It enables you to haul heavy-on-the-bit mares up off their forehands!
^ I’m still trying to remember to, uh, sing. You may or may not remember that I’m supposed to learn to sing these wretched songs I seem to be composing.+ So I try to sing when I’m out walking hellhounds–when I’m out walking hellhounds very far away from anyone else. I will never be Renee Fleming but I can carry a tune, more or less, but I’m only erratically audible++ and Oisin says briskly I need to sing more. I’ve started making copies of lyrics and sticking them in my back pocket because I seem to have forgotten the lyrics to everything I ever knew. Except Christmas carols. I can sing Christmas carols for over an hour without repeating myself.+++ Hoarse but triumphant. Of course the wildlife that lives near any of our usual routes is becoming increasingly traumatised and the sheep run away sooner than they do when I’m not singing, but I suppose some kind of progress is being made.
+ If I compose slowly enough . . . that won’t work, I’ve got several finished.
++ Which is arguably a good thing, but counterproductive
+++ Scary. Very scary.
‡‡ Although speaking of scary I’ve had a really scary experience. I was trying to remember what you call the order of service when it’s a wedding–you know, those little white booklets they pass out at the door that tell you what’s going on. They’ve got a name, don’t they? So I googled it. Of course. And managed to choose the wrong click to info: found myself facing a huge Adobe file and a license agreement–I’m coming to loathe Adobe, but that’s another story–so hit ‘back’. Wouldn’t go back. Wouldn’t do anything. Hung. Eventually hit control-alt-delete and got off the web but was now faced with a Task Manager window suggesting I End Task . . . and thirty three little green boxes at the bottom of my screen going gleep gleep gleep in the most extraordinary manner, as if they were thirty three little green mouths serially opening and shutting.
And I hadn’t saved this entry before I went on line which I usually do because I’m pathetic and paranoid.
I did, as you see, manage to save around the Task Manager and the green boxes . . . but I can tell you I was feeling profoundly unhappy when I closed and hit ‘restart’. Would this still be here? Or would I have to give you my eggnog recipe tonight after all? Up the point that the bride was only twenty minutes late, you were going to get the eggnog recipe. Oh well. Tomorrow.
‡‡‡ The weather helps, but indeed today was weirdly balmy. I should have been out frantically jamming the last tulips into pots but . . . I wasn’t.
I rode a ten metre circle at the canter today. I’m so chuffed I can hardly stand it. Our canter work has never been as good as our trot work, which is to say I’m meatloaf, because it may have been the first time I saw Jenny ride Connie she did these like two and a half metre circles* and I said afterwards that Connie would be perfectly capable of pirouettes if Jenny wanted to ask her. But I just never keep it all together well enough. There’s too frelling much going on at the canter and I’m always about half a stride behind and thinking, wait, is it my left . . . uh . . . which body part? And to do a ten metre circle–which is miniscule, for you non-horse people–you really do have to have the horse both together and under you–balanced under you, I mean, as opposed to not having shied twenty feet across the arena leaving you behind–all at the same time. Feh. I have noticed that our cantering is improving, and we’ve done ten metre circles at the trot a few times. But when Jenny said today, make a twenty-metre circle and then spiral in to ten metres, I thought she was out of her tiny mind. But we did it. And we did it both directions too which is to say Connie’s stiff side as well as her easy side.** I actually couldn’t believe it. I kept waiting for it all to go horribly wrong. Sometimes when you get better at something you know what you’ve done or how you’ve done it: you know what changed. Sometimes you don’t. I know our canter work has got better–and it’s also got better when we’re on our own without Jenny keeping me organised–but I don’t really know why. My body parts are catching on by their individual selves. *** And I sure didn’t know it had got this much better.
Of course on Saturday† we won’t be able to canter at all.
. . . So, anyway, I didn’t cancel riding today. And the high produced by those ten metre circles got me through most of the rest of the day . . . and then I crashed spectacularly at about the point that the birthday dinner began. I was just putting my shoes on†† and thought . . . uh oh. I’m now furthermore smashed ††† and I’m going to bed before (I hope) I merely curl up on the floor with the hellhounds.‡ The food was lovely and the conversation was excellent‡‡, and I stayed sitting up in my chair, what more do you want?
But allow me to leave you with a link as lovely as riding a ten-metre circle.‡‡‡ Jodi sent it to me a few days ago. The title tells you everything you need to know and your finger should be thumping the connect button before you finish reading this sen. . . .
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** All horses have a stiffer and a softer side. It’s pretty pronounced in Connie’s case, probably as a result of whatever it was left all the scars down the left side of her neck and foreleg. I’ve mentioned this before: I don’t in the least understand how she managed to get through whatever it was heart-whole, which she manifestly did: she’s absolutely positive and willing on the flat or over fences. Of course she’s afraid of butterflies, pigs, and cow parsley/Queen Anne’s lace, but that’s another issue.
*** I find learning a physical skill is often like this. Your hands do it, your legs do it. You kind of go along because you’re attached.
†Because of course I am riding on Saturday
†† One pair of those famous four-pairs-of-shoes-in-an-afternoon shoes, which appeared in this blog a few months ago. So, not All Stars. It does happen occasionally, the not All Stars.
††† Everyone else went on to red wine thus forcing me to finish the champagne
‡ There’s almost enough room in their bed, and I just swept it out and changed the blankets yesterday. . . .
‡‡ No thanks to me
‡‡‡ Or surviving a birthday party
I have fallen back into the evil life-eating habit of spending way too much time on the blog. If the day were thirty hours long, etc* I could write a nice long entry every evening. Day length and mortal flesh being what they are, I can’t. I’m behind on everything. I’m behind on breathing. And let’s not even talk about sleep.
So as a warm-up to the new improved able-to-write-short** McKinley I’m giving myself the evening off. More or less. And I am going to do this more. ***
Meanwhile, a photo or two. Or three.
The reason you don’t get more hellhound photos is that they’re incredibly hard to photo. They are faster than speeding bullets and leap to the tops of tall buildings in single bounds just by the way. They also have this tiresome habit of responding to me. If I kneel down to take their photo, I get a photo of Large Dog Noses, and I have to be fast even to get that, before I am bowled over and Played With. † And right at the moment the situation with mixy rabbits†† is so awful that I haven’t been letting them off lead at all, barring Third House’s garden.
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* But preferably forty
** This is the basic problem as I have said before. My ‘natural’ entry length seems to be 1200 words or so. I can’t seem to spit it out or pull it together or figure out what the daffydowndilly I’m on about any sooner. But I’m also not to be trusted about anything that doesn’t have to be done every day, day after day. I get the hellhounds walked every day. Almost everything else falls into large dark holes from time to time^. This is not a good way to run a blog.^^
^ Just the word time . . . brrrrr. . . .
^^ Especially not a blog whose existence is to present me as a professional. Cough cough cough cough cough. Professional what is of course open to interpretation.+
+ Not to mention interpolation.
*** You want PEGASUS in a timely^ manner, right? So do I. I also want Connie to go on recognising me. Including watching me out of the corner of her eye as I slog across the field toward her and then throwing her head up and coming briskly and eagerly toward me^^ at the last possible moment as if she just hadn’t noticed me before and of course she’d've met me halfway except she was contemplating the meaning of life, etc.
^ There’s that word again.
^^ Toward me and the bucket. The meaningfully rattling bucket.
† I have taken many photos of Large Dog Noses.
†† http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miximatosis for those of you who have forgotten/aren’t country folk. It’s a horrible disease. Rabbits get feebler and feebler and their eyes get so infected they can’t see before they die. I can’t bear it that the hellhounds catch them–which of course they do, while I’m screaming about fair play and that it’s sick, leave it alone–and I also don’t wish to bear their either eating or rolling in the ones that are already dead.^
^ I want to know how humans evolved to be able to find creatures with these habits cute.+
I did manage to go riding today. Jenny was chuffed because someone who went off to be famous a year ago has had enough of being famous, sold her (successful and very nice) fancy horse and all his fancy kit to someone who wants to spend their lives on the road and plaiting manes every morning at 5 am, has taken a deep breath and become ordinary again. And wants an ordinary horse. Not too ordinary. Connie would do. No. Jenny keeps telling me she’s not going to sell Connie, but people do hang round her (Jenny’s, but Connie’s too) neck occasionally, weeping, and offering ridiculous amounts of money. Connie will never go to Horse of the Year but she’s top drawer ordinary.
She was also rather loaded for bear again today. Jenny managed to wedge me in for a lesson–I having missed my normal Tuesday lesson due to press of canine circumstance–and every time we went past the (closed) door of the indoor school Connie got several inches taller and, you know, elevated. What price self-carriage. Once there were actual feet visible under the door: I mean, feet. How totally alarming.* Jenny had clipped her again this week, so at the moment she looks like a contour map, and she’s probably feeling a bit chilly. And Jenny said she’s short of exercise because Jenny hasn’t had time** to get her out often enough. I’ve been worrying that she seems to be having too many loaded-for-bear days–oh gods I’m a bad rider and a bad influence–but it occurred to me that your fit horse is your lively horse***, and Jenny makes a point that work is to work, and is impatient with people who let their horses slop around at a shuffle on a slack rein. None of that with any horse of hers. Which suits me very well, since shuffling on a slack rein is boring. But there’s a certain amount of reaping what you sow involved. Fortunately Connie’s saddle is a nice old Stubben and it kind of bends around and helps hold you on. Chains and padlocks would be better but Connie probably wouldn’t like the clanking.
Then I raced home in time to feed hellhounds lunch before I clattered off to my next thing, which was handbell practise for this carol gig at the old folks’ home.† We’re improving: several of the carols were recognisable this week. We’re only working on a few of the really, really obvious ones because we’re hoping our audience will sing along and drown us out. I suggested passing out lyric sheets.
Then I finally got down to the mews. †† We had some old friends of Peter’s coming by–well, they’d been there for lunch †††. Cough. Cough. Ahem. ‡ Fortunately they’re used to me, although they hadn’t heard the ‘handbell carol’ excuse before. But I was listening to what they’ve been doing and are about to do–they’re both taking half-year sabbaticals and going to India–Henry was last seen on his tailor-made kryptonite-alloy bicycle‡‡, pedalling from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. She has a pilot’s license and we get occasional postcards from her in Turkey or Alaska or wherever her little group of small-planes pilots have gone for fun this time. She and Henry go to New York City for the weekend occasionally for the shopping. They also have a sailboat. I’m tired–and more than a bit dazzled–just thinking about it.
Except I’m just as bad, in my stay at home way. I was thinking about glamour–Henry had, of course, bicycled down from London (it’s only about 75 miles, he said carelessly), which meant he could flash his bike at us: it really does look a bit like a rocketship without the rockets–we see Georgina oftener, so I’m a bit more inured to her flying. I know if I accused either of them of being glamorous they’d look nonplussed and then burst out laughing. I, of course, know that I am not the least bit glamorous, and any‡‡‡ reader of this blog knows it too. But I get an awful lot of book mail taking the glamorousness of Being a Writer as a given. And riding a round ten-metre circle§ is glamorous, as is ringing a touch of Stedman Doubles§§. Glamour is not only in the eye of the beholder, it has a lot to do with the angle of the light at the time.
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* Jenny went out, told Miles that Connie was having a silly day, and to please play somewhere else.
** Guilt. Guilt.
*** Being exercise girl at a race track never appealed to me, and you read these very blasé interviews even with top flight dressage riders who say, oh yes, my Olympic-gold winning horse, Piffling Panjandrum, likes to drop-kick me over the perimeter fence and then dance along the roofs of the cars in the car park. Ha ha ha, he’s so funny.
† We’re a peculiar mixture: two teenagers and the rest of us won’t see fifty again (nor have seen it in a while). I don’t suppose the old folks will care. I’m looking forward to the conversation about performance dress code.
†† Having thoughtfully swung past the cottage to pick up hellhounds, who are feeling that there’s been too much of this ‘leaving hellhounds behind’ thing the last couple of days: yesterday there was puppy visiting, going to the dentist^, and bell practise.^^ Today there was Connie, and handbell carols. Hellhounds are beginning to contemplate forgiving me now however since I haven’t been out of sight of their beady little eyes since midafternoon.
^ To no avail. The moment I rang up and rather than just letting me cancel next week’s appointment like sensible people, insisting instead on dragging me in for a consultation yesterday, the tooth subsided like sticking a pin in a balloon. It’ll be back next Tuesday afternoon, when he steps on the drill pedal.
^^ I rang a near-perfect touch of Stedman last night, including both the doable cat’s-ears call and the undoable coathangers’ call. At the end of which . . . nobody said anything. They just went on with tying up their ropes and going on to the next thing. I know what this means: it means I am considered to have arrived. It means Robin Now Rings Stedman Doubles. This should be good, yes?+ No. It also means Robin in a permanent panic on Sunday mornings for months, in fear–no, in utter pop-eyed terrified dread–of the possibility of touches of Stedman Doubles. I’m still most likely to go wrong slightly after a successfully negotiated coathanger, when I start shaking from shock. No, I’m afraid I’m not exaggerating for effect. Stedman is a castle you storm. They should hand out medals.
+ Although it’s good too. Golly! I ring Stedman! I ring touches of Stedman, not just plain courses! Lots of ringers never get this far! I’m the real thing! I’m a bell ringer!~ Eeep! . . . And for my next trick, I will start memorising Cambridge. Cambridge is a ‘surprise’ method–I have no idea, although when you look at your first ‘surprise’ method line, the surprise could kill you if you have a weak heart. But I’m under the impression that if you survive Stedman you’re assumed to toil on and fall over the edge of the ravine into surprise. Besides, I’m convicted out of my own mouth: I want to ring Yorkshire, which is a very nasty surprise method indeed, only it sounds so pretty.
~ It doesn’t feel like it. Being a real ringer still feels like something that happens . . . later.
††† Lunch! I knew I was forgetting something! Well, hellhounds had theirs!
‡ I got there just in time for the rugby.^ Ewwwwwww.
^ I may mean football. I don’t know and I don’t care.
‡‡ sic. Well, maybe not the kryptonite.
§ Round is the issue, as any rider will tell you
§§ Wearing a false moustache so none of the little old people at the old folks’ home will recognise you behind the handbells is not glamorous.