Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

To all my blog friends old, new, virtual and physical, and indeed to anyone who happens upon this little piece of the Internet.

Wishing you all the best for the festive season and 2009.

Love M&M and the Grey Mare xxx

Saturday, August 30, 2008

And so the year turns

The cherry tree failed to produce a single fruit this year, ditto the pear which admittedly surpassed itself last year with a veritable orchard's worth on its own, and the apples have been poor. The plums - those that were not hijacked by wasps - were good, but yet again the hedgerows are where the real treasure is to be found.

I have been on my first brambling expedition of the year this evening. One bag for me, one bag for next door and ten stung and scratched fingers. The bramble and apple crumble, which I intend to smother in custard, will be worth it though.

Little gold and striped spiders have spun their webs in the bramble bushes and I felt guilty when I accidentally knocked one from his home. In the morning the webs will dazzle with dew.

The arrival of spun silk in the hedgerows adds to the whiff of autumn. The Grey Mare is readying herself for winter too and is starting to look slightly fluffy.

I remember summer. It's just a shame it hasn't
deigned to delight us with its presence for a couple of years.

Monday, August 25, 2008

What I did on my holidays

The majority of what I did on my holidays involved copious amounts of mud - both of the Northumbrian and Scottish varieties.

My week off started with a smile when the Grey Mare delighted me with her dressage. The competiton had been forced inside because the field where it was due to be held was wet, boggy and muddy.

My mud-free moment occurred when I bade farewell to my old Corsa and swapped him for a green machine. My new car is diesel, which I hope will cut the fuel bills. I had emptied the Corsa the night before going to the garage. The garage man still said: "Horsey girl are you?" I don't know if it was the Grey Mare hairs clinging valiantly to the upholstery or the pervading pong of eau d'cheval. I have been ordered not to turn the new car into a horse equipment depositary.

More mud was in order when I accompanied a friend who was showing two ponies at a big horse event in Scotland. We were towed onto the lorry park by tractor and towed off again the next morning. The lorry park henceforth became known as 'the swamp'. My friend did marvellously well and not only won her class but won the championship against the first and second-placed ponies in three classes.

And today, I returned to the muddy showground of Glendale. This year, I was under cover, serving tea and coffee to horsey folk for a couple of hours.

My holiday is over, the summer - such as it was - is drifting on towards autumn and it's back to work tomorrow.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The mysterious mind of the Grey Mare

I have always thought I had the Grey Mare pretty well sussed. We have a good relationship and a fabulous bond. I usually know what will worry her and what she will take in her stride. But sometimes she surprises me.

Today was one of those days where she surprised me big time - and in a fabulous way. Today we went to our second dressage test. And we came second!

After the fiasco of our first attempt a couple of weeks ago, and her naughtiness and 'I'm not listening' while schooling this week, I was prepared for more of the same. I was even more concerned about our chances because due to the sodden ground, our test was in an indoor school. The Grey Mare has been in an indoor school once in the six years I have owned her and that was three or four years ago.

However, she was in a gorgeous huggy mood yesterday and seemed pretty happy this morning. She warmed up well in the field outside at the venue, I managed to stop her seeing the pigs near the school (many horses have a pig phobia) and we went into the indoor arena, complete with its scary white boards. An initial circuit of snort-snort-snort while we dandered round before the test began, then suddenly, she switched into soft, lovely dressage horse mode.

She behaved beautifully, worked well and I was utterly, utterly delighted with her. And we got a lovely big blue rosette.

I adore that wee horse!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Holy Moly

It seems at the moment that people are getting caught by the tide and requiring rescue from the Holy Island causeway just about every weekend.

That's despite clear signs at each side, warnings and lists of safe crossing times.

Do people think those signs are there for a joke? Do they think in their arrogance: "Ah, it won't happen to me" and simply plough on regardless - and then get stuck?

Each rescue costs a fortune - and most could probably be avoided if people had read and paid note to the signs.

I have had a marvellous idea to stop people getting stuck. Put a little hut at each end of the causeway with a member of staff requiring that everyone who crosses signs a disclaimer and agrees to pay for the cost of their rescue if they require one.

I bet that would stop the stupidity in one fell swoop.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The delights of dressage

The Grey Mare and I have a new hobby.

No, not her dropping me in the long grass when birds fly out of it unexpectedly (which has happened twice in the last month, the first of which necessitated me hobbling around with a stick for two days)... but dressage.

Dressage is something I have thought for some years that the Grey Mare should be able to do. She has resisted. However, we entered a competition and with grim determination (on my behalf) we practised. And we practised and we practised.

In the week or so leading up to our debut, I thought we had just about got it. I thought we might not make such fools of ourselves after all.

The day dawned, I was up at 5.30am, industriously plaiting her mane and tail and polishing her to perfection. She did, if I say so myself, look rather splendid. However, that is where the splendidness stopped.

Having not competed for four years, going away to the competition was just a wee bit too exciting. New place, new horses, and the horror of the white boards - and flowers - around the arena were all a bit too much.

The lovely soft dressage horseness we had almost achieved at home went out of the window and my grim determination returned - to complete the test. Which we did, with a couple of spooks, and a step or two outside of the dreaded white boards when she thought she was going to be able to escape.

However, it has now filled me with a desire to do it again - and keep doing it again until she performs away from home as well as I know she is capable of doing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Merry Meet

It is a fact universally acknowledged that once blogging has caught you in its web, it's not that easy to escape.

I may not have posted for more than three months, indeed I had decided to retire gracefully from the blogosphere but I have made friends through this secret society, and last night I met up with three of them.

@themill, a near neighbour and similarly retired, and I travelled down the A1 together to a lovely pub where we met Hadriana's Treasures, who had made a 50-mile trip to be there. Expatmum had come the furthest - from Chicago - but on this evening, had just popped up the road from her mum's.

We talked about blogging, the seductive thrall it has, friends, family and oh, normal things.

Despite my lack of posting, I also speak to Gill and Karen regularly too on that other thief of time Facebook.

As The Eagles once said: "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave ..."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

And it's goodnight from her...

Regular readers will have noticed I have not been particularly blogtastic of late.

A year ago, I was firing on all cylinders, enthused and eager. A year ago, I was writing for a business publisher where creativity was stifled and big words were frowned upon.

Now, working for a newspaper again, I feel fulfilled creatively and no longer have the urge to tip-tap away when I get home. I’m also enjoying the spring evenings with the Grey Mare.

So, for now, I am disappearing from the blogosphere. I may be back – who knows?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Snow business

In our little pocket of coastal Northumberland, the snow rarely lingers. It has a tough battle against the salt air and needs to come fully equipped with reinforcements if it is to win the right to settle. It did - briefly - overnight but the roads are again wet and grass is peeping through the temporary dusting on lawns and fields.

It's a different story inland. Drive along an uncovered Beadnell Straight towards Swinhoe and before you reach the top, there will be snow. A definite line marks the end of the salty dominance. Looking out from my garden, the Cheviots have been white for a few days. And it's supposed to be spring.

I have a love-hate relationship with snow. Currently, I'm happy to be smothered in the stuff: I am off work for a week and the Grey Mare has a stable to be tucked into. But when I have to drive through it, and in previous years when she lived outside all year round, I hated it. Then, I was glad of our special little ecosystem.

Sometimes, though, the snow beats the salty air. At school, I prayed for snow, because it meant we would be sent home. The thickest I have ever seen was in February of 1987. We were all but blocked in for about a week. I loved it. The Grey Mare's predecessor (another grey mare, natch) lived at a dairy farm in the next village. I would trudge through the snow to feed her and be brought home by the tractor that had been called into service to deliver the milk.

The grey mare # 1 is long gone, and so is the dairy: houses occupy the field where the ponies grazed adjacent to black and white cows. I still think of them every time I pass by.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Chasing chickens

I don't like running at the best of times. And 6.15 in the morning is certainly not the best of times.

To be honest, I don't think any time is a good time for chasing chickens. It puts me in quite a fowl mood. But as there are only three left, I wouldn't like to be responsible for losing any more. Once, there were four brown chickens, six Black Rocks and a cute white one that looked like a snowball. But over the course of the winter, Mr Fox has been picking them off one by one.

The chickens, which roam freely during the daylight hours, have a perfectly fine hen house to sleep in. But they rarely do: why should they when there is the luxury of the stables to enjoy? The American barn with its sliding doors, electric lights, bales of hay, convenient stalls to roost on and horse feed to plunder must be a chicken's idea of a luxury hotel. And that would be all well and good if they didn't decide to sneak outside when you arrive to muck out in the morning.

The fox massacred one on the lawn the other week; today I thought her sisters would be going the same way after I stupidly forgot to close the main door when I took the Grey Mare the few yards to her field. Suddenly, they were clucking around my feet and I was able to quickly shoo two inside. Chicken number three, however, was made of sterner stuff. She was outside and she was not going back in.

I sprinted round and round after this feathered blur, shocked at her turn of speed. If her legs were longer, I would have sworn she was a decendant of the Road Runner. Finally, I managed to corner her near the hen house and fortunately the door was open. I bolted it smartly behind her, and leaving her in solitary confinement, I almost collapsed in a heap with the exertion.

"Are you all right?" asked my friend, arriving to feed her horse. I explained what had happened. "Oh, you should've just put some grain in a bucket and shaken it for them," she said when she stopped laughing at me.

"No, what I should have done," I gasped between pants, "is left the f***kers for the fox!"

Monday, March 17, 2008


My car is going to get me into serious trouble.

I am hugely grateful for the turning of the year and the ligher evenings - if only because it means I sometimes manage to get out of town without having to switch on my lights. Although my headlights are working, they seem to have a mind of their own. If I indicate, the full beam will come on. Sometimes the full beam comes on if I drive over a bump in the road; sometimes it comes on for utterly no reason.
Sometimes it takes several attempts to turn it off and the person in front will - obviously - think I am flashing at them. I won't be surprised if some burly white van man stops and thumps me.

This itchy trigger is just one of the many ailments my car is suffering from: the engine often has spluttering fits like a 60-a-day smoker (those in the know tell me the 'big end' is going) and the exhaust seems to have emphysema. People ask me when I'm going to get it fixed. I say I'm not; I don't see the point in throwing good money after bad. "Some people pay a lot of money to make their car sound like this," I tell them. My point is proven when I drive past teenage tarts and wannabe boy racers and they turn to see which of their loud-exhaust heroes has just whizzed by.

The windscreen wipers have just started to make a tick-tock noise when I turn them on, for all the world like a clock counting down to the end of the road. If the relationship between my car and I was a book, we would now have reached the final 25 pages.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Road toads

Nature can be a cruel mother. Tonight she sent the rain, heavy and prolonged, knowing it would tempt out the toads to walk across the roads as people returned home from work.

Driving into my road - a street so small that calling it a road gives it illusions of grandeur - I stopped twice to rescue two toads (and a piece of crumpled up cellophane) from the tarmac. Three more toads were saved from stepping into the danger zone and were placed in the relative sanctuary of my garden.

I picked up a big frog from the middle of the road beside the stables and popped it on to the verge. Another stood, stupified, further along. I was too late to help him: either clipped by a car or picked up by a dog, he seemed not long for this life. I placed him in a flowerbed to die with some dignity.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


The Grey Mare is sulking.

I thought yesterday's "I'm really not pleased with you, mother" attitude was because she had spent the day inside. With the worst storm since 1987 forecast and the gale starting to gather momentum when I fed her in the cold light of dawn, I thought she would appreciate it. She loathes spending the day with her head down, bum to the wind, simply surviving the elements, and I loathe the thought of it. However, the great storm did not hit Northumberland: by the time I arrived home there was an eerie calm of the kind where you find yourself breathing quietly, listening, waiting for something to happen.

I took her out for some grass, I chattered away inanely as is my wont, sorted out her bed, her dinner, her hay and her magnetic boots. I then sorted out the dark prince, who along with my sister's other three is my responsibility while she is off Nessie-spotting for a couple of days. The poor lad is lame and is staying in through necessity rather than non-arriving storms. I gave him some carrots and had a chat with him.

The force of the evil eye assailing me along the line of stables compelled me to turn around. "What are you doing, giving him my carrots!" she seemed to be saying. I had forgotten just how possessive the Grey Mare can be. She gets rather upset if I have anything to do with another horse in her sight as she thinks - quite rightly - that she is the centre of my universe.

She spent today outside, came in when I called and ate her tea while I went down the field to feed more of my sister's horses. But once I returned, I was searched thoroughly for carrots (in case I was hiding any for him) and watched intently while I sorted him out for the night.

I don't know how my sister manages to have four horses and keep them all happy. One spoiled little madam is quite sufficient for me.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Marilyn Monroe is haunting me.

Until the last 10 days, I had barely spared her a thought in years. But now, I switch on a music channel and Sir Elton, complete with outrageous blue periwig, is singing Candle in the Wind, backed by footage of a kiss-blowing Marilyn. A Marilyn ‘expert’ is fooled by a Madonna picture in a wannabe pose and Lindsay Lohan attempts to ape MM in a magazine photoshoot. A columnist praises the pneumatic blonde for her support of Ella Fitzgerald in segregated ‘50s America. An interviewee asks for my opinion on dream dinner party guests. “Monroe and Kennedy,” I say, without missing a beat.

At 18, Monroe and fellow ‘live fast, die young, have a beautiful corpse’ icon James Dean were my retro poster stars of choice. In the late ‘80s, student union poster sales were packed with arty shots of MM to cover crappy student house wallpaper and peeling paint. I devoured biographies, soaked up conspiracy theories and stared hard at grainy black and white images taken after the post-mortem. My homage extended to my bleached platinum bob and a period sporting scarlet lipstick and fingernails.

Like other teenage obsessions, it passed. But, nearly 50 years after her death, it seems the world’s obsession is still strong. That, I suppose, is a mark of true charisma and star quality. I look at the fragile and vulnerable blonde with the big, vibrant smile and consider today’s crop of celebrities. I wonder how many of them will still be making it into the news – or even people’s thoughts – half a century after they’ve gone?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The future's bright...

My mind had been bubbling over with blogtastic ideas – but it seems few will make it into cyberspace. At least not for the moment: I am having Internet issues.

Four calls to my ISP’s techie team in some far-flung call centre (I refused to answer the same questions on the fourth call and instead attempted to find out what was happening by employing Jeremy Paxman tactics) have ascertained – I think – that my broadband is buggered.

My overseas aide told me it could be three to five working days before it is fixed. Having dealt with this particular company’s estimates before, I know that its concept of time is rather fluid.

Was I happy with this? the call centre chappie read from his script. No, I said, I was not. But unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about it.

Monday, March 03, 2008


My Beelzebub is a proper witch's black cat. Wide-eyed and lithe, she is my familiar straight from central casting. And she adores her mother: she is a one-woman cat. Strangers come to the door and she hides until they have gone. I come to the door and she purrs. She wakes me in the morning by putting her face close to mine and 'singing' - for all the world as if she is humming and purring at the same time. This morning, I glimpsed her shadow behind the curtain in the spare room as I left for work. "Goodbye," I said, "I'll see you tonight." She came out, yowling her response. She is a very vocal cat.

She refuses to be put in a cat carrier. When we moved house for the first time, I tried to put her into a large cardboard box. She repeatedly punched her way out. Then I nearly lost her up the chimney. Eventually, I was able to get her into a hessian sack and carry her on my knee in the car, talking to her all the time. On arrival at her new abode, she hid for a day and would only eat Yeo Valley yoghurt.

The contrast with her black and white brother Wombat is immense. They have had the same life experiences but they are very different characters. Whereas she is finely-built, he is a chunky man in the Bagpuss mould. Where she is shy, he is confident and gregarious. Where she is vocal, he meows rarely and has a deep, low, reassuring purr.

They both sleep on my bed at night; B at my feet and Wom curled in beside me. I used to wonder how it was possible to have more than one pet and not have a favourite. Now I know: they are very different but I adore them equally.

Friday, February 29, 2008

What a carry on

I am starting to panic-hoard carrier bags. Even if I am just buying a pint of milk, yes, I'll have a bag with that, please. I feel like those shoppers who stuffed their trollies with bread during the fuel blockades (and I think we're due another one of those too). If I don't get them now, soon there will be none left.

I fear for the future of the carrier bag. It may be much maligned, but I need it. What else will I use to carry horse food to the stables, line bins and - vitally - empty smelly cat litter into? Much as I like the idea of lovely brown paper bags that biodegrade beautifully, I can't see them performing the same functions as well as my environmentally unfriendly plastic friends.

Admittedly, I hate to see bags ripped and flapping, trapped in fences on windy days. So does the Grey Mare. I abhor litter of any kind. But I fear losing the essentially free, reusable resource that is the supermarket carrier.

I am fed up with the constant demands to ban this and ban that. New rules and regulations are never about new opportunities. Each time, they are removing something or preventing you from doing yet another thing. I vote we put a ban on banning. Let's save the endangered carrier bag from extinction before it's too late.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Stop, look and listen

I am officially fed up with pheasants.

I very nearly hit my second of the week tonight when he decided to step out in front of me, totally oblivious to the fact I was driving a ton of rusty metal and he was but a few pounds covered in puffed up look-at-me-girls feathers. He was very nearly a mangled, bloody and broken mess of gold, russet and green.

Admittedly, I had been momentarily distracted by the sight of my first spring lambs silhouetted in the twilight at the top of a hill. I braked - hard - closed my eyes and when I opened them he was gone. Off, no doubt, to seek a lady friend to impress with tales of his escape from the big blue monster with the blinding eyes.

The cock pheasant that stepped out in front of me in the Monday dawn wasn't so lucky. His body was tossed into the air, its trajectory momentarily interrupted by hitting my windscreen with a sickening thud. Instinctively, I closed my eyes again, convinced the glass was about to shatter. I cannot understand how hit-and-run drivers can claim they were not aware they had hit someone when crashing into a pheasant makes such a racket.

I hate running over pheasants but at this time of year, the lust-blinded boys pay little heed to cars. I think it's such a shame after they have survived the winter, the fox and the gun that they have such an ignoble end. If pheasants spent more time flying and less time strutting, I'm sure there would be far fewer fatalties.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Of frogs and friends

"There is frogspawn in the pond," said my mum today. "It's two days earlier than last year."

As I peered into the pool, I remembered that last year one of my first blog posts had been about fecund frogs in that said same pond. I checked back and realised I'd made my usual faux pas: I'd missed my poor blog's first birthday.

It shouldn't be surprised - I manage to do this with living entities as well as virtual ones. I always feel guilty when I do and people are always so nice about it. I wonder if inwardly, they are seething. I know I would be.

I wonder if my blog is too? Admittedly, I haven't been the greatest mother during the first year of its life. I almost commited infanticide during its first few weeks as I feared discovery. I then became overly-attentive and nurtured it at a pace I couldn't keep up. For a while, I neglected it completely as worrying about the Grey Mare devoured my available energy. I also neglected the friends I had made through it.

A year and a day on, I hope I'm starting to get the balance right.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

School holiday heaven

I love the school holidays. I'm not at school nor do I have children, but I love the fact my drive to work is quick, easy and uncluttered by yummy mummies (and daddies) taking their little darlings to school. Heaven forbid that they should have to catch the bus or even use their legs.

But hang on a moment, that's what I used to do. When I went to school in the village, I walked. When I progressed to high school in the town 12 miles away, I caught the bus with everyone else. People who lived in the town walked to school or caught the town service bus. I remember being shocked when I found out that people caught a bus to different parts of town, rather than walking.

Perhaps if children walked now, there wouldn't be the growing obesity problem among our young people that the the do-goers are forever bleating on about. Perhaps if they walked, I would zip through the outskirts of the city in the four minutes it took me today, rather than the 15-20 it can take on a normal day. Perhaps, if they walked, all those yummy mummies' BMWs and 4x4s would stop contributing to climate change. Has anyone else noticed how cold it's been this week when the kids are off school?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Let the train take the strain

My name is M&M and I am a public transport snob.

Today is not the first day that I have thought that trains are a better class of carrier than buses; it's more entrenched than that. Trains and railway stations are touched by romance; there is an air that you could be going absolutely anywhere and that anything could happen. Perhaps it's because I have watched Brief Encounter too many times, or perhaps it's because buses remind me of school.

As a teenager, I hated the 12-mile trip to school, espeically in the winter when I left in the dark and came home in the dark. I don't like the smell of buses and quite often, I don't like the smell of the people on the bus. When was a student, I travelled home for the Easter holidays on a National Express bus after recovering from a sickness bug. I ate a blue cheese sandwich and some cherries the night before; unfortunately, I was not as recovered as I had thought. I have never travelled by National Express since.

Buses do have some things going for them. As you crawl along at a speed slightly less than a slow walk, you can peer into people's windows and get a glimpse into their lives. Don't tell me you've never done it. However, the impotent road rage I experience sitting in a bus that's stuck in traffic is worse than when I'm behind the wheel of a car. I don't like feeling I'm not in control.

Note to self: get the Metro tomorrow at the Park and Ride.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A spring in the stride

It was the squashed frog that started it.

Still moist, it lay spreadeagled on the road where it had met its sticky end. I thought the frogs were all still hibernating, but it would seem not. Instead, they are awaking from their elongated winter sleep and sallying forth to seek sex, mind and body obeying instinct's instruction to find water and a mate. It probably never heard the car; I hope it didn't feel anything. I have a soft spot for frogs.

But it was the first signal I have seen this year that spring may not be so far around the corner. Every year, it seems impossible that the dark dampness will end, and every year I am amazed anew. But the light is gradually winning its battle and this weekend it crowed its superiority. Today, the sea was turquoise and the beach was packed.
Beyond, the castle was masked by a diaphanous veil. Only the greyish wash sullying the blue showed it was a February not a June sky and the beach people wore coats rather than T-shirts.

Riding the Grey Mare, I spotted snowdrops beneath a naked thorn bush. The Grey Mare too, is naked - afterwards, I turned her out without her rug so she could enjoy a couple of hours of sunshine on her back. Of course, the first thing she did was roll in the mud before sallying forth to see her boys.

Like the frog, she is currently being driven by instinct. It is her first season of the year and it would be fair to say she is quite the definition of a saucy mare, as she shakes her booty at the boys, then sniffs, snorts and arches her neck. Thank god none of them have any balls.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Crisis? What crisis?

I had big plans to be a better blogger this year. Following my ill-horse-induced hiatus, I started to pick up the threads in December, writing, visiting and generally settling back into the blogosphere. But it's already February and it's almost two weeks since I have blogged.

I blame Facebook. I joined in January, just to have a look. Initially, that's all I did. Then my sister joined and quickly became addicted. She badgered me about it and I started to play. Then I started to understand the attraction. Just like when I began blogging, almost a year ago, I discovered a new and - dare I say it - addictive world. Except Facebook wasn't a totally new world; it was peopled by lots of lost friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Suddenly, I was corresponding with people I hadn't seen in more than a decade and thinking about the fun I used to have; Friday afternoons in the pub that stretched into drunken evenings; sunny days when we sat, legs dangling out of first floor windows singing along with The Monkees; feeling filled with energy and enthusiasm.

Of course, it's inevitable I will compare that with how I feel now. Yes, I am quite content, but I am tired. I start to think - again - that I'm getting old. I look at the subject matter of my blogs so far this year and there is a slight theme emerging: worrying about my age. I still have a year and a half left in my thirties but I feel I am on the cusp betwixt young and old. I don't know how old you have to be for a mid-life crisis. Is it too early to buy a Harley Davidson?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Love is ...

If I had the Grey Mare's ability to attract the opposite sex I would not be sitting gathering dust on my spinster's shelf. Everywhere she goes, she inspires devotion. The latest horse to fall under her spell is one of my sister's thoroughbreds - the dark prince who was once entered (but didn't run) in the Derby. Following her recuperation alone in a little paddock adjoining the dark prince's field, she has now joined the big boys in there.

I watched her entry back into society with some trepidation; I am an incredible worrier when it comes to her welfare. She stood for a while staring at the other horses down the field then began trotting towards them. The dark prince cantered up and met her half way, then brought her to join the group. With minimal fuss, she was welcomed into the herd. The following day, I received a text from my sister after she'd turned the dark prince out. "It's pathetic," she said, "he's totally in love with her."

Two days later, her other boyfriend who had been on box rest due to lameness was allowed out for the first time in three months. He is now inhabiting the little paddock where the Grey Mare had been. They kissed over the fence and that night, when she went back inside, he spent hours shouting for her.

"I think she's even more of a mummy's girl since she's been staying in," said my friend (until she was ill, the Grey Mare lived outside 24-7). The Grey Mare put her head on my shoulder and cuddled in. She knows I always have carrots in my pocket.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


The day is lingering longer as January progresses. The darkling sky still has streaks of brightness at 4.30pm. It is growing lighter "by a cockerel's stride every day", according to my granddad. That phrase came from his granddad and he has passed it on to me.

I can picture a cockerel striding across the farmyard but I am flummoxed as to the origins of linty. One of my sister's horses had been under the weather and I asked my mum how he was doing. "Oh," she said, "he's going like a linty." "Like a what?" I asked. "Like a linty," she said. "It was one of your nanna's phrases. Have you never heard that before?" I must confesses I haven't but equally, my mum doesn't know what a linty is - other than anything that goes like one is doing very well for itself.

My nanna was born and bred Edinburgh. In addition to being an amazing woman, she had a marvellous turn of phrase. "Where do you think you are, on your granny's yacht?" was a favourite, and some poor souls were often "Up the creek without a paddle". Latterly, she would point at people (usually out of rolled down car windows on baking hot summer days) and exclaim: "The things you see when you havenae got a gun!"

As a child, I wanted to know what she meant when she described my uncle's soon to be ex-wife as a "fornicating bitch". This was one of my many questions that would elicit the reply from whichever adult was in earshot: "I'll tell you when you're 16." I wish I'd written all of those queries down in a book. But it didn't matter: miraculously, I think I knew what most of them meant once I'd reached the age of consent. I believe that's what will happen when I die - suddenly, I will understand everything.

My mum is of the opinion that if you learn something for yourself, you are less likely to forget it. "Look it up in the dictionary," was often her response when I asked for definitions or spellings. And of course, she was right. It's just a shame I can't find a definition of a linty that fits the phrase.

Friday, January 18, 2008


Five o'clock in a Friday night city centre is a special place. Picking your way across a road filled with snarled up traffic, you can sense a crackle in the air: energy, anticipation, expectation. Already, people are sucking hard on ciggies outside pubs and buskers by escalators advertise their MySpace pages on guitar cases as they seranade commuters with Oasis's best.

As you rush, caught up in the stream of humanity tasting the freedom of the weekend, you think how pleasant it would be if you too were on your way to the pub. You remember other Friday nights after work, fag in one hand, gin and tonic in the other. Friends and drinks and maybe dancing later. Or home to shower and change, TFI Friday on Channel 4, red wine, then out on the town. Bouncing along, buoyed up on the wave carrying you into the weekend; no time to stop to catch your breath.

Now, although I can feel those ripples of energy, they aren't strong enough to support me. I no longer have sufficient oomph of my own to sail into the weekend without stopping. Now at the end of the week, uncorking a bottle of wine is just about my limit.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Blogging, for me, is a rather furtive and anonymous business. The opinions I post are, I like to think, forthright, but the few images in which I appear are less obviously me. When I began blogging, I was utterly terrified someone I knew would read what I'd written and associate it with me. I thought that if people I knew in the 'real world' were aware of my blog, I may subconsciously temper my tantrums. Although I write for a living, I write about what other people are thinking or doing; blogging, like the abortive novel and a half I've written, is more personal. And I don't know how comfortable I am about people peering too closely.

I have a healthy respect for those who are happy to blog under their real names, illustrate their blogs with pictures of themselves and talk in depth about their friends and families. I couldn't do that: it would be akin to publishing the pages of a personal diary. If anyone ever read a diary I'd kept, I would be obliged to kill them.

So, there is a very small circle who associate the blog with the person. My brother and sister know, a fellow blogger up the road who I hope is now a friend, knows - and in the last week, two other friends have become aware of my extracurricular scribblings. Sitting in Starbucks drinking overpriced coffee last week, the first friend intimated that she was considering starting a blog; the second shocked me by announcing that she had one. I went home and read her blog, then sheepishly emailed to admit that I blogged too.

Last night, the first friend emailed me. She had found my blog and wanted to know why I hadn't told her about it. "Er, cos it's very embarrassing," I replied. Like an alcoholic or drug addict, I have an ever-so-slightly shameful but enjoyable secret. But I know she won't tell: she's got one now, too.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Trot on

After a month of walking, the Grey Mare's ridden rehabilitation programme has progressed to trotting. Although she is free to canter and buck in the field (and she does), we have been taking things slowly on the ridden front. Admittedly, I had tried a few strides of trot 'just to check' last week but that was all.

On Saturday, we set off on our familar power walk around the stubble field. I asked her to trot and she was off at a smart pace, legs going like pistons. I think she was overjoyed to be allowed out of a walk. She wasn't too keen to slow down again either. "Now you've let me trot, I'd like to carry on for a bit longer," was the message she was sending me. We walked for a while longer then tried another trot. This time the overriding message was: "Sod this, I want to canter! Can I? Oh, please!" Although the answer, for now, is no, it's fabulous to feel her so full of life and exuberance.

"I'd get really bored if I had to walk for a month," said one of the little girls at the stables. I am inclined to think the Grey Mare agrees with her. Me, I'm just happy to be riding my horse again.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Mirror, mirror on the wall...

I have long been labouring under the misapprehension that I still look exactly the same as I did when I was 25. Mentally, I feel the same so obviously I must look the same, mustn't I? People tell me I don't look my age, and in my vanity, I believe them.

In most recent photographs, I am wearing a riding hat. The peak cleverly casts a flattering shadow that erases wrinkles better than botox. In my ignorance, I have assumed that's what I look like all the time.

But this week, I have been unable to escape from the frightening truth. I have had three photographs taken because of my new job. Each of of them has made me think: "Oh my God, who is that wrinkly woman?" In one, I look in pain so I felt compelled to ask to have another one taken. In the replacement shot - which I am now stuck with - I have bags beneath my eyes you could carry your shopping home in.

I wonder if eye bag surgery is available on the NHS?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


This morning started with proper blow-you-away weather; gales whistling around rooftops and ripping twigs from trees, leaving a trail like little broken fingers scattered across the road. On the A1, cars bob like corks in a river, drivers' knuckles clenched on the wheel against swift side-swipes that send you off course, while dead leaves scooped up by gusts from I know not where are hurled maliciously at the windscreen. Wizard of Oz weather.

Nor am I a fan of the cold. I currently have three quilts on my bed - a goose down one, a summer weight duvet and a long lusted after patchwork quilt delivered by Santa Claus. However, I recently discovered that trying to brave bed at this time of year without a hot water bottle is a false economy: 10 minutes after huddling down, I am invariably forced out to find one.

As a born and bred Northerner, people from elsewhere seem to find it odd that I don't tolerate the freezing temperatures terribly well. "But you're out feeding horses in all weathers," they say. Yes, but I'm usually wrapped up in sufficient layers to cope with Siberia. They also consider it curious that I am too mean to switch on the central heating. Instead, I tend to use a halogen heater in the room I am in. Currently, there is no heating on in the house and I am wearing a padded coat as I type.

Cold though our winters are, I don't think the mercury falls as low as it did when I was a child. I no longer awake during the night with cramp in my legs or unable to feel my fingers and toes.
But I miss the frosted feathers on the inside of winter morning windows and the weeks when flooded fields froze solid enough to skate.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Weighty Issues

I read a Sunday newspaper supplement today that was devoted to helping its readers shed their excess weight. It was full of tips: two pages were devoted to what celebs allegedly do to lose their extra pounds. Cameron Diaz apparently exists on snacks, Jennifer Aniston is said to sprinkle mustard seeds over all her meals, and queen of the skinnies, Victoria Beckham turns to a herbal tea. Personally, I think Mrs Beckham just doesn't eat.

The magazine also featured tales from real readers who had battled their own weight problems. One underwent self-hypnosis, one went under the knife for liposuction and another for a gastric band operation. As I type, Channel 4 is repeating the Half Ton Mum programme about Renee Williams, who had gastric bypass surgery when she weighed almost 70 stone. Apparently she would eat eight burgers at a sitting - or rather a lying down, as her massive bulk meant she was bed-bound. She died less than two weeks after the operation.

What strikes me about all of these women is the fact none of them thought: "Oh, I'm overweight, perhaps I should eat less and take more exercise." Instead, they turn to surgery, hypnosis or faddy products.

When I stopped smoking, I put on a stone. I make no excuses - I pigged out, so I put on weight. I have now lost 12 of those 14 pounds, simply by eating less. It's not that difficult. Nobody is forcing you to stuff your face; sometimes, all you have to do is say "No thanks."

Thursday, January 03, 2008

January blues

January is not my favourite month. Looking at it from a number of different standpoints and trying to give it the benefit of the doubt doesn't help: it basically has very little going for it.

The first few days are the hangover from the festive period; Christmas trees are drooping, lights and glitter that twinkled in an otherworldly, expectant way last year have now lost their magic; similarly, shiny things in shop windows no longer sparkle or tempt, but appear tired and tawdry. The start of January is the deflated party balloon in the corner of the room.

I don't like the Puritanical mood of the month either. I have known a number of people who detox or give up chocolate or alcohol for the whole of the month. By 31 December I am sick of festive food and longing for fruit and salad, but I don't deny myself the right to reach for a drink or comforting stodge for the next four weeks.

I don't make New Year's resolutions either - I'm glad I don't have to think about stopping smoking anymore, and there's no other major changes I want to make. Perhaps I'm becoming more comfortable in my own skin as I get older. The infamous Jerry Springer apparently resolves to do more of things he enjoys each January; that's the sort of resolution I like.

The January landscape tends to send my spirits sinking down into my shoes. The overbearing hue is mud brown, the trees are naked and damp, the grass is colourless and the rain is relentless. The earth seems to have given up completely and at this point the transformation that will take place in the next few months seems utterly impossible.

Sometimes, the mud is disguised by an enchanting blanket of snow; the magic and twinkle of late December returns briefly. Then you receive text messages from three well-meaning friends and family members to inform you the A1 is closed north of Gosforth and they're worried you won't make it home from work. I hate driving in snow: another reason not to do January.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Coughing and spluttering into 2008

It is a truth universally acknowledged that as soon as the festive season hoves into view, I am struck down with a lurgy of some description or other. In 2006, I had flu from hell which left me basically bedridden for a week, only crawling out to tend to the Grey Mare's needs and to drink Lemsip. This year, it was a cold which has morphed into a dry, hacking cough. One of the girls at the stables asked me if I had kennel cough the other day; I don't think she's that far from the mark.

I have been woken night after night, coughing up my guts as they (don't) say in polite society. My stomach muscles are aching with the effort. During the day, I have had to stop and catch my breath after doing anything vaguely energetic. The Grey Mare has been literally running rings round me in the morning when I take her down to her paddock. She is supposed to be the invalid but I am the feeble one. And I hate feeling feeble.

I have dosed myself up with hot lemon drinks, two varieties of cough medicine and little pills that boast they are 'flu strength' at stamping out the symptoms of coughs and colds. However, I don't think any of them work; cough medicine tastes nice but what does it actually do? I would love to find one that was as effective as the Drambuie my Grandad gave me last night. Unfortunately, I can't spend my life sipping Drambuie for medical reasons.

This morning, I awoke after an undisturbed night's sleep. I think I may be on the mend: typically, it's back to work tomorrow.