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.