It’s a low, white day in Scotland. The sky is obscured by an unbroken layer of cloud and there is no wind. The strange silence continues, as if the world is holding its breath.
I take the red mare out for an old lady ride. We are going at an absurdly gentle pace, even for us, to avoid accidents.
Just as we cross the bridge out into the open meadow, we hear the thwock-thwock-thwock of a helicopter. I have images of Apocalypse Now. I have a flash of Robert Duvall and his whiff of victory in the morning. I twist in the saddle, searching for the bird. And there it is, flying just above the treeline, heading due west.
I think, madly, that it must be going to Balmoral. Prince Charles is on the estate, which is not many miles down the river from us. Perhaps they are taking him emergency supplies or secret papers or some such.
The mare and I carry on into the woods, back into the silence. We see two humans in the distance, pushing an infant in a buggy. I wave at them as if I am trying to do semaphore, but they don’t see and carry on walking. I feel obscurely hurt.
In the woods, the mare finds some delicious spring grass, as bright green as if it had sprung up that morning. I let her graze for a while, lying down on her neck and scratching her shoulders, watching her eager lips search out the sweetest shoots. She is so happy, so at ease, so completely herself. I think how lucky she is not to speak English and not to read the news. I think how lucky I am to have her, this great Zen mistress, who reminds me of all the most important things in life.
I do look at the news. I get most of my news on Twitter, where I follow all the political people and the reporters and the BBC. My Twitter feed is a curious amalgam. All the racing people are there, so I get lovely pictures of thoroughbreds on Newmarket Heath and great Gold Cups of the past and video clips of what jockeys are doing in these days of self-isolation. A couple of days ago, someone started a thread about the four racehorses that mean the most to you. Everyone passed it on to three people and soon famous names were joining in, remembering their equine heroines and heroes. I felt absurdly heartened by this, because it was so innocent and so normal and so much about love.
Then I’ve got completely random people I follow, simply because they post beautiful things – pictures of starlings, or photographs of deserted Paris streets, or paintings by Matisse.
And then there are the news people and the politics people. All of which means I will go from a lovely video of a young steeplechaser schooling over fences to a close-up of a newly born Cumbrian lamb to a rant about Boris Johnson.
I have to be very careful about this, for my own sanity. If I get sucked into the breaking news and the ranting and the extraordinarily inexplicable Trump press conferences, I can truly believe that it is the end of the world as we know it. Yet I don’t want to avoid Twitter altogether, because the thoroughbreds and the lambs keep me sane.
I’m also having to police my rule about not piling on. I’m usually very stern about this rule, especially after reading Jon Ronson’s brilliant book about public shaming. But I have noticed that the fret and uncertainty of this time means that I am longing for someone to blame. My finger is twitching to point. When I see a famous businessperson behaving badly, and the Twitter mob sharpening up their pitchforks, I find myself longing to join in. I would not be overtly rude, of course, because my mother taught me manners, but I would be something almost worse – snide and disingenuous and faintly passive-aggressive. I rehearse the horrid lines in my head and then make myself stop. I retweet a picture of a gangly foal instead.
I can’t tell how absurd my positivity policy is. I can’t just skip around like Pollyanna, pretending everything can be fixed by a bit of peace and love. Yet, I think I really do believe that I’d rather be putting the good out into the world instead of the bad. There’s enough bad. A balance is needed.
As I finish writing this, a delivery arrives. I feel paranoid and ridiculous as I put on medical gloves. (I’ve got a huge supply of these, which I bought to apply various ointments to my little bay mare’s sarcoids. I’ve brought them up for the feed shed, and they now sit by the back door like an emblem of doom.) The delivery man and I nod uncertainly at each other as he carefully puts down the package twelve feet away. We hesitate, as if not quite sure of this new etiquette.
I smile at him and blurt out, ‘Stay safe’.
He turns his head quickly, questingly, searching for the correct reply.
‘OK,’ he says.