The silence is really deepening now. In my quiet room in Scotland, it feels as if the entire world has stopped. The fact that it’s a Saturday really brings this home. This is usually my day of play after a long week. I ride the horses with my posse of young horsewomen and then I run down to the shop to collect my Racing Post and have a lot of chat and chaff with the ladies who work behind the counter and then I turn on Channel Four and Racing TV and watch the action at Ascot or Sandown or dear little Cartmel, where they run past an ancient priory and the village shop.
There’s a lot of noise, because I shout my adored ones home and put the volume on full blast to get the complete thrill of the commentary. I am often on my feet, roaring some brilliant, brave thoroughbred over the last. The dogs dance and bark and leap about me, catching the mood.
But today there are no laughing young girls, no smiling ladies in the shop, no Ed Chamberlin or Richard Hoiles. There is not a sporting event in the whole of Britain. The racing horses will have probably been out for exercise, moseying round the hedged lanes of Lambourn or flying over the wide, rolling heath of Newmarket, but they’ll all be back in their boxes now, gazing out at an empty yard. The trainers will be worrying more than they normally do about their balance sheets and the jockeys might be allowing themselves something to eat and I’m not sure what the commentators will be doing. I rather hope they’ll be in their sheds, doing fantasy calls of great races from the past. Perhaps Simon Holt will be calling Golden Miller home and Mike Cattermole will be shouting out the fighting finish between Grundy and Bustino and John Hunt’s voice will be rising as Dancing Brave comes from the clouds to win the Arc.
In the quiet, I do some work. I write a blog for HorseBack UK, and I write a long and winding essay for my Red Mare page. I keep thinking that if I can send words out into the world every day, I might connect myself to human hearts. I could put a smile on someone’s face, even if only for a second. That’s partly why I’m writing this. Someone, somewhere, whom I will never meet, will read this and feel slightly less alone.
In this spirit, I post a few pretty photographs on Twitter, from happier days. I think how blithe and unthinking I was back then, before the world was different. I always say I don’t take good fortune for granted, but, looking back, I see that I took normality entirely for granted. I took hugs for granted, and laughter, and the community here in Scotland to which I belong. I took seeing people for granted, and popping out to the shop for granted, and being able to go to the village for granted. I took having enough eggs and butter for granted. (I looked at my three last eggs this morning as if they were precious jewels.)
I know that the adaptation will come, but just now the strangeness persists.
And yet, in some unexpected way, I feel more connected to dear old Britain than I ever have. There is a coming together in this crisis. I see strangers all over the internet supporting each other and encouraging each other and making each other laugh. I think every single person who remains at home is not just doing it for themselves, so they will stay safe, but is doing it for the vulnerable ones, and the workers on the front line in the NHS, and for the country as a whole. I think people are discovering that small self-sacrifices make a vast difference to the collective. I hope that I remember that, when this is all over.
I think a lot of my mother, who grew up in the war and lived through rationing. Those memories never left her. She could not waste food. She was a genius with leftovers, and her fridge was always filled with little white bowls of nonsense which she was going to ‘use up’. And she did use them up, with a sort of triumphant pride.
She tenderly rolled up bits of string into balls, and carefully reused wrapping paper, and gathered up all the ribbons that people had cast off their Christmas presents and put them in a special bag.
I loved her for that and I thought I had caught it from her, but I realise now I have grown spoilt. I do put left-over food in little white bowls, but then I forget about them and don’t use them up and have to chuck them out. I always wince, a little ruefully, thinking of what Mum would say. Now, I’m chucking nothing. When I chop the feathery tops off a head of celery, I put them aside and take them down to my horses. If I mistakenly make too much of something for supper, I heat it up again in the morning and have it for breakfast. I don’t just have an egg, I eat the egg as if it were an imperial feast.
Perspectives will change, I think, I hope, and perhaps for the better. And as I finish this I hear in my head, for some reason, the voice of the late, great Leonard Cohen, who once sang, ‘There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’ I believe that in all this darkness, through all these cracks, the light will get in.