Lockdown Diary: Day Two Hundred and Thirteen.

In the world, there is a person who has just written a policy paper asking the government to build beautiful hospitals. I love this almost more than I can express. I also love the fact that people get better more quickly if they are in beautiful surroundings, and work better too. 

Elsewhere in the world, Barack Obama is making jokes about The President of the United States having a secret Chinese bank account. The jokes are really good. But what is most remarkable about them is how good-natured they are. 

You would think that Obama might have every right to be bitter. Trump, after all, ran around for months asking bogus questions about his birth certificate, fuelling all those conspiracy theories which insisted that anyone with a name like Barack must surely be a secret Kenyan or a secret Muslim or a secret Manchurian candidate or a secret something. And since the new president got into office, he’s spent an awful lot of time and energy undoing every single thing the Obama administration achieved. And I know that’s politics but, all the same, I might feel a bit grumpy about it. 

Yet there is Obama, looking astonishingly merry and youthful, laughing almost more at himself than at the person he is gently poking fun at. I think, in awe: he must be a very, very well-rounded human being indeed.

Elsewhere again, a young woman cycles through the streets of Najafabad. She looks bright and carefree. She smiles and waves her hand. She is beautifully dressed. She is gloriously, unapologetically herself.

That’s all that should be. But it isn’t. She has been arrested for ‘violating norms’ and ‘insulting the veil’. Every time I read something like that, my heart breaks a little. It breaks for all the women. I think of all the woman around the world who can’t do what they want and wear what they want and say what they want and go where they want. I think of all the freedoms I take for granted. I think of a world in which riding a bicycle is violating and insulting. I think: who made that rule? Who thought that was a fine idea? Someone decided, ‘Oh, I know, let’s stop the women riding the bicycles. Because that will solve all the problems.’ Who was that, and what, precisely, were they so afraid of?

Oh, and just in case all that was not enough, the American State Department is deciding whether or not to denounce Amnesty International as anti-semitic. Apparently the Secretary of State is longing to do this. When I read this news report I thought it was a spoof. Then I read it again. It is quite real. I’ve spent my whole adult life thinking that Amnesty International was an unmitigated Good Thing, but according to Foggy Bottom it’s been a nest of bigotry all along. 

In my own small corner of the world, I listen to the rain hammer down and wonder whether I’ve made the right decision about not rugging the horses. Some people worry about secret Chinese bank accounts; I worry about the perils of over-rugging. It really messes with the brilliant equine thermostat, and at this time of year I want the mares to be growing their glorious, woolly winter coats to get them through the serious weather to come. I think of the January frosts and the February blizzards and I need my herd to have their insulation ready. (I don’t want to bore you, but the winter coat of the horse is one of the miracles of nature. It is so beautifully, precisely designed to resist wind and weather. It’s not only ravishingly efficient, it is also deliciously tactile. I’m always delighted at this time of year because the red mare starts to feel like velvet. Running my hands over her soft coat is one of the loveliest sensations I know.)

Also, it’s weirdly mild at the moment. The countrywoman in me finds this slightly sinister. Most of us who live in the sticks long for a no-messing frost at this time of year, to kill off the flies and the bugs and generally clear the air. Instead, the mercury hovers at an inexplicable twelve degrees. Twelve degrees! In Scotland. In October. That’s why I can’t put rugs on my mares. They would stand in their field and steam, as if they were on some kind of peculiar detoxification regime at one of those stern Austrian clinics where you are only allowed half a cup of broth a day.

I’m writing this early. I do that sometimes. I wake up at dawn and write, letting my fingers gallop over the keyboard as the light starts to bloom outside my window and my lurchers slumber on the bed and everything is still and silent. Sometimes I write the diary late at night, but this is not such a good thing for my mental equilibrium. I’m tired then, and sometimes worn out in spirit from the demands of the day, and often I don’t have the heart to write down what is happening in the world, because it feels too melancholy. 

In the morning, I am more hopeful and resilient. Every morning truly is a new beginning for me; I wake always with hope. I sometimes feel dread on sleeping: that F. Scott Fitzgerald, dark night of the soul, cracked plate dread. (I used to have a secret fear that I would go mad in my sleep, and get up the next day believing that I was Queen Marie of Romania.) But I never have dread on waking. When I open my eyes, the world is new again and, for those first moments of consciousness, anything is possible. 

Wouldn’t it be lovely if that were true?

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