January 1st, 2021.

I’m not going to call this The Lockdown Diary any more. I’ve had it with 2020, and I have decided that 2021 is the year I choose hope. 

The pandemic is still out there, and the news still feels fierce and threatening.  I suddenly realise that I did not even write about the vaccine when it came out last year, as if I did not quite dare believe it could be true. But brilliant scientists have been working behind the scenes and doing remarkable things and one day this thing will come under control. 

I open a new notebook for the new year: it is the place where I scribble everything, from my To Do Lists to my conversations with my writing clients and my tutoring students. I have to write everything down now because of my menopause brain. There is a strange, selective fogginess. I can be sharp as a stiletto blade when it comes to ideas and history and the meaning of Othello, but I can’t remember where I left my keys or who I have to ring up or what email I should be replying to. So everything must be written down if I am to function like a reasonable person. 

In the new book, on a pristine page, I write: ‘I want this to be the Year of Beautiful Things’. 

I realise that this is a faintly absurd ambition. I can’t wave a magic wand and put the world back to where it was. There are still all the worries and frets and existential challenges that there were twenty-four hours ago. I have them in my personal life and they exist out there in the wide world. But I’m going to hunt for the beauty. And I mean all the beauty – not just the aesthetics of an ancient cathedral spire or a perfectly-turned sentence, but a moment of kindness or an unexpected act of generosity. I’m going to dig for beauty where I might least expect to find it. 

That is my plan. Everybody needs a plan.

There was beauty today on the racecourse as the handsome and charming Al Boum Photo jumped and galloped in the Tramore sunshine. He gleamed and beamed and danced and leapt, and he’ll go to the Gold Cup with all his power and strength and purpose, ready to defend his crown.

There was beauty in a funny telephone conversation with a dear friend about family and food. 

There was beauty in the frosty field with my red mare, as she dreamed gently in the gloaming and I ran my hand over her velvet winter coat. She is so sleek and magnificent in the summer, with all her Arab and Barb and Turk heritage on show, but in the winter she grows as furry as a native pony and for some reason that makes me laugh.

I think a lot about balance. I think: you can’t banish the sorrows and the terrors and the griefs. They are part of life. But you can balance them with love and hope and joy. You can be grateful for every inch of daily good fortune. (I sometimes feel grateful that I have fingers to type these words, and water coming out of the tap, and the miracle of the internet, so I can look things up and talk to my friend in New Zealand and exchange racing banter with humans I shall never meet.)

Write it down, write it down, say the voices in my head. They always say that. They love life to be saved on the page. There it is, preserved in memory, so it is not lost. Time is shooting past my ears, as I move into the later stages of middle age, and I do want to catch it, and record it, and be able to go back and read what happened. 

Write down the beauty, because it is always there, even on the most complicated day. Today was simple, and lovely, and gentle, and still, and I feel grateful for that. I write that down, so I don’t forget. 

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