Sunday, 29 June 2014

A conversation with Fletch #2

We had words, Fletch and I, last week. He very definitely told me he didn't want to do dressage but would rather fly around a cross country course. It had after all, been a very long time since he had done cross country - but not as long as me. The last time I attacked solid fences at great speed was when I was 18 years old, that's 23 years ago, so I was understandably shitting myself when an opportunity arose to take the Big Ginger Ninja for a schooling session this weekend.

So we are going out again are we? Not much of a retirement is it? I'm no spring chicken woman, that said - neither are you! Better not be poncing around a stressage arena. Oooh, what's that she's putting on my legs, protective boots eh? This looks promising.

I tried very hard not to be nervous and quietly asked Fletch to look after me, I whispered to him that I had polo's, apples and even a mouldy carrot in my bag if he was a good boy. I think he understood as he nosed around my pockets for the mints, I gave his head a fond rub and trusted him that I would be safe. Cross country is probably one of the riskier equestrian activities, but also the most fun. I put on my armour of a back protector, an air jacket, my hat and a good pair of gloves before leaping on in an ungainly manner with all the extra equipment. Fletch stood tall and grew another hand as he looked around him, seeing the cross country fences in the distance.

Yeah, this is more like it. I think we may actually be going over there towards those fun looking jumps. Yes we are! Yes, yes, yes!!! I promise I will behave, see not even one spook. I promise I will be good..yeeeeeehaaaaaaaah - see not even an explode into canter - let's go, c'mon. Let's go, let's go...which one? That fence? That's a tiddler, hang on woman - wooooohoooo ...where next?

I had the most incredible ride that day. Fletch didn't put a foot wrong, he was big, bold and brave - helping me find some inner strength and nerves of steel I didn't know I had. We jumped banks and ditches, we flew a trakener and barrels, we even jumped the huge tyres which on the ground are menacing. Fletch got me out of trouble, he corrected my riding, he was honest and fun - I'm not sure who had the biggest grin on their face when we finished!

That was AWESOME....phew, let's go round again...again, again, again! Awwww, we're going home -boooooo. Well I guess you're getting on a bit and puffing like a good'un up there - you need to get fit like me - see hardly blowing and I did all the work! Now don't get ahead of yourself woman, I treated you today and got you out of some sticky situations. You need to trust me, this is my job so allow me my head a bit more and enjoy the ride. I know I'm fabulous, yeah, I am great, yes I know I'm handsome - you keep telling me, where are those polo's? You what, you want to be Mary King when you grow up? Ha! You've got a lot to learn lady, but good job today all round. If we do that again I may behave myself in the dressage...I said 'may'!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Lunch hour

The great thing about my job is that I work all over the place, no two days are the same. And today I happened to be near the sea at lunch time and took a very nice hour eating a Big Feast whilst listening to the waves.

Which was then spoilt by a hoard of Euro-teenagers who insisted on skimming pebbles loudly into the sea, the tranquillity was ruined but a heavenly moment of solitary-chocolatiness enjoyed.

Monday, 23 June 2014

A conversation with Fletch

It was a beautiful evening on Friday, the rolling Sussex countryside glowed softly with the dipping sun. Just the sort of evening to be going to a dressage competition with Fletch.

You're joking right? We are going out now? It's 5 o'clock woman what are you doing? It's my tea time and bed time. What? You're putting the travelling boots on, well bugger me she's not joking. Looks like we are going to a bloomin competition at this time of night.

"C'mon Fletch!" I cajoled the great big ginger horse into the trailer. I was nervous as usual, the sort of nerves which are so strong they make you feel shaky and rather sick. It was only a little local competition, in fact only five were entered in my class but fearful I still felt.

Where am I then?

He looked stunning when we arrived, all enormous and pointy-eared. Fletch surveyed his surroundings and began to understand where he was - I straightened my stock, polished my boots and put on a black jacket to finish the look before climbing aboard.

Oh brilliant there are jumps, fantastic its cross country. OK, I'll behave myself then. Ooops, just one little spook, sorry couldn't help myself!

The warm up area was a great big field with solid-looking cross country jumps dotted around. Fletch gets excited in big fields, being a race horse in his former career he has never really forgotten the feeling of galloping fast over turf, despite his twenty years of age. Yes, twenty - he should know better. I hung on and asked for trot hoping he wouldn't explode.

Lots of little circles, c'mon, lets get on with it, when are we jumping?

He was so good warming up I began to forget my butterflies and started to enjoy the feeling he was giving me, a nice canter, some medium trot and I felt he was listening, it was soon my turn and I headed for the dressage arena.

Noooooooooo, what are we doing in here? Not stressage. No you're kidding me, how many times have I told you, it's sooooooo boring. Right then, lets jazz this up a little shall we? That'll teach you to give me a late dinner and not jump me over those fabulous looking fences over there -wooooooooaaaaah - a monster! Ha, that's woken her up!

It was like riding a different horse, he was suddenly tense and looking for excuses to fire me out of the saddle. I was supposed to start the test but I gave myself one last trot around the arena and he spooked hard again as I careered down the centre line. It's easy to get distracted in dressage, I tried to get it back together again, but no, off he exploded again - it was a disaster.

This is fun - weeeeeeeeeeeeeeee - oh there it is again, a gremlin, ha ha ha - what was that? What did you just call me?

"Fletch you're such a dick!" I said, it just popped out. I wasn't supposed to talk in the dressage test let alone call my horse profanities. It was all going so horribly wrong.

Well that's not very dressage is it?! Gosh everyone is laughing, they love my version of dressage, look at that, a right-old comedian I am!

I hung on as everyone giggled around me. This was a horse who was doing exactly as he wanted. It was all I could do to stay on and stay sane. I grinned as we tried our best, saluted to the judge and exited the arena.

That's more like it - look at all my fans coming to say how well I have done - thank you little people, yes I know I am utterly fabulous - can we go home now?

My family and friends were kind to me, saying at least I had tried etc etc. I gave Fletch a great big pat and a hug despite his atrocious behaviour, he even managed to get a carrot out of my daughter. He made us all howl with laughter, an old man who feels he no longer has to comply, an old man with more than a spring in his step - a great teacher of not only dressage but humility.

Thank you Fletch, I really do love you no matter what you throw at me, what an enormous privilege you even allow me on your back.

Yeah yeah woman whatever, just get me home and give me my dinner. Oh and take me cross-country next time, OK?

Friday, 20 June 2014

Goodbye trees

It's not their fault they're ugly, or huge or un-indigenous. They didn't ask to be planted where they did. The poor old Leylandii with it's fearsome reputation, the stuff of neighbourly disputes and unbridled hatred. Oh the poor old Leylandii.

We have about ten of them at the bottom of our tiny garden. They prevent people looking into to our space and provide a woodland-glade feel, our garden is small but perfectly private and contained. The trees also make wonderful hidey-holes and dens, if you squeeze through them to the back of our land you will find rows of mud pies, stews and garden-gourmet delights for the Queen of Nature. The trees protect and hide her dinner, they gently hug and look after my children allowing them space away from me, a space of their own.

And as you can tell by the title of this blog, they are going next Thursday. I haven't told them, I think they would rather not know. It is not my decision, but a new neighbours, who would rather something native in their place. I don't think I will be able to watch.

When I was five, my mum took me on a walk, I remember it well. It was a National Trust sort of place, maybe I was younger than five as I don't remember my sister being around, but I can recall so clearly a tree being felled. I remember the chainsaw killing the tree and I bawled when it fell. The adults probably tittered at my sensitivity, awwww bless her they might have commented. My mum remembers it like yesterday but she doesn't have to remind me, I can see the tree now and I can feel how I felt when it crashed to the ground.

So I'm going out next Thursday, all day. Our privacy will be gone before the natives grow high enough to shelter our garden again.

Goodbye Leylandii, I liked you very much even if no one else did.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Fathers day

I only just realised it was Fathers Day in time. I happened to be standing in the queue in Londis when a hand-written fluorescent cardboard sign reminded me to buy a card, so I chose the most appropriate non-sporty one and bunged a bottle of Chablis in the basket. Job done. What he really wanted out of Fathers Day was just a day with the family, the card will be recycled immediately and the children's offerings will gather dust on his the bed-side table.

Hopefully the memories last longer.

Despite the weather, all cloudy and inclement, we headed to the sea armed with a stove and a couple of packets of sausages, some doughy finger rolls and a bottle of tommy k. No one touched the chopped up cucumber or pineapple all neatly stacked in Tupperware containers. After hot dogs and chocolate bars we watched as the sea encroached further on our picnic spot, gazed at terns hovering on the winds and snoozed to digest the pure, refined wheat we had just consumed. I lay on his belly while he finished the papers and the kids made dinners for the Queen of the Sea, from pebbles, seashore plants and a couple of tablespoons of sand.

The dreamy spell was broken when someone small needed a poo. So we headed into Hastings to use the loo, eat piled-high ice creams and to spend cash on the carousels and arcades.

A happy Fathers Day indeed.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Sussex in June

I have a bit of a farmers tan going on, very brown forearms with white shoulders, and my cheeks are tingling from a day in the sun. The intensity of an English June makes 20C seem almost unbearable, although we daren't complain unless it goes away. My garden is bursting forth, frothy roses adorn the pergolas and arches while cosmos of varying pinks hold still on their thin stalks, for there is no breeze. The cats snooze on the warmed paving slabs, enjoying the under-floor heating long past the sun disappearing behind the trees.

I wait all year for this day. A day when we play outside, eat strawberries freshly picked, drink coffee with our faces to the sun and murmur murmurings of how pleasant all this is. The plants grow daily, the lettuces are ripe for picking and the chilli's look like they may have a chance of making it this year. Long June days, the days of Enid Blyton childhood memories, of chocolate ice cream spilled down school dresses, of birds twittering till 10 O'clock and glasses of icy cold white wine.

Ah, June days.

Growing long and eating strawberries in the pretty shade

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Sharing the load

I'm sat here at the computer as the kids watch Cbeebies and eat their pizza after a full day of school, followed by a very expensive and unsuccessful riding lesson. I am sitting here looking for a job again for the third time this week. Another job, because the one I have doesn't give me enough hours or earn me enough money. So I look where I always look; the local papers on-line, the horsey websites for a grooms position, I look at the agencies and then finally I depress myself and look at The Guardian. Yes there are jobs, yes I am qualified but I can't apply for them because who will feed the children breakfast, test them on their spellings and drive them to school? Who will pick them up at 3pm and take them to their various clubs, play dates and make them dinner? Because if I want to work a full days work then I will need someone to do those jobs for me. So I feel trapped, and I stare at the jobs available, go round in circles and decided to write a blog post about it instead.

Everyday he has a gruelling day. Everyday he gets up at 6.30am to catch a train to London which is nearly a one and a half hours commute. Everyday he works so hard he grabs a sandwich at 4pm if he's lucky. Sometimes he gets the early train home and manages to read to the children before they are asleep at 8pm. Most often he is later or just stays in London when work is too hectic.

We would like to share the load. He would like to take care of the children and be more involved in their life, to know what they like to eat in their sandwich boxes and who likes Cheerios for breakfast. He would like to take them to 'Street Dance' on a Tuesday - and pick P up on a Thursday to peruse the garden centres while A does her singing and drama at the school. He wouldn't mind learning how to cook dishes other than lasagne and spaghetti bolognaise, or hoovering the house and separating the washing.

And I would like to go to work again properly, to be valued for someone other than a mother. I'd like to get my teeth into something really interesting and develop it - and get paid for what I am worth. I would like to not do the washing for a week, or pack the lunch boxes and wash their hair and get screamed at. I would like to share those responsibilities so that we both know our own children equally and equally both contribute to the household income.

Am I asking too much?

Sunday, 1 June 2014


It's a long drive to Somerset from Sussex, we always go the Stonehenge way and stop off to eat our sandwiches, wondering how the stones got there. Except you can't do that now - you have to pay £14.90 to see them or otherwise take a quick snapshot as you whizz down the A303. They've even blocked the roads so people like me can't just eat their sandwiches there any more, and have to pay £5 to park without so much as a glimpse of the grey majestic hulks.

It's been a gallivanting half term, the usual holiday packed full of travel and adventure, only sleeping in our own beds three times out of the ten day break. Somerset was grey and misty but full of charm. It feels such a calming place, between the Quantock Hills and the sea. We wandered up to places called 'Dead Woman's Ditch' and 'Hurley Beacon' as the children ran backwards and forwards looking out for deer tracks and identifying poo. There was no one about, just a mist that hung over the glens and combes, wild ponies hiding behind windswept hawthorn trees and the ever present song of the sky lark. On clear days you can easily see Wales and the mysterious islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm.

We went fossil hunting at Kilve and delighted in enormous ammonites etched into the rocks, even managing to find a couple of small ones to take home. The sea is brown at Kilve and the rock pools alive with shrimps, winkles, anemones and crabs - we walked along with our heads down shouting "I found one!" when we thought we had. We chose to walk back along the coastal path admiring plants indigenous to the sea shore, saying "Helloooo!" to cows and a foal whose coat was so fluffy and new.

Where were all the people in Somerset over half term? It wasn't raining and there were a great many treasures to discover for the kids and adults alike in this lovely part of the world. I am looking forward to returning in the summer, you know, the real summer.