Posts Tagged ‘Country life’

Small things

passionflower

Sometimes it’s the little things that make my day. Like the passionflower which I bought from Morrison’s for £3 flourishing on the side of the woodshed. I thought it would die during the winter, so buffeted did it get on our exposed hillside.

Like our wasps’ nest. They’re squatting in the bird box on the side of the garage. The hole you can see in this rather fuzzy picture (I was holding the phone above my head with rather shaky hands – see previous post) is where I poked the crepe bandage-like structure inside with the end of the shears because I was wondering what it was. I’d never seen one before.

I soon knew. They all came flying out to have a look at what was attacking them but they didn’t seem very aggressive. I left them to calm down and go back inside, which they did quite quickly. When I went back later to check, the hole I made seemed to have been mended or to have mended itself. I will have to do some research into wasps’ nests now to find out how.

wasps

Like my ‘exciting’ 15 minutes in the garden one night. While I was standing there waiting for the motion-activated outside light to go off so that I could well and truly lurk in the dusk, an owl turned up and sat on the telegraph wires. I could only see its outline but it was obviously an owl with its massive round head and silent, swooping flight. It’s my first owl sighting, although I hear them quite a lot from the woods nearby. From the calls I’d say it was a tawny.

rainbow over country scenery

And like the rainbow that was so complete and huge that I couldn’t fit both ends of it into the picture. There was a rainbow on the day I moved into the cottage and I’ve always thought of them as a good omen, although they usually signify an impending shower.

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flower trug hanging from nails

sheddy

shed crop

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The woodshed is one of my favourite places at Spring Cottage, although I like all the outhouses, of which there are three; there’s also a garage (used mainly to store gathered wood for kindling) and an ancient stone building known as the wash house.

I’ve worked out that the woodshed’s 1960′s windows used to be the kitchen windows before my predecessor ‘improved’ things with a wide span of double-glazed panes overlooking the fields. The trouble is that the double glazing has let moisture in between the panes, so the build-up of condensation often means you can’t see out as clearly as you might like to. But, that aside, at least the woodshed has some nice windows.

The light is lovely in there on a fine evening, and the building is warm and smells gorgeously woody. The floor is covered with wood-chips, fragments of bark and butterfly wings however much I sweep. I don’t know why so many butterflies seem to meet their ends in here; perhaps they find the log pile a good place to rest.

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I’ve always longed for a garden trug but new ones are really expensive and it’s something you can easily do without. After all, a cardboard box or a plastic basket of some kind work just as well for holding picked flowers until you bring them indoors. Also, until I came to Spring Cottage I didn’t really have any flowers to pick so a trug had to wait. P1010966 Now, however, Spring brings loads of daffodils and other narcissi, and I also plant all kinds of seeds in my cut flower beds specifically to grow things to bring inside. So I’m enjoying a clapped out old trug that I bought last summer at a car boot sale for three quid. It’s a bit brittle and won’t last for ever but I’ve waterproofed it a little by painting it with Danish oil and it now looks as thought it’s a family heirloom, which I much prefer to things being brand new. It kind of goes better with the ancient nature of the cottage, looks suitably rustic hanging in the woodshed, and I can spend the money saved on seeds instead.

The main flowerbeds here are in the front garden, which is at the side of the cottage, if that makes sense. Being at the side, at the gable end of the house, there is no window overlooking it. So I have to bring flowers in if I want to see them more than in passing on the way to the car. in hedge Many of the daffodils have also been planted under the various hedges. Well, they would have originally been under the hedges but now they are in the hedges, the hedges having grown widthways as well as in height over the years. So the daffs need rescuing before they are forced to bend over by the branches sprouting above them. daffodils on windowsill

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It’s a beautiful, sunny day. The heath is covered with people delightedly expanding their lungs in the sunshine they’ve longed for through a very wet, dreary winter. “Come on,” they call out to their friendly, hairy, tail-wagging companion. “Come on, this way.” But Bonzo is oblivious, circling ominously, looking as though his brain has been commandeered by something he cannot control, which, in fact, it has. Bonzo needs to poo. His owner retraces his steps, fiddling determinedly with a little plastic bag that he can’t quite open and isn’t quite big enough. He puts his hand in it and waits. Bonzo finishes his business with a back-leg scritchy-scratch in the earth that does everything to upheave all the leaves nearby but nothing to cover the shit. Bless. His owner steps forward and scoops up the crap, making a little involuntary moue of distaste as his fingers encounter the warmth of the animal’s excrement through the thin plastic. He ties a knot in the top of the bag using the useful little handles and steps away, leaving the bag neatly at the base of a tree, by the side of a bench, hanging on a bush or occasionally, in desperation, just out in the open. “Come on, Bonzo,” he calls again, breathing deeply in the refreshing country air and they walk on – man and his best friend.

I picked up five plastic bags of other people’s dogs’ poo this afternoon. That’s five people who should have known better. Five people who adopted or bought a dog but think that their dog’s poo isn’t their responsibility. That it just gets magicked away by the fairies overnight so that they can walk in unspoiled countryside again whenever it suits them. Five people who didn’t give a shit their actions another thought.

As far as I’m concerned, I have fed my dog and what she has eaten needs to come out the other end. Not the most awful thing that could happen. Believe me, some of the things Nora has found on our walks (used condoms, dead sheep) have been worse. Actually, I may have borrowed the used condom experience from a friend but it’s still relevant. So, Nora’s poo is pretty ok to me. It’s just kibble processed by her digestive system. Fine. So long as I behave sensibly and wash my hands afterwards there’s nothing to be afraid of. But there seem to be quite a few people who feel that their dogs’ poo isn’t their problem. They take their beloved pooch for a walk – in the city, in the country – bagging up the poo… and then leave it on the spot instead of taking it home to flush away.

I literally don’t understand this. I boggle. My understanding comes to a screeching, sparking, teeth-on-edge, chalk screaming on the blackboard kind of halt.

Isn’t your dog’s shit yours to look after? Who made others the crap wardens? And, if you walk your dog in the countryside and can’t be bothered with the whole taking it home or binning it thing, isn’t it better to leave the poo au naturel than to bag it and hang the ‘baggie’ on a bush where it weathers (the plastic usually being biodegradable), eventually letting the excrement fall to the ground, where it will eventually decompose, in the meantime decorating the environment with blotches of unnatural colour and, eventually, shreds of plastic that can make birds and small animals gag, and spoil the views of other walkers in the meantime. Wow, long sentence! Actually, that’s what I’d give them: a long sentence.

In the more far-flung countryside, on bridle paths and public footpaths, bag dropping actually happens relatively rarely. Dog owners generally tend to kick the faeces into the bushes, just leave it, or take it home in a bag. It’s popular walking spots in the country with few or no bins, within easy reach of towns, where people might have to walk for an hour carrying – oh my god – a little bag of their own pet’s poo, that this happens most.

And in towns and cities, well, I just don’t get it at all. I just want to give all these people a toddler on a scooter and leave them to clear up the mess when he scoots over a doggie bag that bursts. I want them to be the person whose doorway these bags get left in almost every day.

So please, if this is you on a dog walk, just take that little warm bag back with you. There you go.

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The Countryside Stewardship Scheme was still operating properly when I first moved here just over four years ago. Then, as local authority cuts started to bite in the aftermath of the meltdown in the financial markets, my neighbour over the road commented that he was going to close the permissive paths across his land maintained by the scheme. He had been warned that no further money was likely to be forthcoming, meaning that he could no longer afford to maintain the paths appropriately for public access, and he was afraid of insurance claims from people injuring themselves.

gate with closed sign

Last week, however, I thought I would make my way down to where I knew there would be some early (for here) blackberries. John had said that I wasn’t to mind the ‘closed’ signs on the gates if I wanted a walk, but the undergrowth now had other ideas. The paths, once clear and wide, were almost completely overgrown by nettles and brambles.

overgrown path

If I hadn’t known the route, I would definitely have turned back. As it was, I did almost give up a couple of times, boiling in the heat of my windcheater pulled down close over my hands for protection, and exhausted by tramping down shoulder-high nettles and unhitching myself from the brambles that caught and re-caught me at every turn.

little lake

But it was worth my efforts. At the lake, ducks quacked as they paddled away across the still water between the water lily leaves. Lovely spots of cool widened out here and there beneath the canopy and the sudden rustling of the undergrowth, as rabbits lolloped away and horses came nuzzling up on the far side of the beeches to see who was passing, signalled the creatures that live here.

trees against the sky

I came home with not very many blackberries and a lot of sadness. I just have to consider myself lucky that I arrrived in time to experience these neglected byways at their best.

stile

There are other paths to the lake and across the land and I will have to content myself with those in the future.

public footpath sign

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I realise that it’s got dark outside. It’s almost nine o’clock but a combine harvester is still making its way backwards and forwards over the field next to the cottage. I can barely hear it when it’s at the far end but when it’s at this end, it’s deafening, although it must be over 100 feet away. I wish it would stop. It’s been going since just after lunch. I bet the guy driving it wants to go home for his dinner as well.

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Life has changed since I left work at the end of July and I’ve been getting used to the different pace of things, which is partly why it’s been uncharacteristically long since my last post. My memory is starting to improve as I begin to feel less stressed and the days have stopped zooming by quite so fast, which is lovely. But it’s not been in the least bit quiet as I’ve been busy with the Boy, who has been here on holiday from Australia, where he’s been working for the past year. Such a joy to see him after such a long time!

Consequently at the weekend I stayed out of the way, as Spring Cottage was besieged by young people – 13 of them – and we only have two bedrooms, one of which is tiny! They managed somehow, without any of them camping, leaving behind a reasonably tidy house but a recycling nightmare. So today I grumbled my way through a wheelie bin full of randomly chucked rubbish, knowing full well that the binmen (binpersons/people?) won’t take it unless it’s sorted perfectly for recycling. Lovely… food remains several days old and lots of not quite empty beer bottles and cans to plough through. But I’m not really complaining, it doesn’t happen often and it’s been such a pleasure to have a happy son enjoying himself with all his old mates. Besides which I like nothing better than sorting things out and moaning about doing it.

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Then I worked my way around the garden, ‘gently’ cutting a bit here and a bit there. And before I knew it, I’d attacked the old overgrown barrel that I’ve been meaning to deal with for months. The wood is completely rotten as I thought it would be and will shortly be replaced by a new one so that I can train something new up the trellis. There’s another barrel (also rotten) under the hedge, so I hope any wildlife living in it will make their way to new homes over there. Or perhaps I’ll move the whole thing down to the end of the garden where I don’t have to see it, beetly things and all. When I have the energy and have replaced the punctured wheelbarrow tyre, &c.

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The garden is still producing some flowers, both from the cutting beds (pleasingly as I thought I’d had the last of these) and from elsewhere, particularly the herb plots. Two fuchsias, a ‘fuchsia’ coloured one and a pale pink one, are providing a bit of colour too while everything else is starting to die back or develop seeds and berries. There’s definitely a hint of autumn in the air and the slant of the light.

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Oh, and I think the combine has finally finished.

 

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Lest anyone think that I am living the dream, here is a part of it that is more nightmare.

This is one of the walls the so-called wash house at the cottage. Built at the same time as the main house around 1800, it was probably exactly that – somewhere the washing could be done, separate but not that far from the fireplace in the cottage where the water would have been heated. The cottage itself had no bathroom or kitchen at that time – they were additions in the late 1960s. Yes, that late. It was also in 1962 that electricity first came to the cottage. That probably sounds like a long time ago but that’s during my childhood, so it doesn’t seem so to me.

I often wonder about the lives of the people who have lived here over the last couple of hundred years – I have their names and should find out more about them. In the twentieth century, they were mostly older couples and widowed single people, in the nineteenth, families with children and even a lodger who was a weaver – nearby Spaxton used to be a centre for cloth manufacture way back. With no shops for two and a half miles, they probably made their own bread and got their eggs, milk and meat from the farm down the lane. They definitely will have grown their own vegetables. They would have had to walk everywhere, for the cottage is relatively remote and there isn’t space to keep a horse, although there’s a barn over the lane that might have been rented for that purpose.

I don’t feel very driven to repair this wall. It’s not doing anyone any harm and it has a kind of beauty about it; the wash house being built into the hill behind. I like the link with the past that being able to see under the very twentieth-century rendering allows. Although a bit of the ceiling did fall down the other week. Must get that fixed.

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After a long, tiring day of strimming the banks at the back of the house, weeding, lugging around sacks of soil and manure, and putting up a reed-screen contraption thing to disguise the oil tank, I head off to the pub in the evening. I’ve stupidly forgotten to buy any food, even though I’ve been close to a supermarket earlier in the day. Sometimes life just feels too short for a huge shop and long queues.

I walk up the lane, taking real pleasure in one of the first good evenings in couple of weeks. I notice that a tree has come down up the road in the gales; its branches still stranded in limbo on top of the hedge on one side of the lane but its trunk now vanished, leaving a big, naked gap in the hedge on the other.

Swallows swoop, cows moo and lambs bleat. Somewhere, in the distance, quite far away, a dog barks. If you listen hard on a country evening, there’s always a dog barking somewhere.

One of the real blessings of living here is having a pub that does food within walking distance. It’s remarkable because there’s not much else within walking distance, unless you count fields and hedges. Well, there’s a letterbox, just past the farm, but it doesn’t do food.

I time it to arrive at the pub on the dot of seven – no ‘longer opening hours’ in this neck of the woods and I’m starving. I’ve been there waiting on the doorstep for them to open up before now.

Surprisingly, the pub is already heaving with people. Somerset time doesn’t always correspond to real time. Dave, the landlord, and Sue, who helps behind the bar but lives at the farm, are looking hot and bothered trying to keep up with the orders. The checked shirt and merino pullover crew are out in force. “There’ll be a bit of a wait,” says Dave. So I tuck myself into one of the few remaining seats – a chair by the fireside – with a pint of beer, The Guardian and my iPhone (they have free wifi intermittently when Dave forgets to turn off the router).

I sometimes struggle to explain the pub’s appeal but today I finally realise what it is. It’s that it’s an almost completely unreconstructed pub from the 1970s, all red patterned carpet, brown painted wood, horse brasses and ballads like Please release me always – always, without fail – playing softly in the background. No sawdust on floorboards and deafening conversation echoing around the place here. You get the drift?

Some of the customers haven’t changed either. Quite literally in the case of one of the elderly women sitting nearby, who is wearing an orange and brown flowered dress that she must have purchased over 30 years ago.

On quieter nights, when the customers all start chatting across the bar to each other, I’ve heard regulars say they’ve been coming here for 30 years and that neither the staff nor the menu has changed. It may not be very exciting but it’s good and reliable: scampi and chips, fish pie, cauliflower cheese, sausage and mash, steak and chips and so on. A bit of salad comes on the side of each of the oval plates, that can only be described as ‘garnish’. You aren’t expected to eat it because ‘five-a-day‘ hasn’t been invented yet. But, because I’m not quite a part of this time warp, I always do.

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Working from home this week, I find I’m massively distracted by the sudden, fine weather. It’s mighty cool in the living room, as the walls of the cottage are 18 inches thick but upstairs it’s warmer under the roof.

There’s weeding to do and sawing up all the wood that I’ve been collecting over the winter for kindling. The garage is full of it. My saw is blunt, or may be I just can’t saw, either way – I’ve been making heavy weather of it.

In the house, I find there are other distractions like my new bag (bought in February at Palmgrens in Stockholm but not yet used), which I have to play with until I know it well enough to ignore it; endlessly repositioning things within it for optimum ease of use. Ridiculous. I’ll get the hang of it soon enough. But I’m delighted that it’s finally warm enough to use something that says ‘summer’ quite clearly. Let’s hope the weather can hear.

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At long last, the weather was fine and springlike this weekend, after about five weeks of grey skies and rain.

Saturday

I dropped by Nether Stowey car boot sale this morning – the first of the season – which was rather lame. A very poor turnout of sellers; about half as many as usual. I should think most people were so delighted to have some good weather for the first time in weeks, that they had other activities on their minds. I must keep going though as I’ve had such good things from there in the past: a huge fireguard, a tin bath, a great set of Hedgerow china for a song, and this Lloyd Loom linen basket/stool.

Entertainingly subtitled: ‘a Lusty product’.

I’ve finally done it up with some oil cloth from Norfolk Textiles (I’m obsessed with oilcloth) and some braid from V.V. Rouleaux and it now looks like this. I scrubbed it thoroughly but didn’t repaint it, as I wanted to keep its slightly worn appearance. But I find I neither like it particularly nor have any use for it, so I’ll probably give it away.

When I got back, I set to strimming the roadside banks, which is the perfect situation to encounter neighbours. (Round here anyone who lives within a half-mile radius is considered a neighbour as there’s no-one immediate.) I met two women passing today for the first time: one who lives in a house called Witches Barn (not sure about apostrophe) and the other, on horseback with two dogs running free (so brave, or perhaps, foolish), who is newer here than I am, which makes me feel better.

Having chatted with them, I thought, it really is a bit like The Archers, with local people being up in arms about a new anaerobic digester and various planning applications. “Where’s it all going to go?” One of them wanted to know. Where indeed? Into a big lagoon of slurry, possibly at the farm down the lane. Oh joy. It smells bad enough from time to time, as it is.

Then I lay about on the grass in the sun, listening to the birds and the tractor in the field next door, and weeded for hours and hours. Now I ache from bending and kneeling, as well as from wielding the strimmer.

Sunday

This morning I went riding: sunshine, swallows flying up high, the ground finally drying out after weeks of rain, sparrow fledglings chattering noisily in the bushes, carpets of bluebells in the woodland for as far as the eye could see, the countryside really starting to brighten as the trees thicken with leaves and rape fields come into flower. And, when we got to Cothelstone Hill, the sheer pleasure of a rare, clear, 360 degree view from the Seven Sisters. Fabulous.

It was all great until Marmalade – a rather inappropriately named black and white mare – got thoroughly fed up with me while we were trying to close a gate (easier said than done on horseback) and suddenly took off at speed straight into a tree branch that caught me on the head, back of the neck and shoulder. You’re taught to bend forward when encountering an overhanging object; if I hadn’t instinctively done that, I would have been thwacked straight in the face. Thank goodness for riding hats too, although the impact rammed mine down so hard that one my eyebrows feels bruised. Anyway, I’ll live.

I find myself thinking that this place is has marvellously healing powers for the weary mind and soul, if not the body.

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Gloomy and wet. The lane rainwater-full. Gales blow. Garden chairs crash and windows leak.

Floors washed, paperwork done, holes drilled and pictures hung. Even washing machine plumbing, long standing left, is ticked off the list.

Now feeling neat.

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Well, around here, it comes in a huge tanker that blocks the lane while the oil tank is filled. Having lived all my life in a city, where the most involvement you have with your energy supply is letting the meter reader in, having to worry about whether the oil is going to last for the next couple of weeks is a new thing for me. As is paying for the best part of a year’s fuel all in one go and having to keep it under lock and key, so that it doesn’t get stolen while you’re not looking. Stick that in your pipes, city dwellers.

In three years, I’ve never been here when the delivery arrived, so obviously I had to get out there with my camera. The driver was the usual garrulous Somerset chap, only a little hindered by the traffic slowly building behind his tanker.

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I knew the oil was piped into the tank via a hose but I’d stupidly always imagined something the size of a garden hose, not an enormous great red thing more akin to a something a fireman would wield. But, as a result, It was all done in about 20 minutes from start to finish. Just as well for the Land Rover driver stuck up the lane, waiting patiently. Bit of an occupational hazard  around here.

I’d always felt a bit guilty that it must be hard to make a delivery out here. However, this lane is nothing to worry about apparently: “You wouldn’t want to drive your car down some of ‘em,” he said. I know the types of lanes he means; some of them are more like tracks, barely the width of a car, overhung with trees and ivy and, often, on a steep gradient as well.

He was also worried about the possible fuel tanker drivers’ strike because a depot blockade would mean they couldn’t get out and make deliveries. Recent orders for heating fuel have been flooding in, with so many people in the country using oil or Calor Gas for heating their homes and water. The news never mentions that there are people who depend on oil for more than transport.

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So it was all lovely when I arrived. I unpacked the car, let the cats out and went straight out to take some pictures of the lovely last bits of afternoon light.

There hasn’t been much snow but it’s very cold. The thermometer shows -5.(Shush, you folk who live in colder climes. This is cold for the south west of England. We’re used to mild air from the gulf stream.)

So I should have expected…frozen pipes. There’s no hot water and I can’t flush the loo. OK. I know how to flush the loo with a bowl of water when the cistern won’t fill. I can cope. But the thought of frozen pipes fills me with dread. We have history.

What’s particularly annoying is that I spent days and days, and wrecked my knees for months, lagging the damned loft after the last episode. Now, it turns out, there are mice who are making nests out of my lagging, which is why the pipes are frozen again.

Effing mice. That’s what I say.

Night, night.

Postscript: My remedy of leaving the loft hatch open and the central heating on all night defrosted the pipe and everything is now back in full working order.

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It’s good to look back over the last twelve months and a few things that happened. It’s so easy to let life whizz past you without noticing much about it. For instance, I’m surprised that it’s only last January that I was making bike seat covers, as this feels so much longer ago to me.

In January a huge, new cowshed was completed next door to spoil our beautiful view over Bridgwater Bay.

It was also so cold that the many birds that visit my garden were more than usually glad of some extra food. (I am turning into my in-laws with binocs constantly at the ready.)

In February, the weather was warmish and then cold, giving us daffodils, primulas and frost.

In March  the cash-strapped council still managed to open up our most local footpath almost over the road, which must have been on the planning list before the crunch. But hooray for it, as it’s the best way to get to our nearest walk.

In April, the days grew lighter again and Percy was confused about doors.

We had visitors from London, who inspired me to make some changes to the garden.

And I ticked a chore off my list by painting the garage, which needed timber preservation – a rather Swedish blue, natch.

In May, we stayed home and went out.

June was disappointingly un-sunny, but things grew anyway…

As July proved.

It was often not until the evening that the skies cleared and the sun came out.

By August, the wheat had ripened.

And we took ourselves for walks.

Then, in September, the harvest was brought in, changing the views.

In October, the neighbouring field gained some very ordinary cows. We usually have rarer breeds round here. I’m a cattle snob.

The neighbouring farmer cut down the hedge so that you could actually see Broomfield Hill from the garden.

Then as the days shortened in November, there was more staying in than going out.

Although, the occasional walk was managed.

Until the year ended in a grey and mild December; such a contrast to last year’s snow.

All in all, this has been a good and happy year. What more could I ask?  I hope your year was   also good and that 2012 will bring you all you wish for. x

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I’ve been riding just over a year and have been making progress – apparently. I didn’t really notice but, one day, a couple of months ago, I realised that I was always put on a Saturday morning ride instead of an afternoon one. Then it dawned on me that the others in the group could ride better and faster than the ‘walkers’ I was used to riding with, and that I was now one of them. Not that I’m very good. There’s always someone saying, “no, don’t carry a whip with Joseph, it upsets him,” when I’m just trying to look the part, or “you’ve got your chaps on the wrong legs,” when I was just in a hurry to leave the house. Ahem, of course I knew that, didn’t I?

But slowly and surely, I have gone from (sorry) wetting myself every time the horse began trotting, to actually being able to stay in the saddle when cantering without “seeing daylight in between” in my riding teacher Sally’s words. They’re very frank, these horsey people, which possibly coincidentally is also the name of her horse. Frank, that is, not Horsey. I like the sound of Horsey though, it’s quite Jane Austenish.

Now, it’s been suggested that I move to riding a different type of horse altogether. A thoroughbred instead of a cob. Something that looks more like this (on the left)

than these, which are sweet natured and steady, but slooooow.

I’m excited and looking forward to this, but also a little apprehensive. Running before I can walk? Never mind what comes after cantering…

 

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