boobs

part one

One morning mum suggested we go and buy a bra, for me. I hadn’t noticed I needed one, but when I looked through my white nylon school shirt, I could certainly see her point. Or two. It was a short bus ride to Cox’s, the local ladieswear shop, where Mrs Cox showed me to the fitting room, and busied herself measuring my budding breasts. Mum and I left the store with two soft triangular cups of blue check gingham called a Berelei Beginner.

By the time my teens arrived, baby breasts had transformed into a pair of pendulous knockers, and dainty blue gingham had given way to matronly white lace, with staunch straps and three hook back fastening. I’d obviously bypassed the rosebud stage and gone straight to full bloom. It was the early seventies, and I embraced hippydom with the desperation of a teen trying to belong somewhere other than where she was. Free-falling hair worn with a headband was a heaven-sent style for me, and I flowed ethereally, draped in patchwork and velvet.

Aspiring to be a feminist, I read Cosmopolitan Magazine, but stumbled at the first hurdle of liberating myself from my bra. One sunny afternoon, as I bounced along Bournemouth’s Old Christchurch Road wearing frayed Levis and an antique blue silk kimono, I noticed the bus I wanted to catch was about to pass me. I made a run for the bus stop at the top of the road, but as I began to sprint, my liberated breasts ricocheted their way out of the kimono. All the builders working on an adjacent site downed tools and cheered, cars slowed, people turned to watch, and as the bus passed, I saw open mouthed passengers staring at me as I desperately tried to run, whilst stuffing two heaving watermelons back into a thin wisp of silk.  Red faced (probably red breasted too) I clamped my arms firmly across my chest and made a sharp left turn down a side road, heading straight back home. My breasts were deposited back in the security of their formidable Cross-Your-Heart custodian, never to bounce freely again.

I’m short and slight, and by the time I met my first husband in my early twenties, my breasts were a full double-D cup size. They used to arrive in a room a good few seconds ahead of me, but my husband wasn’t complaining so I packed them away as firmly as I could each day, and risked a black eye if I turned quickly in bed at night. Big-breasted girls were not yet fashionable; I think Gossard were the first company to produce a larger size underwire bra in colours other than black white or beige. I remember buying a plum coloured one in the wonderful lingerie shop ‘Just Jane’ in Salisbury, where the strippers and fetish-wearers shopped. For the first time since blue gingham days, my boobs felt special, and they looked glamorous too!

Mark and my breasts had a year to become acquainted before my first cancer surgery. I didn’t feel particularly disfigured by the crater-and-scar reminder of the tumour site, but radiotherapy left me with breast swelling, burnt and discoloured skin which never quite healed. Between 1991 and 1995 I accrued a couple more ‘false alarm’ lump biopsy scars on the same breast, so it wasn’t a complete shock when we received a cancer diagnosis in 1995 requiring a mastectomy; the shocking part was the pre-wedding timing, and the realisation our honeymoon would also be my breast-leaving-party. I granted them a final day of unfettered freedom when we returned home to face surgery and chemotherapy. I could have burnt my bra, and everything else along with it.

We arrived at the hospital at midday for the mastectomy surgery. The nurse said my op was last on the list, so she would collect me from the ward and take me to theatre around five o’clock. Sitting quietly on the hospital bed the drama of the past few weeks began to flood in, and as the afternoon passed I got more and more anxious about everything that had happened, and what the outcome might be. At four o’clock, the nurse gave me a pre-op sedative and I quickly drifted into deep sleep. I woke three hours later and drowsily told Mark I had no pain at all. He replied that the surgeon was delayed, and I hadn’t had the surgery yet!  

I spent a week in hospital. Due to a complication caused by removing more underarm lymph nodes, the drains wouldn’t stop draining. I received so many flowers, they overflowed into the corridor, and had so many visitors I felt quite exhausted. It was the first time I’d been a captive audience for other people’s cancer fears, and their ‘uplifting’ stories about friends-of-friends who made miraculous recoveries; why did they have to dump all this on me? I became heartily sick of people telling me I must stay P O S I T I V E.

Mr Rowe-Jones the breast surgeon had left me with a neat horizontal scar on pancake flat skin, which contrasted sharply to my mum’s mastectomy scar performed in the 1960s. It undoubtedly saved her life, but the jagged line running from shoulder to navel was butchery at best. I wrote my surgeon a thankyou letter; it was the least I could do. I was concerned about Mark’s reaction when I revealed the damage. Soon after surgery, I stood with my back to the basin in the privacy of the hospital bathroom. He had his back to the door, and I watched his face as I carefully took down the bandages; he didn’t flinch.

“That doesn’t look bad at all” he said. “It’s very neat. Are you okay with it?”

“I think I’m fine” I replied through the tears “I’m fine now you’ve seen it”.

Mark wrapped his arms tightly round me (narrowly avoiding the drain tubes) and we stood for a long time, together in the bathroom.

I left hospital with a wad of tissues stuffed into my bra, and got on with life as best as I knew how, under the cloud of imminent chemotherapy. The breast care nurse visited to check the wound, gave me a soft breastpad, and said she would make an appointment for me to have a proper prosthesis fitted. I started riding my horse again, but found the underarm surgery restricted movement, and got quite upset thinking it would be permanent.

On a bleak midwinter day, when I was feeling at my lowest ebb, the appointment arrived. I couldn’t pretend this insult to my body was okay, as if making my outward appearance ‘normal’ somehow mended the inside. I postponed the date, and then postponed it again. When the dreaded day arrived I wanted someone to accompany me, but I also wanted to go alone and wallow in the misery of my situation. My brother, who was living in Kathmandu in order to ‘find himself,’ had written me a letter explaining the cancer was due to my suppressed anger, and the only way to stay alive was to drink my own urine. He might have been right but its delivery on that morning was ill timed, and played on my mind. I suppressed my anger long enough to tear the letter into tiny pieces, and drove to my appointment in tears.

The Breast Prosthesis Department was actually a Portakabin in a car park. I rang the doorbell, and an immaculate woman in a starched white hospital coat ushered me in, and directed me to a seat in her windowless office. She sat one side of the desk and I sat on the other. Her hair was an impossibly uniform shade of auburn, and sat on her head like a metallic helmet, accentuating her thickly powdered and rouged face, arched eyebrows and vermillion lips.

“Today we’re going to fit you with a breast prosthesis” she said, gesturing vermillion-painted nails towards stacks of boxes on shelving that ran the entire length of the room. “But first I need to take some notes”.

I sat glumly, answering questions about operation and treatment dates, and size and shape of my remaining breast, before she asked me to remove my top garments. After recording my measurements, she surveyed my remaining breast from different angles, and gave me advice about buying a non underwire bra to better support the new prosthesis. She then walked to the shelves and returned with three identical boxes, and as she laid them on the floor by my feet, I had a sudden vision of buying new shoes in a shoeshop. I desperately tried to suppress a giggle, which came out sounding like a giant gurgle, but she didn’t bat a thickly mascara-ed eyelid. She removed the protective cardboard from around the first box, revealing a small black patent carry case. Inside, quivering in a nest of black satin sat a beige coloured, breast-shaped, silicone filled prosthesis, looking remarkably like a large chicken fillet. I was surprised at its weightiness as she slipped it into my bra cup, and re-fastened the back hooks.

I stood, turned and bent as instructed, before she shook her head. “That’s really not good enough. Let’s try the next one.” She put the fillet back in its case and read the name on the second box. “Ah yes, this is the Doreen; it’ll be a better shape for your small back.” I thought I might be expected to shake hands with Doreen as she was hoisted from her box, and dug my nails into my palms in order to remain sane. Alas, Doreen didn’t fit, neither did the Elizabeth nor the April, and by the time we got to the June, I was ready to stay flat-chested.

“I think we’re going to have to consider a Special,” she said, frowning at the boxes on the floor. “You’re quite deceiving, but we must get it right. . .” She moved a step-stool towards the shelves, and reached boxes from the top shelf. The Special case looked identical to the others, but had a red satin lining. I half expected a trumpet fanfare as Special Marguerite was uncased and fitted, and declared an outstanding success. TaDa!

I was issued with a ‘How to Wash Your Silicone Prosthesis’ leaflet and two cotton prosthesis covers, and left the Portakabin carrying Marguerite in her red-lined case. Later that night in my sleep, I heard the most guttural, heart-wrenching sob. I woke with a start, and in the depths of solitary darkness, realised the cry was mine. I got out of bed and quietly felt my way across the bedroom to where Marguerite’s box sat on the dressing table. Opening the cupboard door, I silently buried her in the furthest darkest corner, underneath seldom-used suitcases. I climbed back into bed, and snuggled into Mark’s back. As I listened to his steady breathing, I tried to forget everything about Marguerite, and all the fear she brought with her.

Chemotherapy settled into a three-weekly rhythm. I had intravenous treatment on Friday afternoon and was sick for the first week, returning to work and life for the second two weeks, before starting again. I don’t want to re-live it here; suffice to say it felt like hell with no end. On the fifth cycle, I refused to go to hospital and Mark physically picked me up and put me in the car. The oncologist said if I could bear this one more treatment, five out of six cycles would be sufficient, and we could finish. I had worn the same set of clothes for each treatment, and after that final cycle, I made a bonfire and burnt them all; I didn’t want to see, feel or smell them ever again. I also said I would never put myself through another course of chemotherapy. It took a lot of courage fifteen years later to change my mind.

By the time summer arrived, things began to return to how they were; I went back to work full-time, and back to riding regularly. I got used to my new appearance; the missing breast didn’t feel strange, but the remaining one looked odd and isolated without a partner. Eventually I exhumed Marguerite from the cupboard. She was quite weighty to wear; I hadn’t realised how voluminous a breast can be. Despite the cotton cover, the silicone became very hot and sweaty, so I tried a bra with pockets to house her, but the weight dragged the bra forward.  One glorious sunny morning, I was mucking-out Teddy’s stable and vigorously sweeping the yard, dressed in shorts and a vest top, when Marguerite flew out of my bra, swooshed across the concrete and landed in a wobbly heap by the water bucket. Teddy shot to the back of his stable, snorting at the alien missile, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. As I stuffed her back in my bra, Farmer Jim (who owned the stables) walked round the corner, looked at my hasty re-alignment, looked at my face, turned round and walked back again. I saw him every day for many years afterwards, and he never mentioned it. A few weeks later, I was at the osteopath, and as I bent forward for him to check my pelvis, she slipped out again, landing with a quivering plop in front of us. There was a moment of stunned silence before I began to giggle, and I was comfortable enough with the osteopath to enjoy the ‘shared moment’, but I knew it was time to think seriously about breast reconstruction.

I’ll post part two next week. . .

dropping the baton

raindrops on decaying flower heads

My dad didn’t believe that simply being good at something was good enough, you had to be Best. Oh how I must have disappointed him. Childhood me failed to stay cute, failed exams, failed to grow into a demure young lady. Adult me failed a first marriage, failed to provide grandchildren, failed to live conventionally, even failed to stay solvent.

But I hit my stride when I got invasive breast cancer, with the highest grade tumour for starters. The treatment choices on offer were a mastectomy, or lumpectomy and radiotherapy. I quite liked my breast so I chose the latter; the cancer returned within four years, so that choice was probably a failure too.

A dervish-like approach to coping overshadowed any fear of cancer. Everything I could possibly control was micro-managed and governed with an iron fist. I became the Dictator of my own mind, certain that mental discipline was the key to survival, and my default setting was being best at fighting cancer.

It was an interesting approach, and a coping mechanism that worked at the time. With hindsight we learn the tighter the grip, the harder the lesson. Life doesn’t necessarily obey your will, however much you crave a parental pat on the back.

Dad died in 1994 in circumstances that showed his whole ethos was less ‘do as I do’ and more ‘do as I say’. His fear of failure led him to his grave and from there, he reached out and passed me the baton of his impossibly high standards.

Being a control freak brings many benefits; namely burying the real picture in minutiae of managing detail. I called it ‘dealing with cancer’, called myself a ‘workaholic’ and carried on regardless. The day of reckoning came in the form of a mental breakdown, and true to form, it was spectacular; the best implosion I could possibly manage.

Psychotherapy, talking therapy, medication, holistic therapy, horses husband and friends pulled me through. I am very lucky. One momentous day, I shed my armoured coat and walked in my own skin. It was a shaky start, and I admit I wasn’t very good at it, but not being good felt ok and the world didn’t stop turning.

Of course, I’m not the first to realise this, it is summed up perfectly in the famous C.JoyBell C quote “It’s the hard things that break, soft things don’t break.” I’ve found the key to staying soft is noticing when I’m not. I can manipulate and forcefully manage if I choose, but I notice it doesn’t really work; other people don’t follow your expectations, life often doesn’t go the way you want, and horses have their own agenda. There’s more to be had from gaining knowledge to better cope with a situation, and make informed choices that stack the odds in your favour. Inevitable change stays inevitable however many barricades you build. I still don’t like things that happen to me (who would), but by managing myself I feel more in control than I ever was before, and at the moment I feel the best I can possibly feel.

Sorry dad; I failed to carry your baton, but it was the best failure I ever made.

husband

I really like my husband. It goes without saying that I love him more than anyone else on earth, but I also genuinely like him.

I don’t agree with all his views, his politics or his taste in food, but we’ve come to a tacit agreement that he voices his opinions, I certainly voice mine, and if contentment means sometimes cooking two separate dinners, then so be it.

I wouldn’t call him my best friend because I have friends who are that; we have a unique bond that is part spouse, team-mate, partner-in-crime, lover and friend.

We first met back in the 70s, and re-found eachother twenty years later. Quite quickly, we both concluded that somewhere back in time we’d been together forever, and this was just another chapter in the same book. Even so, it took him a while to say he loved me. This man treads slowly.

The slow tread took me a long time to respect because I dash everywhere, on foot and in my head. He does something properly the first time, while I return repeatedly to stick patches on a rushed job. I walk quickly, while he sees where he is going and doesn’t fall over the kerb.

Mark is also completely true to himself, which I admire and envy. He never alters his persona to fit a situation, and his job has never defined him. My personality and my status are contained in what I do and without my job, I’m lost. Mark is simply himself and work is a means to money, not self-recognition.

We had ten months together before cancer arrived, too soon into a fledgling love affair, but when would have been a good time? We survived it side by side but separately, and continued finding our togetherness. The second cancer diagnosis (on the day before our wedding), was definitely ill timed and the hardest to bear, but with hindsight it set the benchmark that made subsequent recurrences easier.

Chemotherapy, mastectomies and debilitating surgeries are a fair way to test the strength of any marriage, but being unable to have children was the blow that felled me; my husband would’ve become a wonderful father. He didn’t say much about it at the time, just that he understood my distress. We got used to it together.

We used to be more adventurous; I wonder if these days we cling to our routine and comforts to lessen the effects of things we can’t control, or whether it’s a natural progression for two aging earth signs? I’m just grateful for evenings spent on the sofa, reading our books, with the cats asleep in front of the woodburner. I have no hankering to see the Seven Wonders when I have domestic bliss under my nose.

I can’t really tell you how Mark treads the balance of living with death, because having dealt him that blow I feel too guilty to look deeply. We deal with practicalities as a team, and employ the Humour of Doom to lessen the bitterness of unpalatable topics. I notice that sometimes the whisky bottle empties quicker, and I know when he lays awake at night. We both think we’re good at hiding things from eachother, but we’re not. We just hang on by our fingernails to what we have, trying to ignore the fact cancer is hanging there with us.

best medicine

Today’s bitter wind and watery sunshine broke the tedium of a dismal start to February where everything stayed grey, and the rain fell with sullen monotony.

In past times, I’d have taken the opportunity to saddle up and blow away the cobwebs with a fast ride across the fields, splashing through puddles and jumping fallen branches. Feeling that rush of adrenaline at the sheer joy of being out on a horse, ignoring the cold wind that lights up your cheeks and freezes fingers to reins, and returning home so exhilarated that you are immune to anything life throws at you. But nowadays my options are more sedate and I try very hard not to feel a pang of loss for those rides. I remember my new mantra, that thrills are found in having the time to notice detail. Physical curtailment can bring with it unexpected mindfulness and new ways to process things. Writing has become my way of feeling I have given something all I’ve got.

I thought we’d go for a walk around the farm where Bruce lives, and seeing as this is a new blog, I thought you could come with me.

I gave Bruce a slow groom, putting hair conditioner in his tail to ease the tangles, and using the brush softly on his tickly bits. We stood quietly in the sunshine, grooming until his black coat shone, and I made time to scratch his withers while he wriggled his nose in pleasure. Then I offered him his halter and long lead, and waited for the ‘give’ as he lowered his nose. He also wears his leather bridle when he’s ‘working’ as it feels important that he still does a job.

I’ll let you into a secret. When I began riding Bruce, I had his bridle made-to-measure; it was three times more expensive than a shop-bought one. It’s nothing fancy because we’re not a flashy couple, just fine English leather that fits like a dream and is perfectly shaped around his ears so it doesn’t pinch. When Bruce was hunting with his previous owner, he was restrained with quite a harsh bit and contraptions to keep his head down and his mouth shut. A plain bridle with a French Link snaffle seemed significant to his new start, and I wanted him to have something really special.

The wind was sharp enough to cut you in half. I remember an old farmer who called it a lazy wind ‘because it went through you instead of round you.’ I put two padded coats on, a woollen bobble hat pulled down low over my forehead, and pulled a scarf up over my chin, and we set off, Bruce’s front legs moving in unison with mine. I breathed deeply as best I could through my muffler, and after a dozen strides, he dropped his head and blew out through his nose. My shoulders and his poll relaxed at the same time. We walked alongside the paddocks to the bottom farmyard, where the ancient haybarn roof rafters remind me of cathedral arches,

past the old dairy where the wonky walls are reinforced with brick buttresses, and the floor still has its original cobble stones.

Pausing at the farm entrance to check for traffic, Bruce halted on my out-breath, and stood quietly. I patted his neck, and we turned right, following the privet hedge bordering the farmhouse to the gate opposite.

The low wooden gate was tricky to open and stiff on its hinges. Bruce nibbled the hedge while I swore loudly and muttered about the ‘good old days’ when we’d have been tempted to jump it instead of opening it. Once I’d shoved it into a passable gap, he shimmied his way through, with me following behind. We ambled along the grassy track and over a bridge where the drainage ditches have become a flowing river, until we reached the beehives at the top, but active bees buzzing about surprised us both so we made a hasty retreat!

Turning back on our tracks, we crossed the road to search the hedge for for rosehips. Bruce found and ate two, and on the farm track towards home, we found daffodils flowering in the shelter of the near-derelict old garden gazebo. As I bent down to take the photo I felt hot breath on my hand, and quickly moved Bruce away from taking a mouthful!

It had been a lovely walk and I felt quite tired, so while I got his stable ready for the evening, I put Bruce in the jumping paddock to graze. However, he had other ideas and had a long roll and wriggle in the mud. I brushed him again, put his rug on, and he went out in his field to spend the rest of the day with his mates. When I got in the car to go home, I noticed how rosy my cheeks were and how exhilarated I felt. And it made me smile out loud.

what’s the plural of diagnosis?

For my family, the first time I had cancer was total shock and awe, but for me, I’d simply followed self-examination instructions and hit the jackpot.

Sitting in the bath on Good Friday evening 1991, the lather parted on my left breast to reveal a marshmallow-sized lump. A strange calmness washed over me as I greeted my destiny

“Oh, so that’s it then”

I didn’t share my discovery with anyone until I saw the doctor four days later.

What followed were days and weeks of worry. Biopsy and lumpectomy surgeries, six weeks of radiotherapy, and all the sleep I could muster. I filled the freezer and labelled each bag with clear instructions.

I was thirty-six years old. I’d just miscarried a desperately wanted baby. My unsupportive marriage was crumbling around me, and in a set of circumstances worthy of Mills & Boon fiction, I’d begun the most unexpected love affair. There wasn’t much time to think about my cancer; so I didn’t.

My family were spared an immediate response to my second diagnosis five years later, because my dad was dead, my brother living abroad, and it was the eve of my wedding day.

When the consultant faltered reading the biopsy results, Mark and I knew our pre-nup was going to be more Sickness than Health.

After biopsy surgery the previous week, I’d modified the low neckline of my wedding outfit; the only thing now required was the ability to keep a secret, a large smile and a larger drink.

We did all three with aplomb, and even kept the smiles in place through our three-day Devon honeymoon. When we returned home to face the music, we drove very slowly.

What followed were days and weeks of worry, a mastectomy, six months chemotherapy, a second mastectomy with bi-lateral reconstruction, and all the sleep I could muster. I planted fast-growing flowers and wondered how many I would pick.

My dad had died suddenly within a week of my uncle (swiftly followed by my beloved cat), my mum needed all the support I could give. I’d just got married and there wasn’t much time to think about my cancer; so I didn’t

With a nine year interval, there was even less family to herald the arrival of cancer number three. After beating breast and bowel cancer, my lovely mum suffered a devastating heart attack and never recovered. I‘d just made the heart-wrenching decision to have my horse put down at the ripe old age of twenty-three. Comfortably numb, there was no emotion left when a routine check-up located a lump in my armpit.

Worry, two rounds of surgery, a massive allergic reaction to the anti-cancer drug Tamoxifen, sleep. I gave up gardening and bought ready meals for the freezer.

Deeply mourning mum’s tragic death, desperately missing the magical bond of horsiness, reeling from my sister-in-law’s diagnosis of terminal liver cancer, and supporting a friend battling leukaemia- there REALLY  wasn’t much time to think about my cancer. And I didn’t.

Not until the fourth diagnosis did all that not-thinking come back to bite me. . .

requisitioned

(a blue sky dream)

The sky, in his dream,

was a porcelain shade of English blue.

The grass, although not verdant

was sweet, short

and instantly fresh against his jaded tongue.

The air,

which he barely had time to scent

so busy was he eating,

cooled nostrils blackened with fire

and a throat full of death dust.

The ground soft yet firm

didn’t hold his tread,

but released a foot to fall

where ‘ere it chose.

No crunch of bones

in the turf of ancient meadows.

Groans and screams,

and cries of writhing pain

were drowned by songs of birds,

and the lice itching his tender skin

became amiable scratches

against the orchard trees,

in this blue sky dream.

Awake, he bent his head.

The scorched earth mocked

his sleeping haven,

and the noise,

body parts and blood

told another story,

too terrible to translate.

He blew softly.

The scarcest outlet of breath was heard

amid cannon fire commotion,

but a hand  (one he knew)

came instantly to his side,

resting awhile open-palmed on his neck,

gentle as his mother once was

when she licked him clean and warm.

Together in a moment

a horse, his soldier,

steadying one another.

Carrying one another

into the final ride of death,

without glory or recognition

under that imaginary

blue English sky.

for Lilith

photo of Pearl courtesy of Anna Blake

St Peter stands at heaven’s front door, but if you pop round the back you’ll find the best bit – its where the horses are.

I’m not one for finding comfort in Rainbow Bridges (horses are such patient beings in this world, please don’t make them wait on us in the next) or Stars in the Sky, because stars are awesome enough as they are, but I know in my heart of hearts that when horses die, they go to a special place where fields are wide and flies are few, and they can breathe and snort and simply be horses, and things no longer hurt.

Here, sad horses exchange skin and bone for sleek coats and strong limbs. Skinny mules from Egypt grow plump, and the best loved horses become more best and even more loved. As they walk through heaven’s wide gates where Anna Blake’s Grandfather Horse, and Mark Rashid’s ranch horse Buck graze the lush green grass, newcomers are welcomed with a quiet nicker and a gentle breath.

Through this gate tottered a curmudgeonly little donkey named Lilith; small in stature but grand in stance. Her eyes were cloudy and her hearing muffled; she could no longer see or hear the inhumanity meted out to donkeys everywhere. God’s grazing herd recognised a Very Special Being, and respectfully lined her route home.

Lilith glanced left and right. With a slight drop of the nose towards Grandfather horse, and a long-ear flick towards Buck, she wobbled unsteadily down the centre of the assembled horses. As cantankerous in death as she was in life, she threatened to kick or bite anyone who stepped out of line.

When she reached the bucket of tinned pears (her toothless favourite) she stopped and sniffed, gathered her frail body into a semblance of order, and thought about braying. Then she buried her nose in the nectar of Heaven and ate to her heart’s content.

inspired by Crissi McDonald

INSPIRED by CRISSI McDONALD

What if we stopped berating our past mistakes?

What if we changed the narrative and called them progress?

All of us here have travelled long and far. Not just with our horses but with our selves.

Our faults are many, our successes few, and in order to improve we beat ourselves with that large stick of past failures, in a way we would never beat our horses.

But what if every mistake, every error of judgement was merely a rung on the ladder to learning. Surely that can’t be wrong?

Perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight (which is a land where everything shines unicorn clear) we simply had that ladder against the wrong wall?

Along our Damascene Roads, many of us got more involved in techniques than proved good for our horses – or ourselves- but just like adding our own pinch-of-this –and-that to season a textbook recipe, none of us can deny sprinkling a tad of past learning on today’s actions.

I was raised on tried and tested British Horse Society principles; followed by millions, but falling short of the ‘right’ meaning for me.

However much I disagree with a lot of the teaching, I still apply basic BHS learning to every horse I encounter, every day, and my standard of horse care is just as Major Browne taught me all those years ago at Pony Club. I check water buckets and feed bowls for snot or blood. I shut the gate behind me when turning out to pasture. I thank motorists for slowing down and passing with a wide berth. Could Parelli have taught me these basics? Could I have learnt them in a round pen? So BHS wasn’t all bad.

Regret for horses bewildered by our mistakes is understandable, but can we say it won’t happen again?

To have caused anguish to those we love the most, is as big a sin as we can commit but we didn’t do it maliciously; we were doing the best we could with what we knew at that time.

Each day we take our horse’s demeanour in the present tense, so let us do the same for ourselves!
Collect all our past horse history into a large heap, and celebrate just how large it is. Look how far we’ve come, look what we’ve experienced! Look at how much we can rationally discuss, and teach others, because we WERE THERE.

Treat it all as learning. When the larger picture is blurred, see the tiny increments we made on our way to celebrating we’re still here, relatively sound and able to breathe with horses.

Because what it all comes down to is that we’ve spent a lifetime learning to breathe.

Which was right under our noses all along.

a girl,a woman,or a lady?

“Are you a girl, a woman or a lady”?

Oh, that’s a real easy question to answer I thought, because I’ve always been a girl, see-sawing somewhere between Scarlett O’Hara and Calamity Jane. I get my way with girlie smiles or a lady’s raised eyebrow (never womanly wiles), and tackle chores and problems with girlie gusto, wearing lace-trimmed cut-offs and boots, and swearing like a trooper. Quite unladylike. A girle tomboy.

My friends are generally girls. Except for horses and dogs that are better suited as boys. Gay men friends are girlier than my girlfriends, and although none of us are pink sparkly people, we love pink champagne.

Pixie-cut hair is girlie glamour, even when staunchly grey. Once it tumbled in curls, but youth is gone and girls do not dwell.

Clothes? Clothes are fun and functional with two fingers defiantly raised to fashion. ‘Classic with a twist’ – a mere pseudonym for oddly placed fastenings- and anything matchy-matchy are a no-no.

Then I got to thinking more, and applied Anna’s five-word creative writing test.

GIRL: Cute. Sassy. Friend. Jeans. Free.
WOMAN: Hourglass. Poise. Motherly. Grown-up. Career.
LADY: My mother.

Women frightened me. The criteria of poise and confidence seemed just out of reach for a girl, but lately things have shifted.

Between plucking and smoothing, I look in the mirror and I feel I am enough. It’s womanly in a very grounding, nurturing way which isn’t what I expected. Motherliness is more like sisterliness, my career somewhat ad-hoc, but confidence comes when I trust my girlishness. Moreover, if poise means equilibrium, then yes, without reaching I have that too.

“No, I’m not available to do that” is something I can say without the addition of a thousand apologies, because actually, I don’t give a damn if they don’t like me.

I thought being a woman meant damping down girlie enthusiasm, like following a recipe instead of improvising potluck leftovers. Now, I discuss politics over the potluck supper, and quite I often I don’t say anything because silence says infinitely more.

And I no longer show up at every fight I’m invited to.

Wonder Woman? Not quite, not yet. But I think she’ll join me for a glass of chammy.

PS which one are you?

mouth before brain

It happened again. And again before that, and when you think back, there’s a whole history of agains.

Each time, you say “I will never do that again”

Then you do; at least there is consistency.

Why, after so much practice (and so much regret) you still fail to recognise the point where you could have stopped?

Words fill your mouth. You forget just because you taste them, you don’t have to say them.

Gulp, bite your tongue, or even smile through gritted teeth.

But no, you go for the kill. Death by home-truths, AKA Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid.

There are myriad reasons for saying what you said. In the darkness of night, between sighing and craving sleep, you try, try, and then try some more to find justification. You justify until dawn, and by morning, you have almost reached absolution. Almost, but not quite.

Daylight reckoning doesn’t fare much better. Thoughts churn continually, until the real reason behind what you said – ‘What Happened Before What Happened Happened’- is laid clear and bare. And it and aint pretty.

The words, and the person who received them, are collateral damage. Unfair, unkind, but shamefully true. The words were all about you.