Friday, 14 February 2014

My funny Valentine.

Everybody has their different talents. I am good at: horses, chicken soup, not dangling modifiers. I am bad at: tennis, filing, and beef stew. (I’ve never cracked the secret of beef stew. I’ve tried twenty different versions. It is never bad, but it is always very, very slightly disappointing.)

I am catastrophically bad at romantic love. I never got the hang of it. I always did it with completely unsuitable people, for a start. They were charming, funny, intelligent and fantastically unreliable. They always left. Then I would take to my room and listen to Leonard Cohen records and be unable to speak for quite a long time.

Even when it was going well, I wasn’t much good at it. I found the swinging from chandeliers stage exhausting. Even when I was very young, I longed for the violent emotion of the early stages of love to pass, and the nice steady part to arrive. Since my relationships were always dramatic, short and doomed, I never got to the nice steady part. I still imagine it must be quite soothing.

In the end, I gave it up as a bad job. Lucky for me, I never wanted to get married or have children. I think people thought this was a form of bolshiness, but it was merely something that did not call to me, just as some people do not wish to live in New York or play piano concertos.

I used to get perfectly furious about the horrid patronising view that single people were somehow less than. I would issue rolling rants about the miseries and compromises and lonelinesses that are hidden away in the dark corridors of a romantic relationship. I have seen the despair that can exist behind the facade of a publicly perfect marriage.

Now, I don’t care. I don’t rant. I grow old; I wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Everyone has their thing. Not all relationships, it turns out, hide secret misery. Some are perfectly lovely. My friend the World Traveller is brilliant at marriage and family. It really is her special skill. She and her husband like each other and want the same things and laugh at each other’s jokes. The great-nephew and nieces are some of the nicest and happiest children I know. When I see them all together, I want to hang out flags. They are a family at ease with themselves; they are a roaring success. The World Traveller did that, and I’m always rather in awe of the women who are good at making a family. I also feel very, very grateful to them, for doing it, so I do not have to.

But one strand quietly remains, of my early firebrand objections. It is that I still protest at the privileging of romantic love over all others. I think the other loves are possibly more important. I live easily and delightfully without romantic love, but I would be undone without friend love, family love, place love. The love I feel for Scotland endures like the blue hills that make my heart beat. The feeling of being stitched into a various and extended family is one of the high joys of my existence. The old friends, who have seen me straight and seen me curly, and know all my weaknesses, and love me anyway, are perhaps my greatest gift.

There is the dog love. You all know about that. I still miss my Duchess and my Pigeon. Their sleekness and kindness and funniness and beauty are still stitched into my heart. Now there is Stan the Man, the eccentric lurcher. (Actually, that is a bit of a tautology. All lurchers are eccentric.) He is lying beside me as I write this, his amber eyes regarding me quizzically. I love him because he is characterful and handsome and gentle. I love that he can run like a racehorse. I like his great athleticism. I admire the fact that he is going to catch that damn mouse in the feed shed, or die in the attempt.

There are other smaller loves which are important too, some of them so small they may hardly be seen by the naked eye. I love trees and politics and racing and books. I love lichen. I love the poems of TS Eliot and the songs of David Bowie and the paintings of Stubbs. I love talking about the big questions, which don’t have any definitive answers. What constitutes the good life? How did the Big Bang bang? What’s it all about, Alfie? How is it that the human heart may take so many blows and still endure?

And above all this soars the red mare.

It turned out that I got a love of my life after all. I never thought I would. I was so crashingly hopeless at gentlemen that I had thought I would have all the many other loves, but not a single, over-arching one. And then, by the merest sliver of chance, a horse appeared, who was useless at racing and useless at polo and should have gone to China, only the man with the lorry never pitched up. In that most random way, she came into my life.

At the beginning, I thought it would be a nice thing, to get me away from my desk, to remind me of my darling dad, to return me to something I was once good at. I did not know that it would turn out to be my one true love.

But that is what she is. I can’t even begin to count the ways. I love her kindness, her cleverness, her comedy skills, her courage, her authenticity. I love that she is a bit of a duchess and that her pedigree is crammed with Derby winners. I love that she goes back to the Byerley Turk, three times, on the bottom line. I love her power and her grace. I love her smell. I love that she does not give a bugger about the superficial things. She knows what is important. I love that sometimes, when she hits a perfect stride, it feels as if we are flying. I love that she knows I am her human and that she may rely on me. It feels like a gift.

And that is why, on this Valentine’s Day, I have no yearning for hearts and flowers. I don’t secretly long for dinners by candlelight or grand romantic gestures. Valentine’s Day is thought to be an excruciating thing for singles. But you see, I have my love. I hope you have yours. I hope it is not the kind that fits neatly onto a Hallmark card.


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14 Feb 11


  1. Tania, this is lovely. I thought for many years I would be alone, and had come to be quite happy on my own (I still am much of the time). I have married, but in a way the romantic love is the least of what it is all about.

    Funnily enough, when I moved to Moscow for a bit to prove to myself I could do it, it was the place love that felled me. I could keep up with friends and family but I missed the hills and the trees of home so incredibly much.

    I'm now deep in dog love with Smoke is ex-Army and is currently hiding under my desk from the hoover...Other fears which have been overcome in the last week are going down stairs, fire (in a fireplace) and a small boy.

  2. 1. Happy Valentine's Day. 2. I have to comment on the beef stew failure (as you know I have to). Use beef shin. Cook it slower and for longer than you may have thought possible. A star anise never goes astray. Do not use tomatoes. Carrots are essential for sweetness esp if using red wine. Season properly. I cannot countenance one without some form of dried mushroom/field mushroom for savour, but anchovies work excellently too. No doubt you have tried all this, but I cannot bear the thought of you sitting slumped in front of yet another slightly disappointing attempt. I personally like Nigella's beef stew with anchovies in How to Eat (bound to be on website) with a few alterations. I MUST SOLVE THIS!!!

  3. Thank you Tania. Beautifully said.

  4. You've written so many brilliant blogs but this one is really breathtaking. So often I want to send an appreciative comment and I sit there, trying to form the right words, knowing my modifiers will dangle and it will not sound right. You are SUCH a great, perceptive, humane and witty writer. As for the stew, I agree with Jo's recommendations. Also, a little guinness in the pot is also a good as it adds depth of flavor. x

  5. The amazing thing is that your photographs of Red somehow convey exactly how much you love each other. Lovely post. It should have national circulation as there is so much inane guff about Valentine's Day in the press. Rachel

  6. You have riches beyond dreams, contentment is a rare thing. Beautiful photographs, thank you for sharing.

  7. Deeply lovely. Being single does not mean being alone. I see the love in your photographs, I read how contented and grounded you are. You are completely at home in your world. Isn't that the secret to life?

  8. Lovely...just lovely. Must, so sorry about the little filly...but there is your red mare to bring you 'round to being whole. I love her too...I think an awful lot of your readers do too. If I sit very still while reading the mare latest, think on my horses of the past, then I almost can feel the motion, wind in my hair and their delicious smell. As I once told my aged mother, if only I could bottle that smell !! Judith in N. CA

  9. Well lived, well said. One of my favorite posts.

  10. It's brilliant that you've found your place in the world and are wise enough to realize it and enjoy it, every moment of it. Also lovely of you to share it with those of us who love Scotland too, but cannae live there.

  11. Such an inspiring post about the power of love. It's really all around us as the song says...


  12. A lovely, lovely post ..... every bit of it resonates for me. I too have a horse of the heart- even though he's not mine any more we are inextricably linked, always. And I'd add the love of learning new things, and reading new books. I'm so much more contented, despite having no partner, than so many of the married people I meet...
    Life is full of wonders and surprises - you didn't see Red coming, did you? Thanks for your writing .........


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