My friend looked up at me across my sitting room, stroked the baby’s head and then said, in a thoughtful tone: “I guess that when normal people feel rotten, they call in sick. But that’s not really an option the you’ve got kids, is it?” “No”, I replied, ignoring, for one second, the clear implication that she didn’t consider me to be a “normal person”. “No, it’s not, really.” And rotten I had felt. As I’d struggled to get out of bed that Monday morning, the pain in my head had assailed me so brutally, so fiercely, that I had fallen back against the mattress, gasping for breath and choking as the surges of sickness racked me from head to toe, and I shook helplessly in the grips of an icy, fiery, relentless fever.
My husband had stepped up to the mark. He’d got the kids dressed, fed them, and then called time. “I can take Rosie to playgroup”, he’d said, “but you need to get up and have the baby now.” Pitifully, every last movement a super-human effort, I’d dragged myself into the sitting room and shut the door. There I stayed, drifting intermittently in and out of a hazy stupor, whilst the baby amused himself with my phone, until my alarm sounded to collect the toddler from playgroup. I went, I am afraid to say, in my pyjamas, the mere thought of mustering the strength to change into my clothes enough to send me into paroxysms of dizziness and vomiting.
As always, though, the kids weren’t the greatest of my concerns. No, of course they weren’t; I also had a couple of horses to factor in to this nightmarish equation. Vito had his scan at 9 am the following day. The scan that would tell me whether, after five months of box rest and meticulous in-hand and ridden work, he was ready to start to be turned out. The scan that would tell me how his future looked and whether my faint, nervous hopes could perhaps come true. I hadn’t quite figured out the childcare logistics for this trip to Newmarket, so I’d booked the first appointment of the day, on the basis that I’d then need the least amount of childcare and that, whenever I am short on time, I can quite simply make it up by not sleeping.
Still shaky and a little weak, I got up at 4am the next day. I drove from Islington to Hackney, collected the horsebox, drove to Hertford, collected Vito, drove to Newmarket and was waiting at Rossdales at 8.30, ready for Vito’s scan. Although my wits weren’t really functioning as best they might, I had at least had the presence of mind, at some point during that journey, to check my fuel levels. Now, ascertaining the fuel level in my car, like most things in my life, requires rather more faff than it really ought to. The Chelsea Tractor’s fuel gauge is irreparably broken. That’s ok, I reset the odometer when I refuel and then I know how many miles I’ve done on any given tank. Which is a fool-proof method, except that the light on my dashboard, following the lead of the fuel gauge, is, of course, also broken, meaning that I can’t actually read the odometer. Enter the mini-mag light that lives in my door, ready to be shone into the dashboard, to enable me to establish how far I think I might have driven and whether I actually have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting to vaguely where I might want to be on any given tank of fuel. At some indeterminate point before I’d even crossed the North Circular that morning, I think I had roughly worked out that I’d done too many miles on that tank, that Newmarket and back was a complete impossibility and that I had, unsurprisingly, forgotten my purse, which meant I had no means whatsoever to pay for any fuel and I was extremely likely to end up stranded somewhere on the M11 with a convalescent horse, a splitting headache, a barely functioning odometer and an empty tank of fuel.
I’m a bit British about these things. I feel uncomfortable discussing money. I feel even more uncomfortable asking to borrow it (unless I am asking my credit card and it involves BE entry fees, in which case, game on). I cringe at the thought of feeling financially obligated to a person, even on a temporary basis. My cringing increases a thousand fold when it’s someone that I know only peripherally, on a semi-professional basis. But I could see no other option.
He’s quite confident, my vet. It’s a confidence that vets (like lawyers) develop from advising clients, who look to them for guidance and who hang on their every word. It’s a confidence that breeds confidence, that makes them self-assured, makes them believe in their abilities, makes them believe in themselves in general. He’s also, other than being perhaps a little on the short side, well, he’s – well, you would. I think most people would. I think he knows most people would. I think he’s confident enough to know (or think) that most people would and I bet he’s fended off (or perhaps not fended off, who can say) a fair few advances in his time. I bet he has. So when I said, after the veterinary nurse had taken Vito back to his stable, after the students had disappeared to write up their case notes, when we were alone together, discussing Vito’s prognosis, when I said that I had an awkward question, I think he thought he knew what I was going to ask him. And he looked utterly, quite categorically, horrified. He shows his emotions all over his face, my vet. I’ve seen it before; a glimpse of disbelief here, a flicker of impatience there, and now I saw pure, unadulterated terror. Which, let’s face it, would be an entirely reasonable response from anyone, if they thought that I was propositioning them. Particularly given that, the last time he saw me, I was likely dangling a small, suckling vampire baby from one or both of my boobs and engaging in hostage negotiation talks over My Little Ponies with a recalcitrant toddlerist whilst bursting into tears over Vito’s left fore.
It wasn’t even rabbit-in-the-headlights terrified. It was worse than that. It was proper, full-on, paralysis as he sat, frozen with fear at the petrifying prospect of what it was that I wanted from him. I longed to back out. To race after Vito, throw him on the trailer and drive, full pelt, away from Newmarket, away from the awkwardness of having to admit that, aged 34 and the mother of two small children, I was still actually incapable of leaving my house without forgetting some fundamental element of normal adult life. Sadly, though, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to drive very far if I followed this course of action, so I gritted my teeth and I carried on digging my hole. “I know I am normally supposed to be the one giving you the money”, I continued, looking my quailing vet dead in the eye, “but I’ve forgotten my purse and I don’t have any fuel. Any chance you could lend me some cash?” His relief was palpable. The tension released, his fears unfounded, he laughed, he relaxed and then, as quickly as he possibly could, he whipped out his wallet. “Here”, he said, eagerly, “how much do you need?”.
I refuelled the Chelsea Tractor with my ill-gotten gains, thanked the Bank of Vet for the overdraft facility, drove back to Hertford, deposited Vito, collected P(C)arrot, who’d been holidaying at the same yard, deposited him and trailer in Hackney and drove back to Islington. There I discovered that, though I may have forgotten my purse, my phone and quite possibly my own name, I had managed to take with me the kids’ coats, shoes and pram suits, which had called for some innovative thinking on my husband’s part as he’d tried to prevent them from getting hypothermia on their way to playgroup in freezing cold December.
So we look forward to another season of the chaos that is materna-venting. To empty fuel tanks, to forgotten purses, to Vito returning, after his turnout, to normal ridden work, and to P(C)arrot continuing to show me the ropes as we knock on the door of Intermediate and two-star.
And if you happen to find yourself parked next to me at an event this year, then please do say hello – and lend me some cash for my journey home. I’ll give you a lightly soiled pram suit and a pair of muddy toddler shoes in exchange.
Photos by kind permission of JP Event Photography and Spidge Photography