06 October, 2006

a week with Daddy and ponies

I feel like it's back to the future these days: stable, stable, stable! After the brief respite of the spring, where it was Saturdays only, I'm back to spending three days a week ferrying Avery to the barn. It's so easy at Ross Nye Stables, though: smack in the middle of central London. Don't you love this picture of little Richard Nye, grandson of the founder of the stable, communing with his dog? Yesterday he had on a t-shirt that said, "Here Comes Trouble," and sure enough he was tearing around the mews, beating up on his older brother Henry, wreaking havoc. I love the horsey and peopley feet in the background of this picture. And I really love that Avery is not only welcome to take care of the ponies, she's MADE to. At the stable in New York, the little hothouse flowers that were our daughters were led straight to a pony that had been groomed, tacked up and pedicured by several professional grooms, put on the pony's back, given a lesson and taken directly off the pony, whereupon it was led away to its stall to be cosseted some more by the grooms. Here, Avery is definitely expected to help with every aspect of the pony's existence, most of which make me highly allergic just to think about. She mucks out the stalls, fluffs up hay to sleep on and straw to eat (or is it the other way round?), cleans tack, picks dirt out of hooves with little picks, sweeps the mews clean. And of course she loves every minute of it.

We have had such fun having John home with us this week; he's been able to go everywhere we go and really be part of Avery's life, as opposed to his usual mode where he is updated by me on Avery's life! We've found every conceivable reason to get in the car and go somewhere, and looks of envy at little Orange Emmy follow us all around the city. At dropoff yesterday morning, we pulled up to the school just as Mrs Davies came out to mail a letter in the postbox outside the Chinese embassy (did you know it's one of the most frequently-emptied postboxes in London because they're afraid of bombs?! so comforting, that). She looked at the car and said, "Well, now THAT'S a little bit of all right!" Emmy makes even traffic jams fun, especially if we can put the top down. But today it's been torrential rain all day, so it may be a bit of a killjoy at pickup. So John's been hanging out with us at riding lessons, skating lessons, the Form V Coffee Morning yesterday, held inexplicably in the local coffee bar and so completely pointless: no one could hear what anyone else was saying and in any case we were all slung around a t-shaped hasty table arrangment so even if it hadn't been loud it would have been impossible to have a conversation, but oh well. John looked a bit like a big fluffy owl sat down on a telephone wire full of little wrens, tucked in between Elizabeth's and Sahra's mothers! I don't think there's ever been a dad at a Coffee Morning before.

The screenwriting class is heating up. We're being told interesting things like this: most films have a 20-minute setup, a 50-minute conflict, and a 20-minute resolution. Did you know that? I didn't. And a page of script equals a minute of screen time, in general. So to produce a whole industry-standard film you need 90 pages of script. Yesterday we watched the opening 20 minutes of "The Full Monty," an absolutely hilarious British film about a bunch of ageing Yorkshire men who decide the only way to make money is to start a strip club where they're the featured delicacy! It was fun to watch the film with an eye toward the setup of the whole plot, the development of the main characters, the hints at subplots. I have ever more respect for people who can number one, think of a plot, and number two, actually craft the story successfully. It's harder than it looks! I'm really enjoying my classmates, a very varied group of every nationality you can think of, unlike my creative writing class that's all Brits and me. It's such a luxury to sit and be taught something new, ask questions, formulate theories, listen to everyone's ideas.

But then my day went from the sublime to the ridiculous! As I left the class, John called me on my mobile to say that Avery's new babysitter had told him that she had to leave the stable at 5 to get to a class. OK, it was going to be difficult to get there in time, with the floods of rain making an empty cab an impossibility. But add to that, Avery had persuaded Anna to go along to her lesson, so Chrisa couldn't just leave once Avery was on her pony. John raced to meet me in Hanover Square and drove me to the park, where we saw Avery coming along on her pony with her instructor, but no sign of Anna and Chrisa. "Avery, where are Anna and Chrisa?" I asked, standing in the mud under my umbrella in the pouring rain. "What do you mean?" she said with a puzzled frown. "I mean, where are your best friend and your babysitter, who brought you here?" I clarified through clenched teeth. "I really haven't the faintest idea," she said, and if she hadn't been high in the air on an animal that weighed ten times as much as I did, I would have shaken her. She rode off unconcerned, and John and I drove to the stable where we found Anna and Chrisa huddled under an enormous umbrella, soaking wet. "They were going to ride around the park, so we stayed here," Chrisa explained. So she went off and Anna and I had the choice of standing in the rain, or standing in the stable corridor, which smelled like a combination of wet dog and wet horse, filled with the boys' school clobber and covered with hair of various kinds. I called Becky to come get Anna, and just stood in the doorway, unable to be inside because of my horse allergies, and not wanting to be outside in the pelting rain. I felt sorry for myself, already with a cold and now with feet soaked through and bare legs! What had I been thinking, to wear a short little skirt and no tights?

Becky came and then we heard the clipclop of hooves on the cobblestones, and Avery arrived, glowing and happy from her ride. "I see you found Anna!" she said. Becky and I just looked at each other. She kindly gave us a ride to Marks and Spencers where I dashed about getting last-minute things for our dinner with John's work friend John (a bit confusing, that), followed by Avery who I have to say looked adorable in her jodhpurs, waxed cotton coat and helmet. We struggled home, Avery insisting that I take the grocery bag she was carrying since it "so didn't go with my outfit," and the looks on the Johns' faces told me I needed to freshen up, so I changed into dry clothes and joined them for a nice warming Scotch and really good conversation. The other John is one of those Yale-educated people who knows a little more than a little about just about everything, and so can talk about physics, politics, restaurants and children's books with perfect aplomb. Avery came rushing in asking, "When was Catherine of Aragon dethroned?" and the other John whipped out his Blackberry and in no time had the Wikipedia page up and the question answered.

We sat down to comforting shepherd's pie and a really good salad, inspired by Vincent over the weekend: watercress, lamb's lettuce and baby rocket. There's nothing like shepherd's pie on a cold, rainy night, surrounded by candlelight.
Lord Peter Wimsey has gone visiting. He popped out into the corridor the other day when I opened the door to the Fedex guy, who had also buzzed our next-door neighbor whom I had never met. This nice lady propped open her door with a slipper and in went Wimsey. "Whoa, mister," I said. "That's all right," she said in an American voice, "we're old friends. We met this summer, with your housesitter. Also," she mentioned, "I know of you from another source." Another lesson: never lie, even exaggerate, or pretend to be anything you are not, because your next door neighbor's husband works with your daughter's godfather. This city is CRAZY small.

I must close. Tomorrow to the Horse of the Year Show in Birmingham. We can either take Avery, or a picnic, but not both because Emmy is so small. Just kidding. Sort of.

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