Sometimes nature conspires to make its presence felt in an awesome and potent way. I don't think I will ever forget the day I met the horse and her child.
In the early 1990s I was working as a reporter for a daily newspaper in Wales. The news editor at that time was a despicable little man whom I loathed deeply: a horribly insignificant specimen who perpetuated a regime of drunken bullying and tyranny that had its roots set in the very top of the company. These were failed journalists who used the strength of their number and their job titles to justify taking their inadequacies out on the rest of us. Most of us could see them for the pitiful clowns they were.
The feeling was more than mutual - so I used to get sent out of the office, and out of everyone's hair, a LOT. Often I would come back with a cracking story which I would write to my usual high standard. No room for false modesty here: I was a very good journalist. Other times I would be sent out on some kind of wild goose chase. I believe they wanted me out of the office, any which way, in case I went mad and put someone's face through a computer screen. There was a time this might have happened.
One morning, I was despatched in the office Ford Fiesta on a particularly ludicrous mission to a farm somewhere on the English-Welsh border (and therefore outside of the catchment area of my paper). I was to meet and interview a woman who had attended a well-to-do wedding... perhaps it was the nuptials of some minor royal or other? I really don't remember. All I recall is that it was way outside of our circulation area, nobody would be interested in anything this toff had to say, and I was the person assigned to the job. Whoop.
I remember pulling up on the lane outside the walled perimeter to the massive country house where I would meet Lady Haw Haw or whatever her name was. The estate was imposing and sprawling, and I didn't want to sully the driveway with the shabby, unwashed pool car. Instead I parked out on the road and proceeded on foot through the iron gates, feeling under-dressed in my crumpled suit, un-ironed shirt and holy shoes. As I strode up to the house, an animated woman appeared suddenly from a doorway, speaking to both me and someone on the wireless phone in her left hand: "Are you the gentleman from the Western Mail? Come in, my lovey..."
She led me into her kitchen, a massive stately home affair with cluttered French dressers against each wall, a massive aga cooker range, several sinks and a small cellarful of wine. She motioned for me to sit down at a colossal oak dining table while she carried on talking on the 'phone. Seamlessly, she popped open a bottle of champagne and charged two glasses without letting her 'phone convo subside. She pushed one glass across the table to me, then hung up.
"Darling - Andy, isn't it? - Andy darling I'm so terribly sorry I'm such a mess, my horse has just given birth and she's in a terrible state. The foal isn't able to stand up and it doesn't look good, darling, I'm waiting for the vet now and I'm afraid I'm in such a terrible mess too. Do have some champagne. Now what do you want to know...?"
I pulled the notepad from my jacket pocket and scribbled down whatever it was I needed to scribble down about the pointless weekend wedding that this woman had been to. As she related her tale of society excess, she seemed precisely as disinterested as I was. She was running on nervous energy, pissed up on champers and worried to death about her new-born foal. She talked non-stop until she was silenced at last by the rumbling of a Landrover creeping up the gravel driveway.
"Oh Andy, darling, do you mind awfully? That will be the vet. Come along if you wish, bring your champagne... come on now."
She scurried out of the door with me following behind her - champagne flute in one hand, notebook in the other. The vet - cloth-capped - climbed down from his cab and spoke in serious tones to my hostess about the complicated equine birth.
"Right, let's go and have a look at the little one," said the vet in his calming country way. We walked, as a threesome, around the side of the imposing house - two of us clutching glasses of bubbly. We turned the corner and...
It was another world - or rather, the world as I knew it had changed quite tangibly. The champagne undoubtedly helped, but the atmosphere had become charged. It was cold and a light breeze blew on my face as we made our way as quickly as we could out onto the field. The ground was clumpy and grassy underfoot and as the skies darkened with an impending thunderstorm, the light took on a newly surreal shade. Under my feet the grass glowed a vivid green, the champagne in my hand shone like gold, and the horse and foal ahead of us loomed both large and somehow very small; strong yet depressingly helpless.
The vet had already raced ahead and was gently trying to pull the foal to its feet. It crumpled on its delicate new-born legs like a spider, falling to the ground again. Its distressed mother snorted and whined in distress, looking from its foal to the vet to us. I believe I made eye contact with this new mother at the very second that a massive, brutal flash of forked lightning cracked through the sky ahead of us. The awesome rattle of thunder followed. The desperate horse must have thought this was the end of her world. The crying woman, who was now clinging to my arm, seemed to think the same. I was in the middle of a confused, bizarre and sad situation.
The journalist in me drank in the scene greedily, preserving as much as I could to memory. It struck me that the blackness of the clouds matched the blackness of the horse's eye. The savage blue-gold of the lightning that streaked across the sky matched the ludicrous accessory of the champagne - a celebratory drink, here being sipped while we watched a baby animal take its first and last breaths.
The vet sent us packing, knowing that the animal had only moments left to live. I walked back to the house, my head full of respect and terror for the forces of nature that could bring a new life to the world and take it away again, almost immediately. I thought about that foal's brief experience of this planet - a fleeting glimpse of its mother, some humans, the cold earth, the mighty lightning, and then back into the anonymity of death.
It was all terribly sad. I returned to the office, wrote about the bullshit posh wedding, and kept the rest of that day's events to myself. But I no longer felt like it had been a wild goose chase. I felt that a point I could never understand had been made.
It seemed almost like Mother Nature had wanted to be quoted: "Put this down in your notebook boy," she appeared to say. Then she showed me her best - and worst.