To Tarbat Ness and absent friends
Updated: Aug 7
This really should be on my Unstable Life blog but Google seems to have denied me access to that, presumably through inactivity, so I shall share this story here, slightly inappropriately on the news page.
I’ve been a bit fed up this week and that is rare for me, because I usually find in each day that there is something to look forward to, even if it is just walking the dogs. But the news in the real world, and to a degree in the racing world, just seems so relentlessly awful that I might have to stop reading the newspapers for a while.
And I’ve been thinking about my mum and my friend Nicky, and about how they’ve both been gone for three years now but my brain still can’t compute that they are no longer here. Thankfully I can still hear their voices so clearly in my head, but I would have given anything just to speak to mum this week, because sometimes you need to speak to someone who is on your side no matter what. They are rare beings, she was one of them, for me and for my three sisters.
Mum (pictured above) and Nicky are tied up in a slightly indirect way in our horse who is running today, Tarbat Ness. Nicky fell ill the autumn prior to him being born but she fought her way out of hospital and though not by any means at full strength was up through the night to foal him on 20 March 2019. I had kept a mare with Nicky and Chris from 2008 and the one thing I looked forward to more than almost anything else each year was Nicky’s phone call to tell me a foal had arrived safely. He was the last one she brought into the world for Lawrence and me.
Mum became ill not long after Nicky, the extent of her brain tumour being diagnosed in the first week of 2019. Less than a fortnight before that I had been in Golspie for a pre-Christmas visit. We have a long-running family joke about the Tarbat Ness lighthouse which can be seen from mum and dad’s house, looking across the firth to Portmahomack. We decided to have a walk round there on the day before I returned to Newmarket, not knowing then that it would be the last walk I would ever take with mum.
The early part of 2019 was a nightmare for the whole family. John’s father Claude died without warning, peacefully in his sleep, at the end of February. Then on 29 March mum died the week after our Reliable Man colt was born, his safe arrival and the phone call from Nicky providing some much needed happiness.
Lawrence and I take turns to name Ethics Girl’s offspring, and he kindly allowed me to give this little grey/brown foal the name of Tarbat Ness. It was meant to make the family laugh and, just as with every four-legged creature in this place, he has brought me a lot of happiness as I have watched him grow up mentally and physically. He now carries the silks worn by many jumpers raced and ridden by Mr C de P Berry over the years.
Tarbat Ness is still a long way from being the finished article and today’s race might be too competitive for him but I am excited about his future in the staying ranks in the coming years. He tries and he enjoys his work, just like his mum used to throughout her eight seasons here in training with John for Lawrence, Bill and Gerry.
Nicky has especially been in my mind in recent weeks as the third anniversary of her death on 20 July came and went. She was buried in a woodland cemetery in a place which seemed so perfectly and unpretentiously right for her resting place. That was the day before my 50th birthday and some of her legacy is that I really don’t care now that I am getting on a bit. It is a privilege to grow old, and one that sadly is not given to everyone.
Mum and Nicky shared a similar just-get-on-with-it attitude to life and they would probably be a bit cross with me for sitting here moping. So I’m not going to any more. Life really doesn’t give you enough time for that, so let’s switch off the news and, win or lose, later on we shall raise a glass to Tarbat Ness, a beacon of light by which to remember those much missed.