This is still, frequently, the view inside my head
When I was small, Sunday mornings were the most heavenly part of the week. We kids were dropped off at a stable to go riding on the beach while my parents read the papers in the dunes.
I always had to ride Topper. He was wiry and malevolent and his toes turned in alarmingly. He had a snappy mouthful of yellow teeth and stubbornly trotted until his legs blurred before he finally gave in and leapt into a canter that felt just like a ride on a rocking horse.
The pony I truly loved was a beautiful Palomino called Stardust. He belonged to the stable owner, Val, a tiny, toothless woman whose hands and mouth were equally filthy. She was brusque, and tough as nails, but she spoke to Stardust with a tenderness never wasted on any humans.
She never let anyone else ride him, though I begged every single Sunday. I brought him carrots and whispered streams of love into his toffee-coloured ears. I still have notebooks filled with stories of Stardust and I riding off alone on wonderful trips where we slept curled together under the stars and took turns to save each other from hideous danger. He was my first love.
The ride was an eclectic mix of local regulars and tourists who'd tired of the majesty of the Lakes. The tourists were easy to spot by their bright kagouls and mouthfuls of Kendal mint cake. We locals had grubby hand-me-down jodhpurs and gave our Polo mints to the horses. The tourists were always seen as the Enemy, and we would circle them at speed as they wobbled along on the older, slower horses.
One Sunday, we local kids took off, as we always did, at a gallop. To my excitement, I fell off in the sea, grabbed the reins and leapt straight back on. I heard Val calling me back. I know she would tear a strip off me in front of the clean Southern riders, so I affected not to hear and used my crop on Topper, charging miles ahead and staying far from her scary orbit.
I was first back to the yard and dismounted, flushed with victory. Val came in last, riding one of the ancient horses and there, on a leading rein was a tourist, a grown man, for the love of God, on my beloved Stardust.
She told me that she'd tried to call me back because the tourist couldn't handle his horse and she wanted me to ride Stardust all the way home. But apparently, I hadn't heard her. She fixed me with her small eyes and said what a shame that was because she could guarantee it would never happen again.
I pleaded, shamelessly, I may even have cried. She left me to untack and refused to discuss it ever again.
In January this year, the Pretty One and I walked out dogs up that beach and met an old man who told us that Val's business partner had swindled her not long after and she had been forced to sell the stables and all the horses and go and work in a jewellery shop in Workington.
She hadn't lived much longer. I wasn't surprised to hear it.