Welcome to a place that’s neither an arena nor a field! FOR NOW (she says, forebodingly). FOR NOW.
Bonsoir, readers, and welcome to the dark side. I’ve been seeing the word ‘blog’ chucked around like a searing bit of weaponry lately, and as is my wont, I’ve decided to embrace that which is meant to harm, or something along those lines. Basically, I’ve gone adventuring, and I’m bringing you along for the ride. Strap in, because it’s going to get bumpy.
Look, you don’t need me to remind you that this year has been A Weird One™. I’ve spent a lot of time in my own company (risky at best) and not an awful lot of time standing out in far-flung fields, watching horses career past me like hairy mopeds with opinions and bad intentions. But now, in the latter stages of the year, things are creeping back towards normality – or as normal as they can be, anyway, when eventing’s become a bit like the world’s soggiest and most exclusive nightclub (with a truly regrettable dress code to match). In 2019 I lost count of the competitions I travelled to somewhere around the 25 mark; this year, I’ve managed four reporting outings so far. And man, that’s a lot more than many people, and a lot more than I thought I’d get, so I’m very aware of how lucky I am.
This month is a special one, though, despite the spectre of the Boekelo That Wasn’t looming over its first week. This is the month I get to go abroad for work again; the month in which I get to embrace the very best bits of my job – the joyous fumbling mess of adventure and mishaps and eventing drama all rolled up into one.
As I make my way from home — just south of London, for anyone who’s keen on stalking me — to the Young Horse World Championships at Le Lion d’Angers and then on to Pau, the only CCI5* of 2020, I want to take you all with me to see the bits that don’t make the reports. Is it all a bit Kim Kardashian of me? Yes, quite possibly. But pass me the butt pads, baby, because I’m all in.
The one where the journalist takes to the skies (with her worms)
Say what you want about budget airlines — it’s probably all true; they’re fairly crap — but I do enjoy the big orange office in the sky. Flying to a country on the Naughty List (that is, one of the European countries subject to a two-week quarantine upon returning to the UK) in a pandemic is a unique experience, and the roughly ten or so of us on board all took one look at one another and unanimously decided to be as committedly antisocial as possible. Feeling like I’d reached peak Mariah Carey, I luxuriously unfurled myself across a whole vacant row of seats, perched a very large Starbucks latte (apparently made for someone called ‘Chile’) delicately on one of my excess of tray tables, and got stuck into writing about faecal egg counting. Bliss.
You might assume I’d have flown straight into Nantes, the closest major airport to Le Lion. That would be a sensible assumption, and while it did play a starring role in the original iteration of my two-week plan, that plan has undergone about five major overhauls over the last few months as everything I’d prebooked, and apparently every direct flight to any city other than Paris, fizzled out into extinction. And so Paris it was, not so much when it sizzles as when it drizzles. I couldn’t wait to arrive in the most romantic city in the world and hole myself up in my hotel room, where I could continue to research worm larvae, but maybe with a bit of Edith Piaf playing in the background.
In which I fraternise with the locals
“Paris,” I remarked to my friend Charlie as we sought out an unshuttered bar, “has got cleaner.”
And it’s true: in an unexpected coup in the global dumpster fire that is 2020, Paris’ citizens apparently decided to stop using the streets as a public toilet. The City of Light? The city of shite, more like; who among us has never stopped to eye up a particularly diverting bit of architecture only to feel the ominous tootsie dampness that can only mean you’ve been caught downstream of an en plein air widdler? But this time, I only dodged four rogue turds in three hours of flâneuring! The suspect puddles were confined to the Metro! I didn’t feel curiously sticky!
Would I lie to you, baby? Would I lie to you?
I’ve always found the idea of Paris Syndrome quite extraordinary — in short, it affects tourists who are so taken aback by the reality of the city (in comparison to its almost unrecognisable Woody Allen alter ego) that they come over all funny and have to call a special hotline that talks them out of hurling themselves from the top of the Tour Eiffel (too expensive; don’t recommend — try the Tour de Montparnasse instead, you’ll get a better view en route). In real life, Paris is smelly, dirty, absolutely fraught with a homelessness epidemic the likes of which I’ve never seen anywhere else, and you will always have a little bit of poo on your shoes, no matter how careful you are.
(Don’t think I’m saying this from atop my high horse, either — as Charlie and I wandered along the Seine, chatting about his thus far fruitless hunt for an apartment, he mentioned that he might go back to a former haunt of a few years ago. I remember the place well; I was once violently ill out of its fifth-floor window after some truly suspicious corner-shop plonk, but the view over the river and the Marais will go down in history as the most delightful thing I’ve ever gazed upon mid-chunder.)
It might sound like I hate Paris. I don’t. I lived here once, several years ago — something I highly recommend because it means you can start lots of stories with “when I lived in Paris…”, which will make you feel very cool and make everyone around you wonder who invited the colossal knobber to the party.
I think about Paris in the same way a parent (probably) thinks of their child: sure, that one over there’s a tiny prodigy and will matriculate at Harvard at the age of nine-and-a-half (or 114 months, depending on the kind of parent you are) while yours is happily shoving chubby fistfuls of sand into his gob like he’s actively seeking out the half-life of a Michelin star. He may be an idiot, you think fondly, but he’s your idiot, and that makes all the difference. Paris — poo and all — is under my skin and in my blood (gross), and I will always welcome the chance to return and have a good whinge about it.
Staying by the Sorbonne makes you smarter by osmosis. That’s just science.
Spending the night in the city gave me the rare treat of being able to go for a good stomp around with one of my favourite non-horsey friends. I spend so much time with people who understand all my references and the world I work in, which means my questionable chat has got more and more niche over the years. When presented with the opportunity to be a “normal” for a little while, I don’t exactly run out of subject matter — look, I can happily jabber about anything from Tarantino to Tintoretto — but I find myself unable to avoid mentioning some of the general goings-on in my work life.
This presents an interesting conundrum: how do you explain some of our sport’s characters to someone who, in all honesty, probably thinks the whole thing’s just a bit of poncy trotting in circles? I found myself trying to paint a verbal picture of Michael Jung, with only a modicum of success.
“…and when he was first on the scene, he didn’t really speak English, so he just told everyone that everything gave him a good feeling.” I thought back, briefly, to every mixed zone I’ve ever been in. “Actually, he still tells everyone that.”
“And this is some kind of genius of the sport?”
“Oh, Christ, yeah. Absolutely the best in the world. The Roger Federer of poncy trotting in circles. A golden god with a fierce receder.”
(AN: Thank you again to the British Equestrian Federation for awarding me the Journalist of the Year title in 2019 for my work in presenting the sport to a mainstream audience. I hope I’m doing you all proud.)
After a few hours of discussing the important things in life (such as: what would your OnlyFans niche be, if you had to join it to make a living? Mine would be a series of reviews of international crisp flavours, conducted in my knickers, for £20 a pop), it was time to bash out a bit more of the Pau form guide and head to bed to dream of adventures to come.
5/10. Bit bland. (Sorry, mum, but as Nora Ephron once said, everything is content, right?)
As it turned out, I would need the sleep. An early-ish start somehow became a characteristically late and rushed exit, because of my truly regrettable tendency to throw the contents of my suitcase around like an early-noughties rapper making it rain in the club. And so, wearing yesterday’s jumper (again: not curiously sticky!) and stubbornly hiding my bare face behind a face-mask and some absurdly big glasses, I toddled off to pick up my new road trip buddy.
On French Enlightenment philosophy
In 2018, EN editor Leslie Wylie and I had the utter joy of tag-teaming Pau. It was then that she introduced me to a philosophy that made me a truly enlightened woman: foux du fafa. Allow me to just leave you with this for a moment.
Foux du fafa is a song that means absolutely sod all, but it’s been adopted as an honourary life motto of sorts for our worldly gallivanting. It’s a bit like c’est la viemeets sh*t (quite often literally) happens, and could most accurately be translated as “look, babe, you’re in [insert country here, but let’s be real, most often France], absolutely nothing will happen as you plan it; laugh it off and mainline some €2 wine because you’ve got stuff to do.”
And so I foux du fafa-ed my way through the fairly excruciating process of picking up my hire car, which was having a nice snooze at the company’s garage about ten minutes away from the airport depot. They sent someone to bring it over — now half an hour late for my prebooked 11.30 a.m. pickup — and that person evidently did a merry little tour of the périphérique, stopped to watch a few episodes of “Emily in Paris,” and then disappeared to drink the pain of both those experiences away. By the time 1.00 p.m. rolled around, I was at very real risk of doing a little widdle of my own on the floor and had exhausted my limited French to try to explain with some urgency that I needed the car at the time I’d booked because I needed to get to an urgent job. (That, dear reader, was a lie — I just really wanted to go swan around Versailles. Je ne regrette rien.)
And so tonight’s chapter comes to an end. Did I end up getting a car? Did I have a sad accident in the lobby of a EuropCar depot? Are the cruel allegations that I took the wrong exit on the périphérique seven times because I kept spotting the Eiffel Tower — or, to use its proper name, the Great Sparkling Phallus of the Sky™ — based in any kind of reality? And how much cake did Marie Antoinette really have kicking around, anyway? All this and more in tomorrow’s instalment. In the meantime, if you fancy seeing more of France, you can tune into my obnoxiously stream-of-consciousness Stories over on the ‘Gram. Shameless? Look, I’m just Kardashian-ing it here.