The day we took on an Olympian …and won!

Yes this happened. Yes it was nearly a week ago. No I’m not over it yet.


Hunt relay

Photo courtesy of Bex. Angelic, I think you’ll agree.

Picture the scene – rank amateur event rider turns often-bonkers horse towards show jump, to find she is not alone. Turning into the other showjump in the warm-up, the one right next to the one rank amateur is jumping, is none other than Tina Cook.

If that means nothing to you frankly who even are you.

Ok that’s a bit harsh …but it’s like being a boxer and leaping from foot-to-foot (in that funny way boxers do) opposite Muhammed Ali, or running with a rugby ball towards Paul O’Connell. Actually it’s nothing like that, that would be terrifying.

She rides for Team GB. She’s won individual bronze and team gold at the actual Olympics!

But this story gets BETTER…

My team-mates and I, who for the purposes of this competition were collectively named the Jam Tarts, arrived at the Crawley and Horsham Hunt Relay at the All England Showjumping Course, Hickstead, not without a degree of trepidation.

Team mate one (Cassie B), was riding a very-young-and-not-always-entirely-brave-but-very-well-meaning pony for a friend, which she hadn’t sat on in a few months.

Team mate two (Bex), was on board the sweetest-looking ginger pony, which she’d brought out of retirement especially for the occasion, and she therefore wasn’t entirely sure what might happen.

Team mate three (me aka. the rank amateur) had Bonkers McGraw (Gigi) as my steed – who can be brilliant and also can be bonkers. Having not left the yard all winter my money was on bonkers.

Upon arrival I found out from my fellow tarts that Tina Cook had been spotted on the premises (not a surprise as she has a daughter in the local pony club). But that she was wearing breeches. We laughed that she might be competing against us in the relay, and I fantasised at length about jumping alongside her while the theme tune to National Velvet played in the background, and our photo appearing on the cover of Horse and Hound – under what merit I’m not sure …I don’t think I’d thought that far ahead.

Having discussed tactics (try not to fall off, jump all the jumps. …high octane stuff), I arrived back at my little lorry to find bonkers pony in a muck sweat – the very sound of other ponies walking past and the fact she was on the lorry meant she was sweating to the point of frothing. Lovely.

Having offered to help me tack up, my boyfriend sensibly retreated to the front seat at the sight of bonkers pony bursting off the lorry, eyes rolling, nostrils flaring and hooves clattering not unlike the steed of a Ring Wraith from Lord of The Rings. Terrifying. I honestly didn’t really want to get on.

But get on I did, and thankfully as soon as my bum was in the saddle it was like someone had pressed the ‘be calm not mental’ button. She behaved impeccably all day, thank gawd.

It quickly transpired that not only was Tina riding on a relay team, she was riding against us. I didn’t play it at all cool and got very overexcited about this.

As our two teams (theirs was called The Good, the Bad and the Olympian… excellent) walked into the arena, I showed bonkers pony one of the fences – when one of my team mates incredulously asked what I was up to I told them I was showing her the fence, like they do at the Grand National.

“If it works for AP McCoy it can work for you,” came a voice from behind me.

Yes it was Tina. She was obviously lovely and amazing and rode impeccably because off-of Olympics. But the most amazing part is that hunt relays are a team event, and by some miracle (and some excellent tactical riding from Cassie B), the Jam Tarts prospered. Jammy indeed.

The one where I got a bit of a fright

Alt title: why GPs are amazing and you should probably find one and hug them right now.

Balcombe-Viaduct-1282-Edit(This photo’s only relevance to this piece is that it’s pretty and it’s where I live)

Two months ago I went to the doctor with a stabbing tummy ache that wouldn’t budge. Like any sensible person I went online and self-diagnosed – in this instance I had decided I had an ovarian cyst. Don’t worry this isn’t going to get gross, graphic or talk about girly parts, at ALL. (NB. Never Google your symptoms, it nearly always says you are dying).

I had my abdomen scanned and it turned out I was right (I should clearly be in the medical profession) – but the doctor told me not to worry, to take pain killers and bugger off, because it would be gone in a few days (she was very nice and did not use those words). But I was booked in for a follow-up scan two months later, just in case…

The afore-mentioned follow-up scan was the week before last. And the doctor that did it was not nice to me at all – cold and unfriendly, she wouldn’t answer any of my questions and just told me to go back to my GP. I considered putting in a complaint – rude and unnecessary, I thought. But it turned out there was method to her (mean) madness.

I got a call the next evening from my GP, which I picked up on the hands-free in the car. She told me to pull over before she spoke to me. A bit OTT I thought, but health is her game, so my safety is of interest I suppose – I pulled over.

She told me the scan had come back looking ‘sinister’. I can’t actually remember a lot of what she said, but she kept using the word ‘sinister’ and wanted me to go to hospital ASAP. She repeated the words ‘try not to worry’ a lot, but was talking in very urgent tones, and saying that I was on a fast-track and would be seen as soon as they could possibly see me.

I interrupted her near the end to ask what on earth she meant by ‘sinister’? – Cancer. She meant Ovarian Cancer.

So I phoned my nearest and dearest and told them the score, while still pulled over by the side of the road. They all tried not to sound terrified, as did I.

And all credit to the brilliant NHS, everything did move very fast. I had a CA125 blood test the next morning, and was told that if my levels came back high it didn’t mean I had Cancer, and if they came back low it didn’t mean I didn’t – but that if they were high it was more likely I did (I think – I still don’t really understand this bit in truth).

They came back high.

Then I got a call to say I had a scan booked in at the hospital a few days later and a consultant’s appointment there two days after that.

So my mother made immediate plans to drive down from Herefordshire, and Eoin (my boyfriend) and I booked the days off. And in the meantime I kept busy, and filled all my time with work, or horses, or something – because every time there wasn’t something there was Cancer.

Royal Sussex County Hospital

The scan came around and the lovely, chatty woman at the hospital in Brighton was talking me through everything that she was doing, before she suddenly fell quiet. It felt like ten minutes of silence but it was probably more like two. Mummy was holding my hand and rubbing my arm and I think we were both trying very hard not to cry.

But then she did break her silence to say she couldn’t see the cyst, which was confusing, and that we should wait to see what the consultant said. With this in mind we all felt optimistic, but still pretty terrified, about the possible outcome.

In the waiting room for the consultant, who was running late (not his fault – he had masses of people to see before us), we ran out of polite things to talk/joke about. We are British after all, and it is always best to laugh when you think you might cry, as it’s so much less awkward for all involved.

So we fell silent for a good 15 minutes. In this time I went over in my mind how I would react when they told me I had Cancer – that I wouldn’t cry or make a scene, because that would just upset everyone and not be helpful.

We went in to the consultant’s room and straight away he apologised. He said not only did I not have Cancer, but the irregular scan that my GPs had picked up on never looked like Cancer, so the whole hospital visit – and week and a half of worry, and parental phone calls, and days off, and journey to and from Herefordshire – should never have happened.

Having made sure he was absolutely sure, which he was, he called my GP while we were still in the room. Well not her herself, the practice. He told them what he had told us – and asked them what they thought they had seen.

They had seen an irregular looking cyst, with an odd-looking membrane around it that they thought looked dangerous, sorry, sinister.

Am I cross with them for putting me through it unnecessarily? GOD NO.

My GP was absolutely professional, supportive and kind throughout. And if it had been the other way round, and they had seen something they didn’t feel happy with, DIDN’T refer me to the hospital, and then missed something – that would have been far, far, far worse.

I do not mind one iota that they were careful, precautious, thorough – because GPs have to be experts in a million and one things in the human body. So no, they didn’t see what they thought they saw, but if there was even a teeny weeny weeny chance that it was something bad, then they did exactly the right thing, and I am very, very grateful.

So here’s to them, and to GPs the country over, for being simply brilliant.

And I would also like to say a very heartfelt thanks to all the people I know who it turns out have had Cancer, (some of which I never even knew about), and have fought it like absolute champions, and won. And also those who have lived through the less positive end results …because they are all amazing and unspeakably brave – and without exception were very happy to support me 100% if this story had turned out a little differently.

So this week – Macmillan Coffee Morning week – eat cake, raise money, and as cheesy as it might sound, enjoy every single day. I will be doing all of the above.

….I hope this blog in no way trivialises what is a truly horrendous ordeal that I cannot even begin to understand. This was the tiniest drop in the ocean, and I still wouldn’t wish it on anyone.


United we drink, together we fall over (I know that’s not how the saying goes)

The story of how my village saved our pub.

Half Moon main image


“Yay Balcombe!! We did it!!!” shouts a sign about three-times as tall as me, which emblazons the side of the Half Moon Inn in Balcombe (in a questionable font, but that’s by-the-by, and is not something that really matters to 99.9% of the population, who don’t work in publishing. Also …use of exclamation marks. Camaaaan. Whoever printed it was clearly very excited, so I’ll let it slide.)

So what we did, was to save our local pub from being sold. ‘We’ being over 250 investors (of which I am not actually one – soz. I am impoverished on account of owning a horse), who raised over £270,000 to purchase, do up and re-open the village pub.

That in itself is pretty cool. £270,000! (Appropriate use of exclamation mark alert). And after much head-scratching and searching for the right tenant, they (the committee in charge of the afore-mentioned campaign), re-opened it last week. (For the unabridged version, click here.)

Balcombe Community Pub logo

It looks bright, it looks modern, it looks clean, and – most importantly – it was full of people over the opening weekend. And I loved it.

I have really missed the pub. You can’t beat a pub. I’m genuinely delighted to have it back.

But how long will the village – and those beyond – support it for?

The campaign was amazing, hard-fought, truly impressive. But it was not without its nay-sayers. (This is Britain, after all, and we love to nay-say …is that a thing? To nay-say?)

There were impassioned speeches, there were calls to arms, meetings, posters, newspaper articles, and yes, even tears (not mine, for once).

But there were also mutterings about locals only supporting it because it would affect their house prices if it wasn’t there.

Some asked the question, ‘who were these generous benefactors, who never used the pub as a resource before and probably wouldn’t again?’

There were even some who just chipped in with the curmudgeonly, “it’ll never work” – very constructive. (Also quite Victor Meldrew – Eighties reference anyone?)

To them I say, does it really matter if those hundreds of people don’t use the pub? Of couuuurse the more that do the better, (and it must definitely hold its own as a viable, and hopefully successful, business), but would it not just be nice to be extremely grateful for their very generous contributions to the cause?

And to the Victor Meldrews I say, guess what? It did work. And will continue to work for as long as the village continues to do what it does best – stick together.

Yes, please do come and support the pub, come for a drink, for a snack, for lunch, supper. Or, if that’s not your bag, don’t – but don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it, and don’t begrudge what even the most-hardened critics must confess to be a huge, phenomenal, fantastic achievement, that will only serve to benefit the village.

Now let’s all get drunk and fall over.
(Do I have to say ‘please drink responsibly’ after that? Surely not.)


That’s a bitta history, right there, and we saved it. 

Being British, the naked truth

Polo, rain and a streaker: why bare bottoms never lose their appeal.

Streaker best oneThe streaker at the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup Final. Brilliant.

There are a few times recently when I have found myself thinking, ‘God isn’t it brilliant to be British?’

Manchester and Borough Market – no explanations needed as to the events, but I felt genuinely proud of the nation’s reaction – our refusal to be cowed or scared, our resilience. I loved the way that we stood together, and I was heartened to hear that people offered food, accommodation and support to absolute strangers in the immediate aftermath. It was Dunkirk spirit at its best. You go Britain.

But I also love the hilarious idiosyncrasies and bizarre national traits that give us an international reputation for being slightly eccentric, off the wall, bonkers.

And I especially love Britain’s collective sense of humour – our dry wit, love of caustic satire and also toilet humour. (I hate the word toilet. It is absolutely abhorrent. I would honestly rather someone said they were going to the sh*tter than the toilet. Seriously.
I am very sorry for saying it, three times. But that is the given name of the genre of humour to which I refer, so it was unavoidable really. Sorry. Bleugh.)

Moving on …last week I was lucky enough to attend the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup Final at Cowdray Park. It was amazing, but not for the reasons I expected.

KellyMy friend (on the left) – not haggard.

I was there with a very old friend. (To clarify, she is not withered or haggard, I have just known her for a long time). But upon arrival the heavens opened. It rained cats, dogs, mice, rhinos, elephants – you get the picture, it rained.

Luckily, we are British, and as such the afore-mentioned Dunkirk spirit is part of our genetic make-up. We will not be put off by the weather, we will carry on as planned, and we will stoically smile through the entire thing, even if we’re in the process of developing pneumonia.

On this occasion it was far from that dramatic luckily – we stayed in the VW Polo while it bucketed down outside and had a car picnic that consisted of sandwiches and slightly tepid prosecco (we know how to live). We concluded that our feet were dampened but our spirits were not – I swapped dainty pumps for trusty Chameaus and we were off.

For the uninitiated, polo is just as civilised as you might expect – there were ice buckets, elaborate picnics and tweed capes at every turn. There was even a spitfire display before the game. Oh and seriously good dogs …the calibre of dog on display was exceptionally high – from small sausages and tyrannical terriers to elegant lurchers and an excellent stamp of Labrador.

Excellent dogAn excellent dog at the polo in what I believe to be a cashmere jumper – well, why not?

The standard of polo itself was breathtaking. I do not purport to know much about the sport but the horsemanship, speed and agility of both teams and their ponies was truly amazing.

One team (El Remanso) was made up of Brits, including the England Captain, James Beim, and the other (King Power Foxes) was Argentine-dominated. The Argies took the title in the end but it was brilliantly close-fought.

Particular mention should go to young gun Jimbo Fewster – the one goal English player was on the winning team, scored three goals and picked up the most valuable player (MVP) award. He was amazing. I bet he’s still smiling now.

Polo 2The Jaeger Le-Coultre Gold Cup Final in action.

But my personal MVP award goes to the skinny-legged streaker (SLS – pictured above). SLS made his appearance in-between chukkas from the Midhurst end, running down the pitch stark bollock naked, hotly pursued by security. He even managed to give a cheeky lean-over-and-pat-of-bottom-cheeks to the 12,500 people in the stands en route. What a bloody legend.

I dealt with it in my usual calm and measured manner. I spotted him emerging from the crowds early on and cut across the muted polite chatter of the members enclosure by bellowing: “THERE’S A STREEEEEEEAKKKKKKERRRRR. YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYY!”

The commentator got in the spirit too and declared over the tannoy: “I’d say by the looks of it, it’s a little chilly out there.” Lol. As he also rightly said, SLS hadn’t really thought it through and got to the other end only to look a little sheepish and slope off bare-bottomed. Hilarious.

We hope it was a dare and he got bought LOTS of drinks for doing it. Naked bottoms are funny. Streakers are funny. That was absolutely brilliant. Good work Britain.

His crown jewels were the crowning glory of a simply sparkling day.

My fête is sealed (not a spelling mistake)

The brilliant but slightly bonkers village fête, and how a local celebrity got it very wrong.

Balcombe Village Fete 2017

I was told by a celebrity-who-shall-remain-nameless-but-lives-nearby that they visited our village fête two years ago and that it was “sad and shabby …not fulfilling its potential”. (She actually said more unkind things than that, but I don’t feel there is anything to be gained in repeating them.)

Having lent a peripheral hand at this same “disastrous” event for two years now,  I can safely concur that the nameless celebrity may well be famous, stylish, lauded even, but she is also so very far from correct on this matter.

Sure, it isn’t all Cath Kidston gingham and Liberty of London prints (which are both things I love, by the way) – it isn’t smart, it isn’t chi-chi, and – truthfully – in parts it is a bit rough around the edges. But that is what makes it so wonderfully brilliant, so rural, so rustic, so bonkers, so British.

The fête as a notion is hilarious  – the tombola, the hounds, the ponies, the tug-of-war, the terrier racing, the dog show, the fiercely-fought floral competitions and cake contests. And if you’re at our fête, there’s a brilliant bar and a live band, run by another charitable group, the Christmas Tree Society, which raises funds for local people through a medium most enjoy – alcohol!

It is more Vicar of Dibley than All Saints, far more Farmer Wants a Wife than Footballers’ Wives – and I personally much prefer it that way – and so, I would proffer, does the village.

But more importantly, it is also the result of a lot of hard work from a lot of very well-meaning and kind people, who care very much about raising money for the village, and for the people who live in it. And what, I want to know, is so very wrong with that?

They may be stuck in their ways, and those ways might in some cases be fairly eccentric, but that is the most unkind thing I can bring myself to say, because as anyone who is involved in a local event such as this knows, it is an awful lot of hard work.

It takes a lot of planning, a lot of equipment, a lot of funds, a lot of goodwill, and a lot of people’s time, which they willingly give for free. To them I say thank you, on behalf of the whole village, because these events simply couldn’t run without these people, and for that I happen to think they are brilliant.

Balcombe Fete 2016

As an aside…
What is it that makes people be mean? BTW this is not me crying into my pillow and cursing the world in the manner of a surly teen who has just realised that life isn’t always that fair …but it is me having encountered a few mean people in a short space of time, and you really have got to wonder what motivates them.

Obviously it goes without saying that I am also mean sometimes, although in my case it’s more thoughtless actually. I can be very thoughtless, and plough into a conversation/situation without thinking and then regret what I have said or done.
That happens.

But we all are a little mean sometimes …all except my very good friend Melanie, in fact. I have known her nearly all my life and I have never once known her to be mean …not once. She’s like an angel walking among us. Always smiling, always kind. I often think I should take a leaf out of her book and be nicer to everyone, but alas I am not an angel and I get cross and grumpy and irrational, just like everyone else that isn’t Melanie. At least I have her in close proximity to me so that I have something to aspire to. I won’t ever be like her, but I am happy to continue to try …up to a point.

(That’s her right there, pictured below. She doesn’t go around dressed as an angel btw, that was her wedding day …it’s a happy coincidence that her outfit matches my blog. Although if I asked her to dress as an angel for my blog she probably would …because that’s just how nice she is.)

Melanie 2