Ancient Light here, and Buddha in the Attic here). My motive was to commit to finding a bit of 'me-time' to read.
I have to confess that when I saw it was an autobiography about Clare Balding, I nearly opted out. Not that I have anything against Clare Balding but I just couldn't see myself enjoying an autobiography (Miranda Hart's excepted) and I didn't have any particular interest in finding out about Clare Balding.
I knew very little about her and I'm not a big follower of any kind of sport, let alone horse riding, so I just assumed she would have nothing to say that I would find of any interest. How wrong could I be!
Unlike some fictional stories which can be slow to get going, this book engaged me from the outset. Chapters themed around animals in Clare's childhood, but not always in chronological order, combined with so many childhood adventures made for a very interesting read.
Add in a sprinkling of royal family anecdotes, a dash of the thrills of a competitive sport, and a handful of school girl mischief and you have the ingredients of an excellent autobiography.
There is a little bit of horsey-speak in there; furlongs, hands and the such but it certainly doesn't detract from the book. A huge portion of the book I could relate to, not because I have any connections with royalty ( I don't), not because I have a love of horses (I don't) but because they are memories of kids growing up.
Having fun, causing mischief, a fair few injuries along the way and a dad who doesn't pay nearly as much attention to them as perhaps he should (a very familiar story in my upbringing - I longed for the day my dad would remember which colour toothbrush was mine or even which month my birthday was in).
Many of my childhood memories were buried when we buried my mum 12 years ago. So many memories triggered thoughts about her which inevitably led to me realising how much I still miss her, and so the memories were locked away at the back of my mind and the box was not often opened.
But this book has helped me open that box of memories, pull out a few and dust them off. Then look at them and smile.
Reading about Clare and her brother Andrew's attempts to 'help' by painting the dog shed reminded me of the time me and my brother tried to do a good deed by chopping down the plant in the garden that my mother hated. 'That plant is such a nuisance' she would say. 'I wish we could just get rid of it'. So that is exactly what me and little bro set about doing, telling ourselves all throughout the job how pleased mum would be and how we may even earn ourselves a treat for having done such a good job.
What we never anticipated for one moment was the horrified look on mum's face when she saw her favourite plant with yellow flowers chopped down to its very roots. How were we to know she meant the rose plant next to it? We couldn't quite fathom why anyone would dislike a rose plant (turns out it was horrendously thorned and that's why she hated it). I learnt then that yellow was mum's favourite colour as I don't think she ever forgave us for ruining her yellow flowered plant.
The irresponsibility of Clare Balding's father with the 'Subaru in the snow adventure' brought back memories of just how irresponsible my dad could be. We may never have been pulled around on sledges in the snow at terrifying speeds but dad did take us for a walk across a frozen pond (something I now know is very dangerous to do) and he did used to leave us waiting alone for ages on day trips to London if we couldn't keep up with his pace of walking, and collect us on the way back. It truly seems a miracle that we were never abducted!
And just as her dad's opinion mattered so much to Clare, of wanting to please him, of wanting him to be proud of her. I really related to that. I would love for my dad to just once say how proud he is of me.
I can't come close to matching the extent of childhood injuries that Clare and her brother sustained - I actually lost count of the number of broken bones throughout the book. But It did uncover memories of injuries we had through our childhood adventures... A trip to A & E as a result of getting a toy stuck up my brother's nose, a drawing pin stuck into the sole of my foot, fragments of glass in my brothers hand (which we tried to get out ourselves so we didn't have to tell our parents), a (thankfully) mild electric shock as curiosity got the better of me when pondering what would happen if I stuck a piece of wire into the timer which resided in the plug socket, loss of fingernails as fingers got trapped in doors, burnt eyelid from a rogue spark, and even causing injury to poor mum as we tried to teach her to roller skate in the garden. Her head smacked the concrete so hard she lay there for several hours before she was able to move.
I totally digress from Clare's book. But that really is the beauty of it. You need not have anything in common with Clare Balding but you will have memories of your own that will be rekindled by reading this book.
I learnt a thing or two about horses too. I guess I always imagined a horse is a horse is a horse. But this book has shown me that just as dogs and cats have personalities of their own, so do horses. And what fantastic personalities too. It felt a privilege getting to know Clare's pets and horses through this book.
Ultimately if there was a moral to this story, I thought it to be about daring to be different. Being true to who you are even if it isn't everyone's cup of tea. Having a son who is diagnosed as being 'different' because of his Aspergers (and recognising so many of his traits in myself too), we are always telling him of how proud we are of who he is. That it is ok to be different. That the word is a better place because he is different. I guess at the end of the day, everyone is different in their own way, and this book has reminded me how important it is to embrace that and be true to ourselves.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for the purposes of review. All opinions are my own. You can find out more about Britmums Bookclub here and apply for a free copy of the next book if you're quick!