The down side of my vow to read more books at a greater pace is that I’ll probably talk about them a lot. I promise not to turn my blog into a site solely about books and horses (and absolutely not books about horses, though there will be a few), but I couldn’t ignore the fact that this book sat on my shelf for almost two years and was promptly devoured in a day (what can I say: being time-rich, jet-lagged and car-less in a small village do strange things to a girl).
I’ll open with this: I adore Clare Balding, so I am a little biased. She’s someone I wouldn’t mind being when I grow up, mainly because she’s – by her own admission – imperfect. She’s made some cringe-worthy gaffes (not errors in fact, because Clare is always perfectly-researched and prepared; her mistakes are normally enormous misjudgements and failure to think before she speaks) on live television. But if that’s the worst thing she ever does, you have to take your hat off to the woman. I admired her before she became the Female Face of BBC Sport (RIP, Sue Barker, long live Queen Clare), having caught sight of her on horseracing coverage. I don’t enjoy rugby – another sport she gained notoriety for covering – but I could tell she was good at it.
When she isn’t startlingly offending her interviewees, the woman is on a par with Oprah, but what you don’t often see on television – though perhaps hear on her radio show – is that she’s a gifted storyteller. What’s even better is that she has an arsenal of brilliant stories to tell, there’s no need to make anything up.
I can’t remember when I fell in love with autobiographies over fiction, but they’ve been what I prefer to read for a long time now. I usually pick up a book ghost-written for a sports personality I admire and dive into their journey, marvelling at how they have the mental stamina to push through a variety of tests in order to achieve at an insane level of brilliance. Many of them follow the same format – a basic chronology of their career (either as a whole or to-date) – but Balding’s is different.
She has framed the story of the early part of her life around the animals she loved, the beasts who guided her. The opening chapter, about her father’s most famous racehorse, Mill Reef, had me in tears. By some miracle, I don’t yet know what it’s like to live through the death of a horse I treasure, but I knew exactly how Mill Reef’s groom felt when he had to let the horse move on and away. I laughed through some other tears later in the book, when Clare recounted finding her younger, now highly-respected racing trainer of a brother licking a radiator – for I am also an older sibling baffled by their younger sibling’s weirdness.
The thing with autobiographies that many people dislike is that they lack suspense, but that’s actually my favourite thing about them: I know where Clare is now and what she’s doing, but it was fascinating and hilarious to have the blanks filled in. Perhaps I find a reassurance in that regarding my own life – I’m at a stage where I think I know where I want to end up, but I have absolutely no idea how to make it happen, and am only able to see the many obstacles in my path. It’s nice to know that I will be able to clear those obstacles, land in one piece on the other side and thrash on to the next, because if other people have done it, I can too.
This now hasn’t been a book review, more of a “why I love being nosy”, but here’s the 140 character version: I read Clare’s first book laughing, crying and relating. It helps if you love animals, but it’s more about how the love of anything gets you through, and what it teaches you about living life.
Spoiler alert (for those of you who don’t own TVs or radios, or don’t live in the UK): this woman has gone on to take over the sportscasting world, and it’s all in her own way.