Can’t seem to get my eyes open this morning. Stagger to bathroom. Oh God! My eyes look like two puffball mushrooms with black dots in the middle. Splash with cold water. Pat dry. Argh. Still puffballs. Must lie down with legs in air. Oh no, that’s for swollen legs. Must stand up with eyes in the air. Yes, keep standing. Don’t bend over.
Argh. It’s the hunt meet at 11. Need to show my face, puffballs and all.
Lily bursts into my room. She’s wearing her jodhpurs and is jiggling up and down with excitement.
‘Mummy! They’re all going hunting. It’s really unfair!’ She stops mid-jiggle and stares at me.
‘Mummy, you look like a Black Puffle from Club Penguin.’
‘Oh God. What’s a Black Puffle?’
‘It’s got massive white eyes with titchy little black dots in the middle. And it’s technically a black fluff ball but it comes in different colours, like red and blue and purple and pink. I don’t think they come in green, unfortunately, or yellow.’
I feel like going back to bed.
‘So can I go hunting then?’
‘Hang on a second. Who’s going?’
‘Harriet, Charlie, Alexander, Iona, Ailsa – basically everyone.’
‘What about Jamie and Flora?’
‘Technically they don’t ride so basically they’re not going hunting.’
‘But you do ride…’ I say it for her.
‘Oh pleeease!’ she whines, hanging off my arm like she used to when she was about six.
‘Well you’d better ask Duncan what he thinks,’ I say.
‘He says I can, if you say yes! He says basically it’s not a problem because they’ve got enough ponies and Iona and Ailsa can ride with me.’
Oh God. ‘OK,’ I say resignedly.
‘Yay!’ she says, already half out of the door.
Montmarch House is still sitting under rainclouds. The drive is lined with 4x4s. In front of the house is a sea of Thelwellian girls in yellow breeches and tweed jackets (plus Lily in navy jodhpurs and an old jacket of Iona’s), swathes of immaculately groomed women, and men in black or red coats on scarily huge horses with topiaried hairdos.
‘Why are the horses shaven with these punk hairdos?’ I ask Duncan, taking a step back from a chunky black charger straight into the path of Harriet, who is on a handsome, clean-shaven bay, its mane and tail plaited and bound to match its rider’s hairnetted coiffure.
‘Clipped,’ she corrects me. ‘And it might help you see where you’re going if you took your sunglasses off.’
Duncan steers me out of the mêlée. ‘What is with the flat cap and sunglasses look, by the way?’ he asks.
‘The flat cap is because it’s raining,’ I say haughtily. ‘It’s meant to be ironic in a Kate Moss kind of way. And this is why I’m wearing the sunglasses.’ I lift the glasses for a moment so that he can see the puffballs.
‘What?’ he says.
‘The puffball mushrooms,’ I whinge. ‘Which Lily says look like Black Puffles from Club Penguin.’
He’s smiling and shaking his head. ‘You look fine to me. What’s wrong with them?’
‘It’s Lily’s cream and vibrator she gave me for Christmas,’ I say. ‘I used them last night and I think you’re only meant to use them in the mornings.’
He’s giving me his amused/bemused look.
‘So, do you want to know about the horses and their punk hairdos?’ he asks.
‘OK,’ I say.
‘They’re clipped according to the amount of exercise they take. They get hot and sweaty if they’re out for the whole day, so those horses will be clipped out like Harriet’s. But if they’re only out for half a day, like the girls’ ponies, they’ll have a blanket clip.’
Clipped out? Blanket clip? And how does he know, since he’s not meant to be into hunting? Maybe he’s a closet hunter, shooter ’n’ fisher! Next thing I’ll find him out with a 12-bore and a brace of pheasants under his arm. Or whatever you use to shoot braces of pheasants. Or brace. Braces. Brace.
I frown. ‘Are you a closet hunter?’
He crinkles his eyes.
‘And shooter?’ I ask, getting a little warm under my Primark collar. ‘Oh my God! I hope you’re not a secret deerstalker as well! Because that really is a deal-breaker!’
He manages to do his crinkly thing and raise an eyebrow at the same time.
‘Darling, would you hand these out,’ asks Maggie, coming up with a tray of Christmas cake. ‘And Duncan – can you hand round the whisky macs?’
I do my bit for the Montmarch Meet, defying death by handing out Christmas cake and stollen to the riders, but I’m now officially Concerned of Candlebury. The huntmaster seems to be tally-ho-ing. I hasten to find Lily and instruct/quiz her, once again. She assures me, once again, that she is fine and won’t attempt to jump over any fences or ditches. A stray hound turns back and trots over to me. I kneel down and stroke his ears before a young boy grabs him by the scruff and drags him back to the rest of the pack. And then they’re off. Oh God.