A year in first lines

Some weeks ago I was reading blogs while attempting to hold a sort-of-conversation with Mr S, fending off an affectionate cat and simultaneously eating a rather crumbly lemon and poppy-seed muffin and trying to catch the escaping pieces, so it is not surprising that I didn’t read properly the post that triggered this one. I was reading Liz’s My year in first lines but owing to the unmanageable multitasking I was engaged in I did not instantly understand that you’re supposed to use first lines from your own blog to sum up your year. Obviously I twigged fairly quickly that I’d misunderstood the concept, but I was faintly disappointed that it wasn’t a year outlined using the first lines of novels. Now that I’ve attempted to do mine with the first lines of famous novels/poems I can tell you that it’s far, far easier not to do it with novels!

So here’s my attempt at summing up my year using the first lines from novels and poems. It has taken some time to compile and I don’t recommend it unless you have a lot of time on your hands! I’ve decided to give the titles and authors down at the bottom of the post so you can see if you can guess which books they came from. Apologies if any of this seems overdramatic, self-important or maudlin – literature loves tragedy and few good books begin with a really cheery first line!


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way

I was having weekly jump lessons. Which terrified me not only during the lesson but during the whole week leading to the next lesson. On the other hand the elation at surviving a lesson was seriously intense. Also, we cracked the canter lead issue and every correct canter on the right rein was an exciting and joyous moment.


Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.

This is a line about finding out what someone is made of. Over the preceding winter I was wondering what sort of a horse I’d bought, who only cantered on one rein even with better riders than myself. In February I started to catch glimpses of decent schooling in his past. That backwards evasion when I asked for a halt… I came to realise was actually a rather smart rein-back. It was still a disobedient evasion, but it told of his potential. In a lesson with Lee Pearson he (unasked) gave me a flying change from the wrong canter lead to the correct one. When the yard owner (also my jump instructor) got on him when he was messing me around, after a brief disagreement he went as round and pretty as a show pony. I had no idea he could go like that. He had a lot more capability than I’d been giving him credit for, and I needed to expect him to step up and give me more than he had been. Now I knew how much he could do when he felt like it, it was time to stop accepting him giving a mediocre effort. Time for him to get on and be the hero of his life and stop messing around.


The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.

Although this line is somewhat melancholic, my nothing new was itself something to be celebrated. And actually involved something new. Let me explain. We got Drifter his new saddle and, once I’d adjusted  to that and to my new higher expectations of him, everything felt calm and good and uneventful. And we really like calm, good and uneventful. So although the sun had no alternative but to shine on us, we were perfectly content about our situation.


It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

While I’m sure there were plenty of actual bright cold days in April, the brightness for me came from my riding. We had our first little bareback ride, a great lesson with Lee Pearson and things were going well for D and me. As regards to the coldness and the clocks striking thirteen, both myself and Mr S were experiencing unsettling and concerning things in our careers, his more serious than mine.


We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.

OK so there were no actual drugs and although I think the weather was sunny and dry, the UK does not do desert; we were high together regardless. I was high on having given up jumping and allowing myself to admit my inner dressage diva. I was fiercely proud of having said no to jumping. Drifter, on the other hand, was seriously high on rich grass. He has always been a forward horse – he became a rocket ship. Even after his food was cut down he was a ball of energy waiting to tear off around the school like a cat escaping from a bath. It was fast fabulous fun!


There is one mirror in my house. It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs.

When I had my first lesson with a new instructor it was like seeing myself in a mirror for the first time in a long time. I saw that despite myself I’d been lured into a riding style influenced by conflict and force more than softness and calm persuasion.


There was no possibility of taking a walk that day

Drifter was unrideably sore in both withers and one hamstring


I wore a black suit and a white shirt, a black tie and black shoes, all polished and shiny: clothes that normally would make me feel uncomfortable, as if I were in a stolen uniform, or pretending to be an adult. Today they gave me comfort of a kind. I was wearing the right clothes for a hard day.

With my new boots, white breeches, stock and pin I was, for the first time, wearing the uniform of a dressage diva. And I didn’t feel like I was pretending.


In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself in a dark wood, for the straight way was lost. (Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, ché la diritta via era smarrita.)

When I got ill the journey of my life was utterly derailed. No riding, no work, for a time no driving. Little human contact, I had entirely lost the straight way and found myself off the beaten track. Impact on D and Mr S makes the impact on our lives (nostra) not just mine.


Snowman wakes before dawn. He lies unmoving, listening to the tide coming in, wave after wave sloshing over the various barricades, wish-wash, wish-wash, the rhythm of heartbeat. He would so like to believe is still asleep.

Often I woke early, listening to my heartbeat, trying to work out what it would offer me for the day. Resigned in the knowledge that even a good day meant being fit for very little. Being awake in my mind while a sluggish body still lay, it would have been so much easier if I could have slept through the days as well.


My suffering left me sad and gloomy

Seriously? Not better yet? Not back to riding and work? This was not the plan.


To run through better waters the little ship of my wit now hoists its sails, leaving behind it a sea so cruel (Per correr miglior acque alza le vele omai la navicella del mio ingegno, che lascia dietro a sé mar sí crudele)

I certainly hope December is and will continue to be about leaving this section of my life behind. I’m not so foolish as to believe I’ll be magically fit again just because the calendar clicks over, but mentally I’m working on recovery now. And 2015? Well that’s a whole new book which has yet to be written.

Gratuitous cat in a box photo

Gratuitous cat in a box photo


January – A tale of two cities / Charles Dickens

February – David Copperfield / Charles Dickens

March – Murphy / Samuel Beckett

April – 1984 / George Orwell

May – Fear and loathing in Las Vegas / Hunter S. Thompson

June – Divergent / Veronica Roth

July – Jane Eyre / Charlotte Brontë

August – The Ocean at the End of the Lane / Neil Gaiman

September – Inferno / Dante Alighieri (trans. Robert Durling)

October – Oryx and Crake / Margaret Atwood

November – Life of Pi / Yann Martel

December – Purgatorio / Dante Alighieri (trans. Robert Durling)


6 thoughts on “A year in first lines

  1. Very ambitious. I love the result.

    • Sparrowgrass says:

      Thank you. Some months were easier than others, and some I am more satisfied with their fit than others. Trying this has made me much more appreciative of opening lines.

  2. The Lite Rider says:

    Great idea, enjoyed the entry. Best wishes for a halthy New Year, and may it bring all in riding you want.

  3. Liz Dexter says:

    Wow – talk about making things more difficult for yourself! But a very good outcome, and much more interesting than my rather dull litany of the state of my To Be Read pile!!!

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