Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Dressage Writer

The word most often used to describe Bathsheeba Wilkins was “reliable.” By common consent she was pleasant, helpful and unassuming; "you would hardly know she was there."

Miss Iris Drone, the doyenne of local dressage judges, always swore by Miss Wilkins and a note against her name on the list “Bringing own writer” inevitably meant “dear Bathsheeba.”

She did have to make her own way to the venue from her tiny cottage next to the post office in the hamlet of Wibble, but fortunately this only involved three buses.

Miss Wilkins had a level of preparedness second to none. She always arrived at least thirty minutes before the first test was due to begin, even though she was the only person at the Vale of Vaysey Riding Club to rely on public transport.

Dressed in floral print frock and sensible flat shoes, Bathsheeba awaited her judge’s car like an attentive
Labrador with large portmanteau and umbrella over one arm and lemon raincoat over the other.

In addition to her own clip board and sturdy thermos flask, her voluminous reticule invariably contained numerous pens, mints, paper tissues, tests, Kit Kats, plasters and even tiny binoculars for use should the occasion demand (not that it ever had).

Miss Wilkins assiduously checked the arena boards were standing, inspected tack and verified the identity of horse and rider, smiling reassuringly and confirming that the beginning of the test would be announced by the genteel tinkle of the judge’s bell.

When the test began, each comment was accurately transcribed in a teacherly script reflecting forty two years in the profession.

When Iris waxed lyrical too fulsomely over a particularly beautiful thoroughbred mare or vented her robust dislike of cobs too long, Miss Wilkins could be relied upon for a gentle reminder of missing marks or comments.

She could also be surprisingly limber, leaping from the passenger seat of the car to restore markers kicked down by that fine, if unruly, mare or to explain an error of course.

Always the embodiment of discretion, Bathsheeba would never have heard anything if the judge inquired if a competitor had given a verbal command or been urged on too vociferously by supporters standing nearby.

Similarly, much unpleasantness was avoided when she failed to notice tricks to lengthen the neck in the free walk on a long rein.

Her massive reserves of tact were also used to the fullest in ignoring the regular and spectacular flatulence of Miss Drone’s venerable spaniels Carl and Spencer, which became somewhat overpowering by the end of a long series of tests in summer in the confines of a Nissan Micra.

After a morning of competition, Miss Wilkins usually sat in the Club canteen alone and ate her sandwich, whilst Miss Drone joined her fellow judges for luncheon in the Committee Room.

She understood; they probably had business to discuss.

Afterwards she would call into the Office to claim expenses of just her bus fare and start the long journey home.

As she walked past the Committee Room, coffee was being served and she could hear Miss Drone laughing. No-one had said "thank you" or "goodbye."

"Oh well" she thought, "there's always next time."

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