Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Horses and cows

                                             Looking like a natural!

"I want a pony", a sentence uttered by so many little girls, most of whom have a small front garden barely big enough to raise a rabbit.  I was lucky to grow up in the country and we had a field, perfect for a pony or even two. I didn't utter those words, I didn't want a pony.  My friends used to come and gaze over the grass imagining riding round and round, whilst I was content to make dens in the hay and collect four leafed clovers.

My experience with horses had been a donkey ride on Blackpool beach that I had found terrifying and smelly and a trip to the local stables.  All my friends were shown their cute little ponies, with names like Rosie or Lupin. The instructor took one look at me and said "Oh, you're very tall", and brought out a massive stallion called Samson.  I had several goes at getting on the saddle and spent the whole ride holding on for dear life. Samson and I did not connect.

Sometimes our field was rented out to a farmer friend who kept a few heifers there.  We had an electric fence that I was always testing with a blade of grass.  This was to make sure the cows stayed put.  I never liked milk as a child, and being the spoilt brat that I was, could only be persuaded to drink the regulation third of a pint at school if it had strawberry milkshake in it.  Years before I thought that cows knew I didn't like milk and was afraid of the consequences.  Living in Cheshire, the heart of dairy land at the time, I often encountered them, leading me to announce "I drink mees milk moo cows", a blatant lie if ever there was one. Generally my relationship with cows like horses was an uneasy one.

"Feel the fear..."

Living near to Wales, we often went walking in the mountains.  I loved watching the sheep and seeing them being rounded up.  One day we were coming down from Snowdon and my mother unusually saw a cow standing in the path.  To reassure me she called out "Hey up, Daisy", and the animal raised its head to reveal a large ring through its nose  and the fact that it was in fact a very large bull.  Wearing a little canvas mackintosh in bright red, I shot off down the hill, fully expecting to be pursued at full force, but apparently it just put its head down again and continued grazing.

One day my father announced that he had a money making idea and that we were going to grow Christmas trees.  He had ordered 100 of them through Exchange & Mart which was one of his favourite magazines.  He told my mother to be in when they arrived and to be ready for the delivery.  A few days later a small packet arrived through the letterbox, one hundred Christmas trees... in a space the size of a robin.  They were tiny seedlings, which were duly planted, but never turned into a forest or a thriving business.  A couple of years later when I was 11 my father decided instead to build a bungalow on the field which became the house where I grew up and my parents lived until they died. I think nearly 50 years on there are two fir trees remaining at the edge of the what was the field.  Many happy years were spent in that garden, by me and lots of other children, but the only horses to be seen were driving the horse and carriage that my sister organised to take my parents round the village on their Golden Wedding Anniversary. 
I was happy to wave them on their way.

Monday, 30 January 2012


I am not a biker chick.  My experiences on 2 wheels have mostly been disastrous. My first time riding pillion was when my school friend offered me a lift home on the back of her Honda 50, a journey of less than 2 miles in the leafy lanes of Cheshire.  After 20 seconds I fell off the back, luckily with few injuries other than bruises.  My pride was hurt but more importantly I decided bikes were not for me.
Years later a friend turned up on my birthday to offer me a ride on his Harley Davidson. He had proudly painted it to look like a horse, dappled grey with leather trimmings. It did look quite impressive but how was he to know that my affinity with horses was the same as motorbikes?  I boldly got  in the saddle or whatever it was and he set off at a mind-blowing 60 mph.  My mouth instantly filled up with air. Despite my inane grin caused by the influx of air into my body I was not happy and wanted to get off,  but I was unable to speak and he took the insistent squeezing of his body to mean I wanted to go faster.  No woman wants to be told to keep her mouth shut and I'm sure I would have been offended at the advice if he'd offered it.  Later I did have quite a bit to say on the matter and needless to say I didn't see him again.

Another birthday and I was again being woo-ed.  This guy had opened a bottle of gin and seemed to be increasingly adding less tonic.  At about 4 in the morning he suggested a ride on his classic motorbike.  Of course I protested, not least because of the alcohol.  He said we would go down the country lanes and watch the sunrise.  His advice to me was to imagine I was a sack of potatoes and to completely relinquish all control.  After the amount of gin, this seemed to be fairly achievable.  It was a lovely sunrise, but I vowed it would be the last time I'd be riding on the back of a bike.

I spent the Millennium celebrations in Goa, India with several friends. Not at a beach rave, but rather trying to escape the festivities and wanting to quietly allow a new decade to wash over me.   Everyone was itching to hire scooters, and although I said I didn't want one, I was persuaded to have a go.  Sitting for the first time with my hands on the controls, I knew it was the best way to get about and that my fear had to be conquered. So I turned the key and twisted the handle and shot forward 20 yards straight into a wall.  The bike spent a whole day at the hire shop being repaired, much to the annoyance of the guy who had lent it to me, as he was grounded for the day.  I agreed to travel on the back of my friend's scooter.  She looked gorgeous wearing a vintage floral dress and her blonde hair flowing round her... with no sign of a helmet. I clung on to her delicate figure, full of admiration for her courage. We got to go to some lovely places, which would have been inaccessible by taxi and of course it was a very cheap way to travel.  The chaos on the roads was just ridiculous, with scooters 3 abreast, 4 x 4 cars driven by rich people from Mumbai, people walking in all directions and cows simply standing in the middle of the road. There was acrid smoke coming from the bonfires of plastic bottles being burned on the pavement, and at night the only light came from a few fluorescent tubes slung between the trees.

Why is it that when we are abroad all commonsense about health and safety is abandoned? It's 2012 and I am in Thailand sitting on the back of a hired scooter with my partner happy to be on an adventure for his well earned holiday.  Like India the traffic drives on the familiar left hand side but the roads are much more civilised and straight.  The law requires a helmet to be worn on the main road, but only for the driver, and very few of the locals seem to be taking any notice.  I am  dressed in a sarong and flip flops, repeating "I'm a sack of potatoes, I'm a sack of potatoes" over and over whilst gripping on to the seat, fearing death. Finally plucking courage to look at anything other than the neck of my driver, I become aware we are riding in tandem with a food seller. The other moped goes past with the passenger offering a variety of tasty morsels on a tray with one arm, while the other arm casually holds onto a baby, a teddy bear and a bag of squid.
I still feel I am on a white knuckle ride and am glad to arrive at an idyllic bit of beach, stretch out on the white sand and relax my body before the journey back.  A man appears from nowhere on a horse with a second one with an empty saddle "You want ride horse?" he asks. "No thanks," I reply "we've got a bike."

                                          "I don't like it, I don't like it..."