Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bells on my toes

If I am to make a go of this, I need to do more than eat pease pudding while I watch the cavalry engage in outwitting the enemy in the front line of the class struggle. I need to stop smiling nicely at other mothers in the hope they might want to make me their bestest friend. Up here, they were born in the same maternity ward as their bestest friend, they went to school with her and they probably married her brother. I need to get on a horse. That is what everybody else seems to do round here - ride. A ticket to ride might be my very own ticket to paradise. I could "get with the programme", talk tack and "trot on". In fact, if it works out, the horse could be my best friend - it's been done before.

The first stumbling block in waving a fairy wand to transform me from an East End Cinderella into the Princess Royal was the fact my head is too big. Apparently, we city girls have bigger heads than country gals. Much bigger. The word "freakish" may have been banded about. I arrived at my riding pal's farm all panting expectation; it might have looked like cold-palmed terror, it was merely the way we city types anticipate a close encounter with something that has bigger teeth than ours. Hopes of a rapid mount were soon dashed. My head was too big for all four of her hats; my riding pal phoned a friend. No joy. Just me then with the really big head. We don't just sit around in the country though; we take action. We jumped in her 4x4 and drove to the local market town, snacking en route on the horse's Polo mints. I only had one or two in case the horse could smell them on my breath later.

I have to say, I like country shops. They are much more interesting than city shops. You know what you are going to get in a city shop - it is going to be expensive, beautiful and a little predictable. They don't do predictable in the shops up here. The shop looked like it sold handbags and tops. As we climbed the stairs, I said to my riding pal: "I like those big wide leather belts." She may have snorted. "They're girths," she said. Still no idea what a girth is but I laughed along with her and went: "Oh right, girths." There were also saddles. I have never been in a shop that sold saddles before, along with bridles, bits and crops. I could go on. It was also some sort of mecca for equine grooming products. A bizarre "Hair Today" shop for the horse in your life. There was Plaiting Gel "for a truly professional finish", Horse and Pony Polish with an "extra rich shine formulation" to give "a speedy boost to the coat's natural bloom", Dark Horse Shampoo for the "dark horse in your stable.". It went on like this for shelves. I kept expecting to see a horse sitting in front of a mirror getting a blow dry while it caught up on Britney in Hello.

Luckily, it also sold freakishly large hats and away we sped again back to the farm. My hat is black velvet with a peak, large padded button on the top and cute taffeta bow on the back. It is padded (although it gave me an excruciating headache after half an hour) and disconcertingly, it has not one but three pictures inside it of a horse attempting to buck a rider. Whose idea was that? It also has a complex strapping arrangement around the back of your head and under the chin which feels like small hands are wrapped around your windpipe. I often feel like that. I am not sure I need to buy a hat for it. The hat weighs slightly more than a plant pot but would, I was assured, offer more protection.

Luckily my horse was short (12 hands) but then I am short so that was fine with me. She was an Exmoor pony, a breed I was told which is rarer than the Giant Panda. I have never ridden a Giant Panda so I am not sure which of them would have the advantage in a Darwinian head-to- head. They are a brown, shaggy sort of horse which usually roam wild on Exmoor. I was in the saddle by the time the word "wild" was used. "She can be a bit nippy," I was told. "Great," I thought. "My feet are far too close to her teeth." A Northumberland enthusiast for the breed uses them to graze down scrub and grasses on the dunes to let the wild flowers come through and encourage butterflies and birds. I did not think of butterflies the entire time I was gripping on to the horse with my knees and buttocks. Once I was strapped in, instructions started flying about - sit upright, press down with your heels, the balls of your feet in the stirrups, your elbows in, the reins held "like coffee cups" in your hands. (Latte or espresso? I wanted to know. You would hold them differently wouldn't you? What if you are thinking "latte" and the horse is thinking "espresso"?) The only thing that stops the horse are the reins. There was no brake pedal. I checked.

My riding pal ambled on with her immaculate seat and immense Irish horse of 17 hands - I could not see them but apparently they are there somewhere. The shaggy pony and I came to a working joggle; an arrangement whereby she agreed to carry me without throwing me to the hard ground and stamping on my velvet-hatted head and I agreed to go to mass every week for the next year. I even managed to look up long enough at one point to admire the wrap-around blue grey sea, the Farne islands, their lighthouses and the magnificence of Bamburgh Castle as we trotted round the green fields and I tried to persuade my horse not to tread down too many wheat shoots. I was worried the farmer might shoot us. Halfway round, my riding pal starts telling me how my shaggy pony bolted across the same field with its rider the last time she had been out. I am looking at her, thinking: "Why are you telling me this story?" Luckily, she saved her tales of a broken arm, a broken foot, her teeth through her lip, her black eyes and various other injuries sustained from horses until we made it back to the kitchen for tea and aga-toasted bagels. Before we got to bagels though, I had to dismount.

You would think if you had managed to get on a horse and then sit on a horse, you would be able to get off it. I think there is a fault in the design because there appears to be nothing to hold onto while you take your feet out of the stirrups and swing one leg over to join the other. Neither do I know how you swing your leg over when you have lost the use of both knees. Only the incentive of getting off the horse persuaded me to attempt the manoeuvre.

I used my hat to take away half a dozen eggs from my riding pal's chickens. I am not sure what else I can use it for. I am wearing it as I type. Maybe I could just wear it around and about. It might help me blend in.

25 comments:

mutterings and meanderings said...

I think you've had the Jobson's experience. I could spend all day - and all my money - in there. Your hat is the same as my 'posh' one, which is reserved for not chasing foxes.

mutterings and meanderings said...

Oh, and don't grip with your knees and buttocks or you'll never have a good seat!

Anonymous said...

You are priceless, I am sitting here laughing and crying at Thelwell picture you paint. You are our Cultural Ambassador in the North. Keep up the struggle. We love you for it.

Septuagent said...

Are you up to speed with John Grundy yet - on the telly ? Essential education for us townies now living in't gritty North.

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely fucking shagtastic you are !! Ace stuff !! I do hope you are modding these comments though !!

Anonymous said...

I can so sympathise you with about the 'head' thing. I was an 'usher' for a pal at his wedding, and they couldn't find a top hat to fit, and hat to order one from another shop.

I bought one of those 'Tilley' hats for a trip to Africa, as I was paranoid I would get heatstroke, being a little thin on top...

It is a huge one - size 7 & 5/8 which equates to 24 inches..

Thought to myself - that's not a head - that's two bloody feet. !

Anonymous said...

I am slightly perturbed about you keeping the riding hat on. How can I approach this delicately ? Oh, go on, it is past the 'watershed'...

If your hubby is feeling a little frisky, and in this 'time poor' world we live in, either you may forget to take the hat off, [or indeed it takes too much time] he may come to expect this little treat, and take it for granted.

I think you should make it clear at the outset that such privileges will only be allowed if he's been a very good boy, and earned himself LOTS of 'brownie points'...

Anonymous said...

Hmm..If the congestion charge in London gets any higher, some of the residents in Kensington and Chelsea may choose to convert those little mews cottages back to residences for the horses, as a more convenient way of getting in and out of town...

Anonymous said...

I think it was unkind of your friend to scoff at you about the girths. I think given the value for money prices they sell them at, you could 'funky' up some city outfits quite well in some of the cool colours they come in.

http://www.tackitup.co.uk/girths_and_accessories.php

You only need Vivienne Westwood to pick up on the idea, and you'd be laughing all the way to the bank..

andy said...

Yep, the hat might help you blend in, but after reading your other posts, the best thing you could do is stop being a condescending old mare and appreciate the beauty that surrounds you...

rilly super said...

bravo for trying to blend in there darling. Must make up for missing Daniel Radcliffes stage debut as well. My top tip for the ancient and noble art of the horse, a couple of Jilly Cooper novels down the back of one's jods are a must if you're new to the saddle. That method has saved many a novice horsewoman I can tell you. A couple of things to remember though, don't ask anyone 'does my bum look big in this' while they're down there and best buy your own copeis rather than pop down to the library because this method has been around for many a long year, and so have Northumberland County Councils paperbacks, if you get my gist. Keep up the good work.

Sophie King said...

I sincerely hope your horsey pal doesn't let her ponies graze the dunes. When we were at Bamburgh beach a couple of years ago the dunes were chock-full of ragwort - aka horse poison. Interestingly, the ragwort was absolutely covered with innumerable little black and yellow striped caterpillars, many of which got blown off the plants and were to be found rolling along the beach. Before we noticed this phenomenon, we unwittingly put our picnic rug up by the dunes so we could munch on our pies from the lovely butcher in a bit of shelter. We were only alerted to the caterpillars by a shriek from our then 5-year old daughter who had spotted hordes of the determined little creatures using the rug as a refuge in much the same way as a ship-wrecked mariner lost overboard in a storm-tossed sea might cling to a desert island. Thousands of the little buggers looping their way across the tartan wool - urghh!

Rare Breed said...

There are tears rolling down my cheeks. I even read out the first three paragraphs to my colleague in the office, she also tittered magnificently with that knowing look on her face.

She runs a livery yard in Northumberland also, she said she had never thought about her hats or indeed the size of her hats.

Maybe you will start a large hat influx into the northumberland hat shops - how exciting!!

Emma said...

I'm a big fan of your blog. It rings so true - especially with me. I moved to a village in North Yorkshire with two small children and a husband who was never there. I lasted four years before giving in and moving back to a town! I've mentioned you on my blog at www.emmaleepotter.co.uk

mutterings and meanderings said...

Sophie King, the caterpillars eat the ragwort and are a force for good! They become red Cinnabar moths.

It is now a legal requirement for ragwort to be removed from public places.

Rest assured, there is no ragwort on the part of the dunes where the Exmoors are.

sunshine said...

I am interested that you always wear helmets while riding horses. We wear them mainly in formal shows.

Here in the States, in some states, we by law have to wear helmets while sitting on horses, but but these are not measured in hands but in cubic centimeters, run on gas, and are made not by God but by Harley Davidson!

Sunshine

Anonymous said...

Not sure riding will totally endear you to fellow Northumbrians, for while it is a popular liasure pursuit, there are as many against as for. Your trip to what is undoutably R L Jobsons in Bondgate Within in Alnwick, reminds of my visits to that veritable emporium of what every Northumbrian country dweller should have about them of my youth some forty years ago. I imagine it will not have changed much in the intervening period. A heavenly experience.

Stella said...

PS
My mobile phone works if I sit in the kitchen sink
Stella

rosierainbow said...

Mmm..You did empty your hat before putting it back on to type didn’t you, or now may be you’re working out how to market your newly discovered hen's egg omlette hair mousse to your city pals.
Don't know about you wearing your hat "around and about" I thought you wanted to keep your identity safe. I think most of the horsey locals, keen to blend in, restrict themselves to muddy boots, smelly jods and "puffa" jackets, towselled hair and the odd whisp of straw in the most unusual places.
Now a better use would be Riding Hat trips to the Farnes? If it is quite large as you describe, you could set up quite a nice little business without the need to purchase an expensive boat. Of course you'd need to kit your hat out with an engine, and a rudder. Then of course you'd have to make sure your hat has room to accommodate the necessary lifeboats, depending on the numbers you intend to transport and ensure your port and starboard lights are clearly displayed. You'll also need to brush up on the local wild life so that you could do the essential narrative on your tour
It doesn't seem to be that difficult so long as you know what's what, something which includes all the relevant details when pointing out the species helps -
perhaps..... "them's torns, awa theor's shaaaags, and them awa theor......na na missus divn't loook up..."""
Once equipped, learn the positions of the 20 odd islands then Tally Ho!!! off you go, Puffins - watch out.
On second thoughts, maybe you should just keep the hat on your head its probably safer for all of us.

Daisy Turnip said...

You want to be careful, you sound as if you are beginning to enjoy yourself! : )

Winchester whisperer said...

It may come in useful when you're inspecting the building works on your house.

mountainear said...

Ah, yes. The countryside. We do things differently here.

Eurodog said...

Yes,these country stores are a real treat for us city dwellers. I am not far from a farmers's cooperative here in Cornwall where I am at present and you can buy sheep dips, fences and gates, yard brooms, Barbour jackets, Hunters wellies, Barbour flat hats, cashmere sweaters made from Scottish wool,unisex corduroy trousers made by and old fashioned company which is still British, etc... Farmers actually wear these designer clothes when they work on the farm or in the fields which makes the good burghers of Brussels,where my home, is envious. In Brussels as in Paris d'ailleurs, they are chic. Who wants Prada?

Anonymous said...

From Wife in the South

Love your blog.

I came down (or is it up?) the A1 35 years ago to become a Wife in the South. There are still days when I feel alienated, so I wish you lots of luck.

mutleythedog said...

I watched two Kentish country types talking the first - about 60, red with white hair, like a pink panda, fag in hand "So where do you stand on foexes?" The second, same complexion but tall and skinny - white moustache coughs and says "Dont stand on em - hunt the buggers"