The sky above a pastiche of greys, the air below hangs still and sodden. The atmosphere so clammy and humid is nature’s very own sauna. It signals the imminent arrival of an electric storm. An addition to the potential drama in the heavens, here at ground level the actuality of a dramatization unfolds. The subliminal word that clings to this sticky air spells, ‘catastrophe.’
The menacing, thunderous pounding of the hooves of the less than pliable, dung brown, gargantuan old nag of a carthorse as it awkwardly rampages through an otherwise placid family campsite sounds akin to those that might herald a Mongol invasion of a tranquil settlement somewhere upon the Steppes of Mother Russia. Only the very brave, or those startled like rabbits in the gaze of oncoming headlights, stand their ground. The others, those fathers, mothers and offspring alike take flight, making, as fast as their legs will carry them for the relative safety of the surrounding forest. Those too old to stride out abandon walking canes and claw with their fingernails, bodies prone, their fraught passage to the sanctuary of the pine woods.
Saddle long since vacated, a first time rider, out for an afternoon’s safe and gentle trekking with his three children and their chums, hangs on for dear life. Only the gross belly of the morbidly obese hack to cling to; let go and certain death is guaranteed. His plight is worsened by the whipping of clotheslines and the stabbing of tent pegs about his torso as Marcus the horse ploughs, as the bird flies, toward the creature comforts of his stable yard and for his tea. Marcus, you see, is a very hungry herbivorous mammal.
A polka dot bikini bottom, once drying quite nicely on a washing line strung ‘twixt two tents stuck fast to the riders face,held there ‘suffocatingly’ tight in the back draft caused by the speeding animal, like cling film about a lunchbox sandwich. Facial features masked in gusset from gob to forehead, this unintentional pervert knows abject fear. The thought does cross his mind though that at least coming fresh from a clothes line said gusset is likely ‘clean’ – at least he hopes that to be the case! Regardless, this would-be equestrian is no longer afforded the benefit of video. Maybe that is, in the circumstances, for the best. Words of derision and censure are thrust at him from the hidden ones – those previously happy campers who now peer out from the sides of trees, or over gorse bushes, their worldly possessions spread over an acre of terrain; their temporary encampment in ruins. Not that he hears them for he is busying himself just staying alive. Should he survive, should his children, so young that they all are, not end up fatherless, he makes a promise to himself that he will never again mount anything that is not a human (obviously not a bloke).
Only minutes previously he had been becalmed, Marcus stood fast on the stony pathway, tucking into something or other green growing out of the very edge of (and almost defying gravity) a sheer drop beyond from which there was a stunning and panoramic view of the Moors. He had tried to make it, ‘walk on’ by heeling it in the guts and saying things like, ‘giddy up’ to no avail. The brute just ignored him. The children, on their ponies, were already miles ahead. He could just about still hear them chittering away to the instructor for the day, rather butch, beefy lass, blessed with an enthusiasm for those little ones in her charge she had chosen not to extend to him. With a look of feminist disdain, she had, as they set off, suggested it would be best for him to bring up the rear. She had offered no reason why. It was only when the clock on the tower of the mansion that housed the stable yard struck four resounding strokes that Marcus had bolted for home. He was later to discover that Marcus always had his tea at 4pm on the dot.
As the salivating creature, a gelding, hit base, a first course of hay in the forefront, and possibly the only thing, on his mind, he ground to a halt with the grace of a skidding juggernaut with burst tyres at his trough. Once sure his mount was truly at a standstill and was going nowhere his rider, although not by design, already three quarters dismounted anyway, let’s go and falls, devoid of any dignity to the unyielding, dusty floor. At this point the resolute instructor is in a barn eagerly helping the kids change out of their riding gear, blissfully unaware of what had happened to the senior of her customers; the one who had paid out hard earned money for this dreadfully frightening experience. She surely must have heard Marcus arrive for she now pokes her head over the barn doors. Giving her customer a glance of detestation; noting him stood pitifully alone, brushing with bare hands loads of muck and shit from himself, she merely remarks, indifferently, “Oh there you are. You took your time didn’t you?”
He wants to tell her the whole story, to get angry with her, to demand a refund, yet, cannot find the words. You see his brush with death has left him in a state of fear and trepidation. His legs still shaking with the trauma of it all. Later, in the privacy of the place the family are renting for the holidays, he would check his groin, more precisely his testicles, for bruising. Aside from the harrowing conclusion to his expedition, and whilst still afforded the supposed comfort of a saddle, he had discovered that the male anatomy was not designed for being sat upon a moving – let alone a hurtling – carthorse! All that bouncing up and down, his nethers smacking repetitively and with venom upon the polished leather seat ‘twixt him and the girth of the beast would surely leave him infertile at best. He wondered if John Wayne ever sired any heirs.
He, of course, was me having yet another, ‘Why me?’ experience. The intent of occasion had been for fun – a holiday treat for my three children. We were, at that time back in the mid 1980’s, on vacation in the West Country.
I never did find (not that I was weird enough to look), and therefore never got to return the polka dot bikini bottoms – regardless, even if I did have them to hand I don’t think I could have thought of a way that was not totally embarrassing to affect their return to whomsoever was the owner.