A man in a cinema notices what looks like a horse sitting next to him.
“Are you a horse?” asked the man, surprised.
“What are you doing watching a film?”
The horse replied, “Well, I liked the book.”
I’ve always loved the work of the cartoonist Thelwell. But once, just once, I felt I might be sitting on the edge of one of his cartoons.
He was better known for his pictures of small girls on fat ponies, but he also catered for what we might call the larger lady. (I know that makes him sound like a manufacturer of structural hosiery, or garments noted for their ‘firm underpinnings, but you know what I mean.)
Our farm sits on a ninety degree bend in a quiet rural lane. At times it even warrants the term ‘leafy’. So we regularly get horse riders going up and down it and they’re not normally a problem.
But one winter’s morning I was clearing up the silage face and making sure our dairy herd had plenty to eat. Some cows were watching me with what passes for eager anticipation amongst middle aged bovines. The rest were just waiting, which is something milk cows can do really well.
One was leaning on the gate, looking along the lane to see if anything more interesting was happening there.
And for once, there was. Two ladies rode down the lane towards our gate. These weren’t chits of girls on ponies; these were serious ladies on proper horses.
The first horse trots happily past our gate, glances at the cow, metaphorically shrugs and ignores it.
The second horse sees the cow and comes to a halt. Whether it had ever seen a cow before I don’t know but it wasn’t impressed and wasn’t willing to go past. The rider (you know, the one in charge) urged it onwards. There may even have been cheerful cries of encouragement, it’s a few years back and memory fades. But the horse wasn’t convinced. On the other hand, the cries and general kerfuffle attracted the attention of another cow. She joined the first one to see what was going on.
Obviously if one cow is bad, two are worse, and the horse was even less impressed. So the lady rider became even more strident in her demands that the horse moved on.
The sole effect of this was that several more cows came to line the gate. Street theatre is rare in the bovine world and chances to enjoy it should be grasped enthusiastically.
With this the horse took a pace backwards. The other rider brought her horse back and endeavoured to display to the wary horse that there wasn’t a problem.
More cows were enticed by this to leave their contemplation of me forking silage into a barrow and made their way to the gate. This was now lined, two deep, with interested dairy cows.
By now the horse that had previously passed the gate without turning a hair was having second thoughts. It started walking sideways to get away from the gate and the rider did technical stuff with the reins and issued verbal commands which merely attracted more cows.
The rider of the more recalcitrant horse decided to get firm, she had dismounted and was going to lead the horse past. The cows at the gate were now four deep and the horse was having none of it. She was, no doubt, a fine figure of a woman, but the horse was at least four times her weight. It took one step forward, thought better of it and took three back.
The language coming from the two riders was growing choice. It has to be admitted that milk cows are not entirely unused to hearing such terms. But as the volume, and to some extent the pitch, climbed higher, the rest of the herd abandoned me for the performance laid on for them at the other side of the gate. Indeed our cows were now drawn up so deep at the gate that those at the rear couldn’t see and there was considerable ill-mannered jostling going on at the back.
At this point the two horses decided that enough was enough. Walking sideways and/or backwards they determinedly headed away from the gate. Their riders remounted and rode, grim faced, back the way they had come.
Me? ‘Tarbaby, he said nothing’.
Had I appeared it was only ever going to be my fault.
But apropos of nothing in particular, it is probably experiences like this that made me the man I am today.
If you wish to make some small financial contribution towards the counselling deemed necessary; you could do worse than purchase a copy of