In my mind, I had quite a significant chance of getting cancer at some point in my life. In a round and about kind of way, my mother and father had six different types between them, if you count secondary tumours. They were fairly healthy people. Not particularly overweight, not sporty, but active, non smoking, occasional drinkers. Unlucky, the pair of them. My mothers mum is nearly 100 years old, and will probably still have a cheeky ciggie if someone offered her one. Mums’ numerous siblings are all fairly healthy specimens , perhaps they haven’t lived saintly lives from a “your body is a temple” perspective, but they are all ticking on OK, same with Dads. I didn’t normally think too much into the long and distant future, but I did decide that slogging my guts out in a NHS walk in centre for 40 hours a week, and then dropping dead before I got my pension, like my parents, was not going to happen to me.
After mum died, I had an epiphany, a revelation. Our friends had plans. I remember my best mate, the chief of chaos and calamity, who became a headteacher and is currently at the top of his game. Let’s furnish him with a name. CoCCHead will do. So my mate, from now on known as Cock-head (CH), precedes to start the ball rolling by messily breaking up with his de facto, with whom he has lived with for five years or so, and that was the start of us being grown-ups and “making plans”.
This couple were one of the kingpins in our little circle of friends. We shared many, many, many good times, trips and holidays. Some of which, I perhaps should share, because CH and I have had some pretty funny times, and the world, I feel, will be a better place if I share these with you too. Take our mind off the cancer for a bit.
I like motorcycles. You can control them yourself. They don’t do random things. Granted, you could be be flattened in an instant by some fool, turning into their drive, whilst texting their partner to tell them she will be home in 10 seconds. That could happen. However, my motorbike will not do things of its own accord. Like an animal might.
Katy likes animals. In particular, she likes horses. She used to have one. In our circle of friends, when people had birthdays, we would often arrange an event, or trip to celebrate said birthday. A bit like a mini stag do, but with cleaner women. Katy announced she wanted to go horse riding for the morning. Cockhead and I set about organising the event. This was back in the days when the internet was just for academics, news and porn, long before every business had an on-line presence. We had to use historical implements to find services and businesses. The Yellow Pages. A quick search through the grubby, well thumbed pages of our shared house copy found a collection of places that offered the loan of a creature that city folk could mount for a good time at the weekend, and hand back afterwards, after offering suitable remuneration.
That was just the page that the yellow pages fell open on. I suspect, the Hippy, with whom we lived, had been perusing saunas again. Stables were over the page. Cockhead telephoned one.
Hoity toity stable lady “Good morning, the Ride of your Life.” (Probably).
CH “Oh hello, salutations! One would like to arrange a supervised excursion on your formidable steeds”
HTSL “of course sir, we have Mountbatten, our feisty stallion, just itching to take you hunting over the hedgerows”
CH “Splendid, I’ll take him, a horn, and 20 hounds. Please send a car to collect me.”
In reality, it was more a case of CH on the phone and me standing next him, offering advice. HTSL asked how many people. Easy question. She asked when we wanted to go. Easy question. She wanted to know our height and weight. Easy question. She wanted to know our experience levels. Easy question.
Oh no. Not for CH.
He was obviously aware that Katy could ride a horse, and IIRC, most of the other members of the group were fairly handy on horseback. I heard him say that he was an experienced rider. Seemingly an expert after only ever going on a horse once or twice before in his life. He turned to me to enquire into my skill level. I had been on a donkey on the beach once. I didn’t like it. I had fed a horse some grass through a fence before. I didn’t like that either. I had a summer job dressed as a Cowboy at a, now defunct, Wild West theme park where I had to clean windows with vinegar. Close enough I thought. I said “fairly experienced”.
When we got there we saw HTSL. She was even posher in real life, than on the phone, dripping in pearls and with large pearly white horsey teeth to match. Range Rover parked next to a massive pile of horseshit that was being shovelled by two fit young men in tight trousers and flat caps. We paid our dues, and were kitted out in suitable attire, CH and I slightly disappointed not to look more like Robert Redford and Paul Newman. The stable hands went to collect the mounts. Mounts? Mountains more like. CH and I are both at least 6 feet tall, and the devil spawn that they walked out for us were nearer elephant than horse. Mine was jet back and was poignantly named Reaper. It was a shiny, sinewy beast with a superior air and from deep within emanated a power and force of which mortals should not speak. In the mist and chill of the early morning, I was sure I could see wisps of smoke from it’s nostrils, and fire in its eyes. CH was given a similar sized steed, which resembled a super-sized ass, and looked a little more subdued. I forget what sort of horse the rest of the party received, although they were suited to the experience level that the rider sensibly confessed to prior to the outing.
It was time to mount. I wasn’t sure that my leg would even go that high to get my foot in the stirrup, but I eventually managed, at which point Reaper took a few steps to the right and left me hopping around, foot still in stirrup, like an extra from the Moulin Rouge, who didn’t make the cut. HTSL was chuntering to herself about experience, to which I had to make a an excuse about an old riding injury that meant I couldn’t get my leg up as easily as I used to. Placated, she wheeled out a mounting platform of some sort. You know when you go bowling, and they give children, the disabled, and twats like me, a metal frame to roll your ball down because you really have no clue, well I imagine it is the riding equivalent of the same. Using the platform, I was able to get myself onto the beast. The right way round. It thrust his head skywards, let out a massive snort of derision, and stamped on the ground. I let out a little bit of wee.
Luckily, HTSL was not accompanying us on the ride. We were to be supervised, very lightly, because of the high proportion of expert riders in our group. Work experience stable girl came with us. WESG was very competent at riding her own horse, but not so good at rounding up a crowd of people, several of which were just there to piss about, and had already partaken in a snifter from a hip flask. We really needed the likes of a team of Rockhampton cowboys to keep us in check. Away we went across the forests and hills of central England. The horses had become accustomed to the route and followed each other at a leisurely walk. One of the group had a particularly rotund dobbin on which the saddle was loose and with each step took a little slip in a clockwise direction around the middle of the horse. By the time we had reached the top of the trail, she was sitting at around 2pm and was hanging on for dear life, whilst CH & I pissed ourselves laughing. WESG jumped off her horse and adjusted the saddle, and the trip continued, along the trail, through the woods. Reaper got a little too close to the horse in front, and was rewarded with doubled footed kick to the face. He reared up on two legs, and a little more wee came out. The sun shifted behind a cloud, as a crow, a rook, and a raven flapped from the nearest tree. The temperature dropped a couple of degrees. Imagine my surprise to see a ladder fall on a black cat that had just knocked over a salt pot, and smashed a mirror, whilst one magpie stared intently at me, perhaps wondering why I hadn’t replied to his chain letter.
The party emerged from the woods. WESG sounded excited to point out that we could now up the speed to a trot, and off she went. Sitting on a horse winding it’s way up a dusty trail through some trees, is a fairly easy thing to do. Still, probably at the top of my skill level. Trotting a horse across a green field, down a slight incline is, it would seem, as alien to me as breathing underwater. Try as I might I could not get into the rhythm, my balls bashed at the front of the saddle, my arse smashed at the back. My knees popping and snapping as I try to perform the ridiculous up and down motion that is required. And all the while, with nothing but a piece of leather rope to hold on to. They need handlebars FFS. Reins are as much use as tits on a fish. I may as well have waved my arms randomly around in the air, for what good they did. The harbingers of doom that I witnessed in the woods really earned their pay that day. As we approached the end of the field, there was a straight, long, country lane. Unbeknown to me, that was where the horses, for experienced riders, were allowed to gallop. Reaper trotted onto the lane, it’s large bulk manhandling the other horses out of it’s way, reared up on it’s two back legs, causing me to let go of the reins, and then took off like it had been slapped at full force by a an ogre with a giant S&M butt paddle. It galloped off as fast as it could, free rein, head down, with me on the back grasping in vain for anything I could get my hands on.
I think, in my head, I had a vision, in amongst my life flashing in front of me, of my girlfriend galloping after me and grasping the reins, and gently pulling up the beast.
“KAAAAAATTTTTTTTYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!” was all that came out.
A blood curdling, high pitched, girlie voice, as not only did a bit more wee come out, but I actually shat my jodhpurs too. WESG raced after me, whilst the rest of the party either considered my predicament with pity or pissed themselves laughing. There was no way that anything other than Red Rum or Black Caviar could have caught up with that thing. I managed to grasp a bit of mane, as it continued it’s joyride down the country lane my balls black and blue and my arse in tatters, and then I could see the stable, the Range Rover and HTSL in the distance. It sprinted towards home and to my relief, slowed to a canter, which incidentally, added a new dimension to the trauma of my nether regions, as my jewels were smashed at a different trajectory and velocity. And then it was over, it stopped. HTSL came to greet me.
“Yes! I won!” as I slipped off the saddle, fell to the floor, narrowly missing the pile of horseshit.
I think I got away with it.