Robes and Royalty

The State Opening of Parliament was on Monday, a colourful and dignified distraction from politics and Brexit. If you like history, colourful costumes and beautiful horses watching it on television is a good way to spend a rainy morning. These royal events always present curious questions, often little to do with the ceremony.

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Television presenters must do a lot of homework to enable them to tell ( confuse ) us who all the participants are and their duties. All you need to know is that there are a lot of horses and members of the armed forces and the Palace of Westminster is packed with ‘Important People’ in uniforms, with red being a popular colour. They have to take part in the  processions; in turn they have lots of smartly dressed people looking after them, who in turn have lots of security and organisers making sure it goes smoothly… and it did.

It all starts very early in the morning; breakfast television news goes over to the Royal Mews where the horses have been groomed to perfection. I wonder if they are like children, you get them ready to go out in their best clothes, but it’s raining and they are soon muddy.

 

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In the studio a presenter has gathered some people we don’t know; people who are no longer MPs or who didn’t get a ticket to the show? They talk about politics, history and what will happen during the morning’s events. There have been a few tweaks to the ceremony in concession to Her Majesty’s age. Prince Charles is her escort as The Duke of Edinburgh has retired from royal duties. She will not wear the heavy crown, thus creating another job opportunity for a costumed person to carry it in on a cushion.

 

The Royal fairytale coach to be used is not old, but made this century in Australia and apparently warmer and more comfortable than the old coaches. The Queen’s two ladies-in-waiting arrive in the next carriage and climb out with a little difficulty, they are not young either. Off they go to the robing room to help The Queen get ready while we hear more important names reeled off. The Marquess of Chumley sounds like someone out of a children’s puppet show, but his name is not spelt how it sounds – David George Philip Cholmondeley, 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley, The Lord Great Chamberlain has charge over the Palace of Westminster.

Enough of hereditary positions; how do you get to be Black Rod? What do you want to be when you grow up? Black Rod… The current Black Rod is the first ever woman to hold the position. Black Rod is sent from the Lords Chamber to the Commons Chamber to summon MPs to hear the Queen’s Speech. Traditionally the door of the Commons is slammed in Black Rod’s face to symbolise the Commons independence. She then bangs three times on the door with the rod. The door to the Commons Chamber is opened and all MPs – talking loudly – follow Black Rod back to the Lords to hear the Queen’s Speech. This is the fun part because there is not room for them all in the House of Lords so there is jostling to the front. Boris and Jeremy, leader of the opposition, lead the way, not talking to each other. Like school the rest of the MPs shuffle along in pairs with their friends… I guess there will always be some who have no friends to walk with…

https://www.parliament.uk/about/mps-and-lords/principal/black-rod/

How do you get your sons to be Pages of Honour and carry the Queen’s train? Teenage sons of nobility who look fresh faced and do not have any piercings…

Prince Charles escorted his mother to the throne and sat down on the other throne, yet another person delivered the speech in a little bag. Alas the Queen did not write this speech which tells what Her Government will do in the coming session of Parliament. Each time I hope she will toss it onto the red carpet and from her robes produce one she wrote earlier…

https://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2019/october/state-opening-of-parliament-2019/

Friday Flash Fiction – The Old Forest

The editor was deciding which story to run with on the front page. His young assistant Lisa usually had strong opinions on what would attract readers.

‘This young man has been missing for three days; lives at home, steady job, good character. He had an argument with his girlfriend, drove off and hasn’t been seen since.’

Lisa frowned ‘I still think we should stick with the murdered stallion.’

‘It was a hit and run accident,’ the editor smiled ‘you’ve been reading too many of Mr. Oak’s letters. There’s another one today, shall I include it, or do you think the readers are sick of him?’

‘Yes link it with your leading item. He has got a point.’

‘Banning cars from the New Forest, penalising families because of a few idiots? Mind you, it would stir things up a bit, no good stories this week. Sam’s been out to interview the verderer who found the dead horse. Hmm… main headline Cars To Be Banned From New Forest then much smaller Should cars be banned from the New Forest?’

‘Me and Gavin are going to the forest tomorrow; a nice picnic, then we’re going to his boss’s home for a dinner party. He’s got a posh house hidden in the middle of the forest; I hope we manage to find it.’

Lisa didn’t tell her boss that tomorrow she was going to give Gavin news.

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The picnic was a success; the early spring sun was warm enough for them to sit on a blanket. Lisa was banking on Gavin being pleased, now he had his promotion; she was delighted with his response.

‘That’s wonderful, let’s get married.’ Gavin had been reluctant to ask before; the thought of wedding fairs, months of planning and dressing up had appalled him. Now they had the ideal excuse for a small, quiet wedding very soon. ‘Let’s get married in the forest, a sort of hippy wedding.’

She laughed ‘Why not, but don’t tell anyone this evening, we’ll have to tell our parents first.’

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They enjoyed the evening and their shared secret; even looking benevolently on the boss’s ghastly children.

As they drove home, Gavin teased her. ‘You’ll get a crick in your neck, looking at the speedometer.’

‘We have to be careful in the dark; we might not see a pony till it’s too late. I wish you’d let me drive.’

‘I’ve only had a couple of pints, you should take it easy now you’re pregnant.’

‘We should have stuck to the A 35, it’s creepy out here.’

‘You’re safe with me; this is the real forest.’

‘Did you hear the news this morning? They’ve found that bloke’s car in the forest.’

‘What bloke?’

‘The one who went missing; I told the editor it wasn’t much of a story, now it seems it is. There was no sign of him.’

‘Maybe he wanted to run away.’

‘Perhaps, the car was hidden in the trees, off a remote track. That’s the creepy thing, it might not have been found for years; some botanist was looking for rare plants.’ Lisa looked at the speedometer; the speed had crept up. ‘Gavin, I thought you were going to be more responsible now you’re going to be…’

Her sentence remained unfinished as they felt a bump and Gavin slammed the brakes on.

‘We’ve hit a pony’ cried Lisa.

‘It’s probably a fallen tree trunk, stay in the car while I look.’

Lisa jumped out of the car and they stood either side of the body, a pair of glazed eyes stared up at them.

‘Oh it’s a doe, she’s pregnant. You’ve killed her Gavin.’

‘It was an accident; animals should be asleep at night, not darting out into the road.’

‘We’re not on the road.’

Gavin followed her gaze; if they hadn’t run into the deer they would have crashed into a large old oak tree.

He was puzzled. ‘I’m a careful driver, I had a clear, straight road in front of me, it was narrow, but I had plenty of room.’ He went to fetch the torch from the car, then took Lisa’s shaking hand and led her round to the boot. He shone the torch the way they had just come, a tarmac road. ‘I’m sorry about the deer Lisa, but she saved us; this must be a dead end road.’

‘Let’s go now,’ she shivered we don’t know the verderer’s number, we can ring the police when we get home. We’ll go back the way we came and try and find the A 35.’

‘Or we could just ring nobody’ said Gavin hopefully.

They both jumped at a clumping noise; a large branch had landed on the roof.

‘Another lucky escape; that could have fallen on us while we were driving, hope it hasn’t damaged the paintwork.’

As Gavin tried in vain to pull at the heavy limb, Lisa spoke shakily.

‘It’s not fallen, it’s still attached to the tree. We must be on a slope, the car’s rolled into the tree.’

Gavin shone his torch and saw the driver’s door was jammed against the trunk.

‘I’ll get in your door and climb over. I’m going to put it in reverse.’ As he tried to start the engine he felt a heavy thump on the bonnet. ‘Quick, get in so we’re ready to go, hopefully that branch will slide off the bonnet. Lisa, this is no time for tree hugging…’

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On Monday morning the editor had too much to put on his front page and Lisa wasn’t there to help. He had just spoken to her hysterical mother on the phone. Lisa was missing and her boyfriend had been found wandering in the New Forest by the search party looking for the missing man. Gavin had been in shock and incoherent, so the police arrested him. Everyone knew they had both been to the forest and everyone knew Gavin was the last person to see her.

 

‘The Old Forest’ is one of the stories in this collection – only $1.27 for 27 stories.

 

Star Sheep and Show Shires

The members of the New Forest Agricultural & Horticultural Association, formed nearly a hundred years ago, would be unlikely to recognise the New Forest Show of the twenty first century. The early shows cost two shillings and four pence to get in with competitions, one tent and livestock tethered up to a piece of rope between two oak trees.

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The modern show is on for three days and it would take three days to see all the events and exhibits; it can be quite exhausting being a visitor, let alone for the people working and taking part. On Tuesday, armed with our tickets from Stewarts Garden Centre giving us entry to their hospitality tent, we enjoyed free light refreshments all day, ample toilets with no queues and seats by one of the main rings; albeit looking into the blazing sun. As we sipped our first cup of tea riders were showing off their working hunters. The beautiful horses were examined for their looks then observed for their elegance and obedience as they trotted, cantered and galloped round the ring. The male judges wore bowler hats and for the lady judges a hat wider than their hips was the dress code, they all had very big hats!

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I wandered off at intervals to explore the show ground. Arts and crafts, holiday homes, furniture makers and funeral directors all had stands, alongside vintage farm machinery and ferret racing. In their quarters the ferrets had tiny hammocks to sleep in, more exclusive than the tent full of show rabbits.

I came across a dancing sheep display and learned a lot about sheep as well as having a good laugh; the finale was the shearing of a sheep, it’s not easy to be a stand up comedian and shear sheep at the same time.

Stewarts had a garden display, with beautiful wildflower beds; you could buy packets of seeds to make your own. There was a garden tent with exquisite flowers and a guess the weight of the cabbage. The Women’s Institute had a varied and delightful display to celebrate their centenary; the theme was a woman who has inspired you; each entry had to feature three different crafts, variety and imagination was in abundance.

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Back at the show ring the cows and sheep were having a winners’ parade, the highlight being a ram who managed to escape and run around making fools of the humans chasing him. Two beagle packs came on and children were invited into the ring to play with them, parents were reassured the beagles were longing to play with their darlings; we heard someone behind us laugh and comment … and rip them to pieces… but nothing untoward happened.

The highlights for me were the horses. The heavy horses’ musical ride is not seen anywhere else in the whole world, so we were told. Among the giants the Shires are my favourites with their feathered feet and elegant trot. But the best was yet to come, Atkinson Action Horses. If you watch any television dramas featuring horses, you will have seen some of their stars. We ladies love the scenes of our heroes galloping along cliff tops and across fields and these are real flesh and blood horses, not CGI; trained by experts, they enjoy working. The show display was action packed with gymnastics on Cossack saddles, bare back riding, jumping over fire and lying down and playing with their ‘best friends’. There was an hilarious commentary; riding and talking at the same time is very clever… and ladies, these chaps were fit, very fit. The girl riders were also amazingly agile, so I’m sure they had plenty of admirers.

http://actionhorses.co.uk/the-horses/

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Big and modern though it is, the show is still about animals, country life and competitions.

https://www.newforestshow.co.uk/

Jumping and Falling

Some of the first words I uttered were to ask for a horse. I never did get one, though horses have featured in my life. While other children were reading the Famous Five I was reading pony books, the three Pullein-Thompson sisters wrote about children from a completely different world who all had their own ponies. I knew all the parts of a horse; I could catch, bridle and saddle a lively horse – in my dreams. My favourite gifts were book vouchers with which I bought new volumes of Kit Hunter Show Jumper; my most precious volume was The Observers Book of Horses.  My parents knew nothing about horses though they did love watching show jumping on television. In the school playground and in the street we played horses, a skipping rope round the shoulders of whoever was being the horse, while the ‘rider’ galloped behind gripping the rope reins.

Real ponies came into my life in junior school years, my friend and I spent our pocket money on half an hour once a fortnight lessons at the local stables. Bored ponies carrying children were led in single file down old lanes and through new estates by teenage girls. Exploring on our bikes one day we discovered a cheaper ‘riding stables’, an old pig farm and teenage girls with horses.  Our mothers were naively unaware of the dangers of riding; we never possessed the proper cloths or riding hats, we went armed only with sugar cubes, most of which we ate ourselves.

One school morning at breakfast, when I was nearly eleven, my mother had a surprise announcement; considering that I was always sent to bed early and lay awake eavesdropping on parental voices from downstairs, it is amazing that I had no inkling my parents were planning on emigrating. When Mum asked me if I would like to go to Australia there could only be one response – ‘If I can have a horse.’

We stayed in the New Forest for our last English holiday; still blissfully unaware of my lack of riding skills, my parents found stables and arranged for me to have an hour’s ride. My eleven year old self was sent off with a young chap, a complete stranger, I clung on for dear life as my pony followed his. I was doing quite well till the end of the ride; my pony’s speed increased and he took a sharp turn down to a stream. I fell off but remounted, the horse repeated his manoeuvre twice; thee falls, hatless, but unharmed.

In Perth, Western Australia my best friend and I used to cycle off to Forestfield, where Perth International Airport now stands. We spent most of the ride urging the hired horses to do more than walk, only for them to gallop out of control when we turned back to the stables. On one memorable occasion we took my younger sister out with us as a birthday treat. She had never ridden a horse before and hers bolted; helpless we watched as she disappeared down a dusty track, fortunately the horse came to a wire fence and halted.

Then my friend and her sister acquired a horse. Their mother, with little equine knowledge,  went off to an auction, bought them a stumpy palomino called Sabrina and found a paddock to rent. But it wasn’t quite the stuff of pony books, one pony to share. We all soon realised that looking after Sabrina wasn’t as easy as in the books, we couldn’t even catch her in the paddock, let alone get her saddled up.

For teenage girls and women it is not just the horse they admire. When we watch historical dramas or Olympic Three Day Events , men in riding breeches astride large horses are bound to set hearts aflutter.

When we went to the New Forest Show recently I still got a thrill. Pony club children living my childhood dream and beautiful show jumpers pounding the turf.

In my new novella one side of the love triangle is a fine grey stallion hunter called The Major. Read his story in Ralph, one of two novellas in Someone Somewhere.