Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Exeter to HydePark, wheelchair enabled pony drawn vehicle. 1

Rebecca Cassidy's Horse People provide the perfect precedent for my pony drawn trip from Exeter to Hyde Park, London. Rebecca, an anthropologist, wanted to study the arcane beliefs, strange practices and interactions with the animal world, of remote tribes, but without the huge airfares and extended journeys by dugout canoe that are traditional in anthropological research. She realised that almost all lost tribes can be found today by following the trail of gap year students desperate for an even uniquer good deed for their CV and chose instead to do her research on the truly weird tribe who live in Newmarket and worship the Thoroughbred.

The discovery of a genetically different, but behaviourally almost identical, tribe, living is Lexington, Kentucky, equally devoted to the worship of the Thoroughbred, gives a fascinating international flavour, without requiring more exotic travel arrangements than Virgin's cheap seats.

My journey had all the right travel tale ingredients, the kindness and the cruelty, the horrors of Death Valley, (the A361 into Glastonbury) the stretches without food, the vicious attacks by remote tribes cut off from civilisation, (Maserati owners), the insect bites and the ludicrous rules still imposed by the petty local rulers (grazing regulations in Royal Parks) and finally the return to civilisation, which can come as no surprise, as those who die or end up prisoners of the strange rulers they upset, don't write books or blogs.

So, don't bother reading with bated breath to see if I made it. I did. And don't start looking for the chapters on planning. I wanted to drive the Bannedwaggon round Hyde Park. The reasons I wanted to drive the Bannedwaggon round Hyde Park, and a description of what the Bannedwaggon is are definitely part of this book, the planning involved llooking at maps to see the least hilly way to get to the flattish bit with London in it.

I knew the Kennet and Avon towpath ran to the Thames towpath and that it was no distance from Eton, on the Thames, to Slough and the Grand Union canal into Paddington, so it was just a matter of getting to the Kennet and Avon, except that I didn't really go that way, which is lucky, because I found out on the way back that the Grand Union canal towpath, built for horses, has been modified to be impassible to horses, ponies, double buggy pushchairs, wheelchairs etc with the laudable aim of stopping motorcycles upsetting golfers.

So planning, involved asking Adele Norman if we could spend the firsat night with her near Samford Peverel, finishing the vehicle on Sunday, photoshoot with Country Smallholder Monday, load vehicle Tuesday morning and set off.

The team was larger at the start. John Hammond, who was with us for the first day,is marginally nuts, seventy plus, an enthusiastic walker habitually buried under a huge rucksack full of the Lord knows what, and innocent in the weirdest way. He appears to have no concept of what might go wrong. And somehow, he survives, possibly because Fate hates to disillusion him, and show him just how nasty the world can be. The first day he photographed us with enthusiasm, and tried to make the traffic behave like civilised human beings, but this is something only the innocent would attempt.

His signals to oncoming traffic fascinated the drivers to such an extent that when they reached Obama, Tiki, Lee and I, they were still watching John's antics and completely ignored us, brushing past as if we didn't exist. John's innocence is laudable, but it makes teaching him about real life a challenge.

Obama still bites him with monotonous regularity, in the most predictable way, yet John appears unable to work out why. Obama isn't evil, but he doesn't work on the milk of human kindness, he doesn't work on goodness, he works on what suits him, or what amuses him. I can pretty much predict when he will find it funny, or necessary to clamp his teeth on me, as can Lee, and we can avoid it. John just seems endlessly surprised that something bad can happen.

I couldn't do the journey with John. I know the bad is going to happen, and I want to be between Obama and the bad things.

Lee is a different kettle of fish. Under thirty, an ex body builder, dreadlocks and peircings give an impression of hard man, and the overlay of fat means the muscles wouldn't get on bodybuilder magazines any more, but they are still there. He skipped school and was what the Daily Mail would probably call a feral child, though not I suspect, to his face. He has done most things, alcohol, drugs, crime, philosophy with the Open University, and although not innocent he is a gentleman.
I watched him with dogs, and then with Obama, and he is gentle. I know of no other qualification needed to be a good horse, or pony man, so agreed to take him along for the trip to London.

Sitting as you do, on a traveller's site, barbecuing broad beans on a converted potato bagging hopper, and discussing life, liberty etc, I mentioned my intention to drive a wheelchair enabled pony drawn vehicle to London, and Lee asked to come along. The fact that this guy was clearly a fruitcake didn't worry me. No rational person would even think of coming along for the ride, and Lee wanted to learn about going horsedrawn.

Coincidentally, EMW the rescue organisation who had given me Obama to work with were pressuring me to take on a mule. I don't like mules, but I had a soft spot for Enrique having met him the year before at Nick Sander's yard in Brecon at his brilliant Whole Horse Weekend, a magic opportunity for alternative horsemen to meet up and bitch frantically about each other.

Enrique wasn't easy, and trying to get Enrique to accept people without kicking, biting or running for cover, and to accept traffic ditto, wasn't going to be easy in the narrow time frame we had. Lee had a fortnights holiday starting in early August and Sam, his girlfriend had a few things for him to do in the time scale as well. This of course meant I couldn't really risk any detailed planning as it would become depressingly clear that we weren't going to make it to London in the alloted time if we actually knew the distances involved.

To see some of my marginally more organised rants, try these links. If all else fails, try hitting them with whips. It works with horses, doesn't it?

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