Monday, December 16, 2013

Boats, Dogs and Horses

Family life when I was growing up always seemed to revolve around either boats or horses, and, thinking about it, dogs also. Living on  farm as we did meant we had plenty of room to keep horses. I seem to remember the arrival of the first pony, called Meg. My brother Robert was, and still is, horse-mad. My younger brothers Sandy and Andrew were involved to some extent, but not to the same level as Robert. Gymkhanas were (and possibly still are) held in and around the county of Bedfordshire and into the neighbouring counties.
I wasn't overly keen myself, as I was never liked all the associated activities which went with horse-ownership, such as mucking out, tack-cleaning and so on. I was put off by horses when I was bitten by one. I was sitting on  fence near the stables at the rear of Malting Farm. There was a field of cattle to one side and horses in an adjacent meadow and between was a drinking trough used by both horses and cattle. A cow mooed and one of the horses decided to nip me on the fleshy part of my upper arm. And before you ask, yes, i really hurt. On another occasion one of the ponies I occasionally rode bolted with me on it and I  nearly landed up going through a five-bar gate at the end of the field. Not really something which was ever likely increase my love of equestrianism as you might well imagine! I did occasionally venture out on horsey rides around Cardington, but nothing very adventurous. I would put the horse I was riding into occasional 'top gear' as you might say and go for invigorating gallops across fields of stubble during the harvest period, but that was about all. During that time of the year you could go for miles across country when the corn was newly cut. Robert was the one of my brothers who did show jumping but I can honestly say that I was never brave enough.

My parents got into horse breeding and used to show mares and foals at agricultural shows such as the  Bedfordshire Agricultural Show and later the East of England Show which was the merging of several county shows which included Bedfordshire and held near Peterborough. The Bedfordshire show was on fields where now Tesco and the beach pool (The Oasis) were built in the 1990's.

We had a sort of riverside 'hide-away' near the River Ouse near Cardington Mill, a sort of beach hut where my parents sailed a boat. Infact they had several boats, one being a motor boat. Summer weekends were spent at this hut and the usual gang of friends and relatives with descend, expecting to be both entertained and fed. My mother provided her usual fantastic teas. The hut contained all that one would hope to have for picnics, including deck chairs and tables as well as having a Calor gas ring for boiling the kettle. Several years ago  I walked along the opposite bank where this hut used to stand, round about where the canoe slalom is today, there seemed to be absolutely no sign of either the hut of the actual site of where it stood. I think there's a sort of sluce there which is in case the river floods, which it has done in recent years. We used to get in through a gate in Cardington Road, which is the road into the centre of Bedford and near where The Barns Hotel is today, (about two miles from Tesco's) and drive across a grass meadow to get to the hut and there was a somewhat precarious wooden bridge across a stream in order to reach the riverside site.

My great aunt Liz used to visit us at weekends.  A maiden aunt, I might mention, who had a certain sort of aura about her. She always seemed to get her own way. Much in the mold of the character Lady Bracknall in the play "The Importance of Being Ernest." She possessed the larges nose of anyone I can think of, and I'm only too relieved to think that I did not inherit this nose . It was very large. My father used to go and pick her up from her home in Philpots Avenue in Bedford and she would come for tea and then be taken home in the evening. In the summer she would come to the riverside hut and join in with tea, but she was as deaf as a post and probably as blind as a bat, so I don't think she could possibly have joined in with much of the conversations. I remember she wore a hearing aid, not one of the modern sort that you get today, which, when worn, are barely detectable,  but one which was extremely visable with a seperate microphone arrangement which was connected to the ear-piece with a piece of wire. I recall having to shout quite loud to get her to hear, even with this hearing-aid, which seemed to make the awful howling sound which seem to go with all hearing aids.
My brother James had a black Labrador dog called Flon. He used her for retrieving when he went shooting. I'm not sure how reliable she was as regarding retrieving. Anyway, this dog used to go with us to the river, and was very water-orientated, as are most retrievers, Labrador or otherwise. She would head straight for the water whenever we got to the hut. Keeping her out of the river was something of a problem. One afternoon, when Aunt Liz was in attendance, I think she probably spent most of the time asleep in a deckchair (well, she would have been in her late 80's  at the time so she was pretty ancient. I think she was 95 or thereabouts when she died in 1965.) Anyway, the dog, Flon, had been for a swim and came out onto the bank, and did what all dogs do  when they've been in water, she shook herself vigorously and unfortunately near the sleeping Great Aunt Liz. She became quite annoyed, as you can imagine and so it was decided from then on to keep the dog away from her. On another occasion the dog went for a ride in the motor boat along the river with my father in command and the dog sitting in the seat next to him. It was a bright and sunny day and the fish were leaping and things were drowsy. My mother was about to pour the tea. The sandwiches were made. The Victoria sponge taking pride of place in the centre of the table and no doubt another load of friends or relatives were about to arrive or perhaps they had just arrived. My mother waited for my father to return in the boat and looked along the river and into the sun, so couldn't see clearly. She said that Aunt Liz was in the boat which she could just see coming round a bend in the river. But she wasn't IN the boat at the time. She thought the DOG was my great aunt, who certainly sat in a somewhat imperious fashion when in the boat and thinking about it now, the dog did look rather like her,  although from a distance, I must stress!
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