Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Colts, coats and cats

"Colts" and "Coats" - two words which, when heard on the phone, can cause a certain amount of unrequired confusion. Well, they do for me - I'm a pensioner you know!

I'd better explain that statement, I suppose - but first, a story that the mention of coats has brought to mind.

Many years ago, during the days when the Irish were resident in  the prisons, before the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, I was in Frankland prison with several of those I.R.A. men, men I had already known for several years in various places of containment. One of those fellows was Pat Hayes, a decent enough fellow who, since his release, has become a teacher of IT in Dublin. Pat bombed Harrods. In fact, he once said to me that, if he had known what a decent fellow Al Fayed was, then he (Pat) would never have bombed Harrods, he'd have bombed somewhere else.

Anyway, I digress - a common fault of mine. I had a map of Ireland sent in at one point and it was a chart of all of the clans and families in Ireland and their Coats of Arms. I found Wilkinson up there in Sligo but couldn't find Hayes. So, I went to Pat and said, "Hoy! Ye bollix! I've found Wilkinson, there's no Hayes!" He replied, "Well, there's a reason for that. We had no coats but we had plenty of arms."

Yesterday, I was collected at the gate by Pat and her daughter Sara for a day out at Pat's place. There was me, dressed up like a Pox Doctor's clerk and, when we got going, I suggested that we stop at Tesco's so that I could get myself a couple of shirts and a few pairs of socks. Sara said that she liked my pink tie so I told her that I was in touch with my feminine side - and she must be given credit for only sniggering a little bit.

I got my clothing and off we went to Pat's place where, clearly, it intended to rain at regular intervals so I got changed into my normal attire, which makes me look to be one step up from a gentleman of the road - a denizen of the long acre.

Sitting in the kitchen later with Pat, Sara and Jade, Sara told me (or was it Pat? One of them told me...) that there had been a phone call during the previous week about coats! She'd phoned back and got nowhere apparently, so we phoned a friend of mine in Melton Mowbray - because it was HE who had been wittering about coats. He hadn't mentioned coats - he was talking about two COLTS that he had for me. So, we chatted back and forth, with me totally unable to understand much of what was being said because, to be quite frank about it, I'm a nitwit when it comes to telephones of any sort - I don't like them and never use them unless I've got no option. I had no option.

Bob has two colts, last year's horses, and I wanted to give them to Sara because Jade is too big for her current pony and the colts are Welsh cobs and will grow to anything between 14 and 15 hands. One is black and the other black and white and they are off to collect them within the next few days.

"Coats" and "Colts".

I asked Jade what her favourite colour was for a horse and she said, "Black!" So that's her choice made then. Young Harvey isn't so keen on horses because he got on one last year and the horse simply took off with him - last seen heading up the M1 with a posse chasing them.

Where was I? Oh yes. In the afternoon I went out on the marsh with Dennis to look at the old hulks that the R.A.F. use for target practice, and managed to fall over in the mud but saved myself from getting too dirty by getting my hands up first. All I left were imprints of my fingers, like those of a demented piano-player in the mud.

Back at the ranch, and before we settled down to an excellent meal of home-made rabbit pie (delicious), there was a pantomime. Apparently there is some rail company with a name to do with red spots and handkerchiefs - "Red spotted hankies"? (What do I know?)  The thing is, they have a competition on line. Not on the rail line -  there'd be more than red bleedin' spots in that case - no, on t'internet. Pat had registered and they had sent her a red hankie with spots on it. The plan (apparently) is for people, folk, to send in an original and interesting picture which must include the red handkie. There is a prize - free travel or naked pictures of Simon Cowell or all the stale buns you can eat or something.

Pat didn't want to just tie the hankie around one of the animals' necks - because everybody on-line would be doing that - no, she wanted something more interesting.  Dennis suggested shoving a cat into a wellie and putting the hankie on a stick like a tramp's bundle and calling it "Puss in Boots" - quite clever I thought.

So Pat dragged me and Tracy into it somehow. Have you ever tried to stuff a cat in a wellie arse-first? Cats are notoriously uncooperative, let me tell you. So there we are, two of us trying to stuff cats in wellies and Tracy trying to get pictures which don't look like evidence in a case brought by the RSPCA.

We finally gave up on the cats. "Let's try a rabbit!" some nitwit suggested - it may have been me. Did you know that even placid and friendly rabbits can cut up a bit rough when you try to stuff them in a wellie? It's true - take my word for it. How we didn't end up in the nearest A&E department is a mystery that can only be put down to luck.

"Now what?" said someone after the rabbit had been returned to its hutch with a definite sneer on its face. "Duck," said I. So we went to look at the ducks, but one look told us that those ducks were too fat to go anywhere near a wellie. "Chicken!" I suggested but just got pitying looks from the rest. I gave up round about then, but Pat and Tracy got one of the dogs, a very active and possibly insane terrier, to jump up and down at the red, spotted bundle on the end of a stick while they tried to get a useable picture out of the mayhem.

Good luck with that then.

I went to give Buddy a carrot - remember Buddy? I had to turn the electric fence off and climbed in clad in the righteous armour of Tesco's finest carrots - three of them. Buddy saw me and sort of casually ambled over, but you could see it on his face - "Here comes the nitwit who lets me do as I please - and he's got carrots! Excellent!"

I gave him one, but I don't think it touched the sides, so I gave him a second and turned to give the third to a pony standing politely waiting. Buddy stood on my foot so I had to give him the third too. That horse needs counselling in my opinion.

Did I mention that it rained a bit? And, at one point there was even a quick spurt of hailstones - I could have done with one of the coats mentioned earlier.

The Voice In The Wilderness

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

When the music used to make me smile

A long, long time ago, I can still remember when the music used to make me smile...

So goes the start of a Don McLean song from the 1970s - "American Pie", in fact. However, that's got nothing to do with it. What I was really saying was that things which we were interested in back in those halcycon days - our salad days in fact - have sort of slowly sunk into semi-oblivion and only come back to mind on rare occasions, such as when we actually hear a song or smell a smell or something like that.

I heard the Don McLean song this morning. It reminded me of a few things. Come to think on it, there was a lot of music in the 1970's which bring back memories to a lot of folk. I bet there's not much music these days which will bring back memories in forty years' time. In fact there is no music around today that will even be remembered at all next year, never mind in forty years' time.

I liked the 1970's so much that some people accuse me of still living in those days, grey hair and all. Well, if I do, who can blame me? And if my suits are a bit out of style, they will come back in sooner or later. Flares and flowered shirts - I must have been a sight for sore eyes, but I wasn't on my own. See! Even remembering those days can bring a smile. These days, well, there are other things attracting our attention, things like ensuring we get our five a day, turning off the lights and heating so that we can go blind in the dark and freeze to bleedin' death because we can't afford to stay warm - etcetera.

I went horse-riding again last weekend, and I'm going again next. The week after that I am going for my first overnighter, my first nights spent out of prison in over a quarter of a century. Hell's bells! It sounds a long time when put like that. I shall be getting on a train for the first time in a long time too. I suppose I should be looking forward to it, but I can't say that I am. What's the point? Apart from getting a tick in a box for the purposes of meeting the criteria set by the Parole Board.

I shall arrive at the hostel and be introduced to strange people who will tell me the rules and regulations of the place and be shown to yet another cell for me to live in, albeit for just a few nights - two in fact. So, what will I do for the weekend?  Not a lot - wander about like a lost lamb, I expect.

It would make more sense to let me go and stay at Buddy's stable for the weekend - we could get to know each other better and I would be able to do a bit more work on the saddle. Perhaps I can persuade The Wallace to let me go there the next time I get an overnighter.

So, a weekend away is on the cards and that means that I will end up wandering around a second-hand bookstore or some such emporium dealing only in ancient merchandise - much like myself really. Let's face it, me being scum and only one step up from a tramp anyway, second-hand books is all I can afford. Besides, like the music I listen to, they are probably better than what passes for literature in our modern times.

Oh yes, I can certainly remember when the music used to make me smile. I was younger then.

The Voice In The Wilderness

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A walk with Buddy

Over the years, it has been my good fortune to meet some of the most desirable creatures that this planet has to offer - and there have even been a couple of people included in that list. However, in recent times I have been introduced to the laziest horse in the world. His only hobby seems to be to eat, preferably grass that he finds by the wayside. This horse could put a fully-grown goat to shame. He doesn't eat until he is full - he eats until he is tired.

This animal is, of course, Buddy - I've mentioned him previously. Yesterday I was collected by Pat and Dennis in  the car and young Jade was with them - the world's most entertaining chatterbox but a very quick-minded girl of thirteen. Off we jolly-well went, stopping to let me pick up a couple of things from one of the few shops that are open on Easter Sunday. Did that and then went to feed the ducks. (If anyone sniggers at this point I will be forced against my will to send large fellows to teach a few people manners.) Normally, me having a reputation to consider, I would deny all involvement with duck-feeding, but Jade took a photograph with a caption underneath stating, "Frank feeding the ducks" - a very difficult thing to deny under the circumstances. I tried bribery and blackmail, but to no effect - the picture stayed on her phone and will probably end up on You Tube or somewhere.

From duck-feeding we went off to the home of Buddy the Idle. I had to clean and oil a saddle, but that was pleasant enough, and Jade even joined in by cleaning her own, an apparently unheard-of activity. Maybe I'm a good influence.

Once the saddle had been cleaned and oiled and tucked away where chickens wouldn't sit on it, requiring a further clean, Sarah put a saddle on Buddy and I got aboard (pictures available - send bank notes in plain brown envelopes please).

"Do you want to just ride around the paddock?" asked Pat.

"No," said I. "I'll ride around the track and come back that way" - or words to that effect. This is AFTER I had bribed Buddy with apples and come to an agreement with him that he would do as he was told and I wouldn't tell him to do anything. So, I shook the reins, gave him a nudge and said, "Please."

Off we went, with an audience - and I'm certain someone sniggered. When I say "Off we went", what I mean is that Buddy kind of took his time putting one enormous hoof in front of the other. As soon as we were out of earshot I began to talk to the horse, telling him jokes, and we got along famously. Halfway to our destination Sarah arrived to see if we were okay, because we weren't exactly breaking any speed records, but I assured her that we were fine, so we went our way and Sarah watched us go.

Finally, man and horse arrived at a sort of natural turning point where several fields meet, so I pulled him up and sat on the saddle while I had a fag and Buddy put his head down to graze. That was where I made my mistake - letting him eat. Once he gets the taste of that good Lincolnshire grass, sweet after the rain, he's not stopping until he's full (or tired, as mentioned earlier).

I finished my fag and put it out carefully - crops take a long time to grow, as we all know. Then I took up the reins again and said to the munching equine fellow, "Let's go, Buddy," gave him a little kick and shook the reins. I swear that he sniggered. Did he move? Did he hell. All he did was rip out another clump of grass and masticate like an overworked cement mixer.

Ten minutes later, after countless swearwords and several boots into his ribs, the only progress we had made was about fifteen feet in reverse. He was pointing in the right direction, just going backwards - to where the grass was thicker.

Now, I can be called a lot of things, but I'm not a slow learner and by that time I had reached the conclusion that Buddy was going nowhere until he'd had his fill of England's green and pleasant land. He even tried to kneel down a couple or three times to remove the irritation on his back. Well, he tried that one last week so I was ready for him. However, I was slowly coming to the way of thinking which included me walking and just dragging him along behind me. Could have been worse - he could have wanted me to carry him for a change.

Half way back to our destination, yanking him away from the grass every couple of paces, we were met by Pat, who apparently has a bit of control over him (pause for laughter) - and he promptly took no notice of her either.

Still, we got back in the end and handed him over to Sarah to be unsaddled, and then I had a bit of a sit-down to recuperate. Dinner was good - a full roast din-dins - excellent with the chat afterwards and, of course, someone taking pictures.

Oh well, everything taken into consideration, it was a very successful sort of day, most enjoyable - and I even suppose my riding efforts were a success too. I enjoyed it. I can't speak for Buddy, and he can't speak for himself - his mouth is full.

The Voice In The Wilderness

A day out

At least (and at last) I've got something to write about for a change. It all started the other week when we had that couple or three days of summer weather in March - the sort of days that we are generally lucky to get in August. Normally in March (and even April) we can expect a bit of filthy weather, as often as not including a couple of inches of snow. Come to think of it, there is still time.

So, to get back to the facts of the matter according to the world of Frank... It all started at the end of March when I had to go to the local hospital to see the Surgical Department about my umbilical hernia - nice, just what we needed to know. I'm having an operation on it next month and I've got to be there at 7.30 in the morning - "Please bring a three-quarter length dressing gown and slippers". I can't see that going down very well with the prison authority here - this place doesn't begin to function until about eight o'clock! They will probably have to lay on a special taxi or something.

Anyhoo, I came back just in time for a drop of soup for my lunch and then got changed into my normal rags and booked out again to go for a wander along the dyke that protects all of us incarceratees from the ravages of The Wash. As a matter of fact, a few of them around here could do with a wash. Off I set like a marching marionette along the dyke, arms swinging and singing at the top of my voice... "We're all going on a summer holiday" and being frowned at by sheep who clearly thought that I should be arrested for disturbing the peace.

It's a long walk along that dyke - you stand on me, Kiddo. I walked a mile or so in the blazing sun until I reached a sort of little hide where twitchers can lurk and peep on the poor birdlife. Then I turned and walked the other way having decided to go as far as Freiston. That was a mistake, it really was. By the time I got there I had emptied my water bottle and was utterly cream-crackered. That sun sapped me dry, not to mention the burning of the skin and head. I looked like a parboiled chicken with a bad case of nappy rash of the head.

By the time I got back to the jail I must have walked well over five miles and no self-respecting sanatorium would have taken me.

Was that the end of it? Not at all.

The next morning I was up at the crack of dawn and at nine was collected at the gate by Pat and her daughter, who answers to the name of Sarah.

I sat in the rear of the car and it was ever so pleasant to listen to two women have a conversation. Well, I'm sick of the sight and sound of men to be honest.

There followed a journey which seemed to consist of long winding roads that apparently went nowhere much, and Sarah didn't seem to be at all sure which side of the road to drive on.

I mentioned it!

She said, "The road is there, it seems a shame not to use it" - or words to that effect. Then she almost squished a kestrel that was leisurely dining on a bit of road-kill.

We finally reached Pat's home - an isolated sort of place, crawling with various animals like horses, dogs, cats, rabbits, ducks, chickens and even a cockatiel. I loved it. Sarah lives next door with her own menagerie of horses, cats and dogs. I met Pat's other daughter, who is called Tracey, and, of course, Buddy! Buddy is big, hairy and idle with a mind of his own but gentle and quite placid as far as currying and being saddled is concerned. Did I mention that Buddy is a 16.2 hand cross between a shire (probably) and a food disposal unit?

Well, it didn't take long before he had been brushed down, fitted with an English gents riding saddle and I was using a crate to climb up into the saddle with my sunburn (photos included).

In the afternoon we changed saddles for a western saddle - much more comfortable for me because I have used them before, far more than any other. I'd expected sore back, sore knees, sore thighs and a sore bum - but not a bit. Everything went well - not an ache in sight afterwards. Mind, Buddy tried to have me off a couple of times, once actually kneeling down to get at the grass! However, I soon showed him who the boss was - I let him do as he pleased. Well, let's face it, he's bigger than me.

I could say a great deal about my day horseriding, but I won't - this spot isn't long enough. Howsomever, I WILL say a couple of things about the best day I've had in twenty-six years. It was magic to walk into a proper house again. It was magic to speak to and hear female voices in their habitat (in charge) and to play with dogs, cats and horses. A lovely family - what else can I say?

I'm going again next week but this time I will put decent clothing on and change into my riding rags when I get there. I'm going to take a couple of quid too because we are going for a meal, and maybe an ice cream or two. (I'll never get Buddy into the car - I may have to ride him behind.) I shall wear a suit so as not to disgrace the day - I'll do the disgracing after I get there and get dressed as Clint Eastwood in one of his spaghetti westerns. I've got the hat and saddle for it - and there is no need for the cracks about the good, the bad and the ugly. Heard them all before.

The Voice In The Wilderness