Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ga ga

So the telephone-head is coming to Carlisle. And Foo Fighters too. The BBC's Big Weekend has booked them for a musical thrash in May.

Big deal. Neither of them appear to know where Carlisle is. No surprises there though: a session musician once told me that the rock'n'roll life is not really a passport to world travel but to endless airport lounges. As the BBC have actually hired Carlisle airfield to accommodate the 5000 cars that are expected, the GG and the FF will probably leave none the wiser.

I gained this insight into the world of pop while doing some work for a client on site, in a warehouse with radio background. They've run through Radio 2 and Radio Cumbria and this week it was Radio 1. A curious choice really as there didn't appear to be any appreciation of the output. There was no singing along or shouting abuse at phone ins as there was with Radio 2 or Cumbria. I suspect they were just accepting the background noise of whatever somebody else tuned in the time before.

I hadn't heard Fearne Cotton at work before. The skill of gently drawing out guests, a la Parkinson, seems to elude her. Her "interview" with the Foo Fighters this morning consisted mainly of her talking over, down or through them with closed questions that only elicited Yes or No answers, and bragging that she had been the very first DJ to play their new single. For God's sake woman, shut up already!

Oh well, next week I shall only have to deliver a few copies of a web-based CD catalogue to the warehouse, so I won't have to spend any time with the radio. And with luck, when the Big Weekend occurs, I shall be washing my hair and quite unable to attend.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pony Books rule!

I was looking for something else (as I usually am) when I ran across Jane Badger's book web site here: It's full of reviews of all the books you read as a kid and you wish your mother hadn't thrown away. I am delighted to find that one of mine features there - Against the Odds - with a well-written review. It even provides a glossary of all the Welsh phrases I sweated over with my Teach Yourself book.

Jane Badger's page observes: "The book itself is an excellent read: Sue Millard has alas written no more pony books ... She writes a very good blog."

My thanks for the blogging praise. My problem, reflected by the phrase "no more pony books," is that although I have in fact got 3 horsey fictions tucked away waiting for homes (agents? publishers?), I can't find anyone with the balls that J A Allen had, when they tried to revive the genre in the 1990s. When they were taken over, the junior "pony book" fiction was one of the first bits of their stable to be discarded.

Is there a prejudice against horsey backgrounds? There are times when I wonder how many gritty, single-parent inner-city stories our kids can actually take. Or swoony pre-chick lit, or kid-wizard-saves-the-world epics. "Pony books" are not necessarily about posh kids, however privileged the backgrounds of some of the mid-20th C novels may have been. It isn't even about haves vs. have-nots, or rural vs. urban. It's about valuing and caring for other living beings, even if they don't happen to be human.

Anything to do with horses and ponies demands a down to earth attitude to shovelling shit, a robust sense of humour and an awareness of the need to make choices. Do I buy a new electronic device, or a load of hay? Do I go to that party, or sit up with the foaling mare? Even, do I sell the pony because I can't afford to keep her properly? Responsibility, hard work, dedication, thinking about another living being rather than about oneself ...

Perhaps we could achieve a little more light and shade in junior fiction by reviving the "pony book" genre.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Horse Sense

I am getting bored with Natural Horsemanship, Thinking Riding, Horse Whispering and all the other commercial titles that are being sold to us to manage horses in the 21st century.

Look at it this way.

Horses are large, herbivorous quadrupeds who like to live in herds, and are domesticated by man.
Cows are also large, herbiviorous quadrupeds, ditto ditto.

Do we see gurus setting up seven-step programmes selling tips for Cow Whispering? Hm? Why not? The difference, as I see it, lies in the human perception of the two species. In the English-speaking world, we do not eat horse meat. We ennoble the horse. We publish anthropomorphic stories – books, films, cartoons – in which horses can not only talk, but detail their biographies and contribute to human business. Nobody makes films titled Black Mooey; National Big-Ears; Cowbiscuit, or My Mate Muckytail; or advertises tuition in Natural Cowmanship or Thinking Milking … We ignore the fact that horses, like cows, don’t work the way humans do.

The difficulty for horses is that the “me-and-my-horse” approach draws people into the equine relationship who may not have had any experience of handling large, herbivorous animals. We keep them and handle them to a very large extent as pets, rather than as working animals. We also try to do things with horses which will reflect upon ourselves and our abilities. Horses are thus an extension of the human personality, a delusion which I doubt they share.

When horses don’t respond to human behaviour in the way we, their owners, expect, we seek ways to solve the “problem” by changing the bitting, saddlery, shoeing, or feeding, by sending the horse to a trainer, or by adopting a fashionable training technique. Only very occasionally do we think of changing our own attitude! A well known bitmaker once said something like, “Of twenty bits I make, nineteen are for men’s heads and one for the horse’s.” I think this could well be said of all the alternatives to traditional horse management that are being sold to the horse-owning public.

Now before you rush to your keyboard and cry, “But you can’t want me to treat my horse the way they treat cows! Darling Dobbin is too precious to be killed and eaten!” let’s not be extreme. Just because I am cynical about New Horsemanship doesn't mean I am in favour of sending ANY animal thousands of miles, alive, in a crowded wagon without water, feed or rest. I’m all for improving the lot of the third-world horse. I’m not advocating or condoning cruelty, or decrying kindness. I do, however, think that for many “pet” horses the application of a little experience, common sense and observation would often be kinder and cheaper than So-and-So’s latest salesmanship.

Even the best new methods will not turn a horse into a dog or a cat or a substitute human.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The moving letterbox

I finally gave in to medical reminders and went for a smear test today. By my calculations, I shall only have to put up with one more before I get to the upper age limit, so that's a blessing. Another is the fact that no-one in my family (blood relatives, rather than by marriage) has ever had a cancer-related illness. I reckon as I haven't had, let alone enjoyed, a wildly promiscuous lifestyle, I am very unlikely to conk out from cervical cancer.

It is a little worrying that the nurse with the speculum seemed to have a good deal of difficulty in finding the letterbox to put it in. It took several painfully unsuccessful attempts before she adapted her approach. It seemed that the door had dropped on its hinges.

Luckily, my husband doesn't have any trouble, and he's the important one. I knew there was a reason why his legs were getting shorter.