For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a thing about horses. A fascination, you might say.
I don’t have a clue where it came from because we were just about the furthest thing you can imagine from a horsey family and, coming from a council house estate, the pungent aroma of horse dung was as rare as, well, the imaginary stuff that emanates from rocking horses.
The coal man drove a lorry. As did the rag man. And all the other merchants used vans of some description, with the exception of Coo McKay the Butchers Boy, who rode a bike with sit-up-and-beg handlebars and a big basket at the front full of stuff you (thankfully) don’t seem to be able to get any more like potted heid, lambs brains and ham shanks.
In fact, the only place you were likely to spot a horse around our way was in the window of the local bookies, where there were always pictures of famous champions such as Arkle, Mill Reef and Red Rum.
See me? See horses? Loved them.
Which is kind of funny really, because last week, a horse very nearly killed me.
Like most smart-alec atheists, I’ve always claimed to not be afraid of dying. Hey, once you get a birth certificate, then eventually you have to get a death certificate, I always used to breezily announce. Don’t worry about it.
As of last week, I’ve changed my tune. I’m still not scared of dying. It’s just that I don’t want it to happen quite yet.
The day – as is right and proper for the one that could’ve been my last - really couldn’t have been much better.
A picture perfect early spring afternoon in the bucolic hamlet of Swifts Creek. A ride up and over gentle rolling hills to a spot where a panoramic view awaited, a comfortable horse under me, the sun on my shoulders, does it get any better than this?
Apparently it doesn’t – or at least not according to our old pal the fickle finger of fate, who managed to contrive what we in the horse business like to call a ‘situation’.
For no discernible reason, my horse suddenly jinked sideways, causing me to lose my stirrups and be pitched forward onto his neck. As I did so, he set off downhill, in a sort of half-trot half canter with me hanging on, not in control of said situation in any way, shape or form.
Even then, I might have been all right had it not been for a bit of what now sounds like slapstick comedy but, at the time, wasn’t quite as rib tickling, or at least not in the normally accepted understanding of the phrase.
My riding helmet – yes I was wearing one – slipped in front of my eyes, rendering me effectively blind, plunging down a hill on a horse I was precariously clinging to, at a speed that was – or at any rate seemed to be – increasing by the second.
Now this is where it all gets a bit hazy. I remember thinking that I should make an emergency exit but before I could, the horse effected a quick right hand turn, pitching me into the air and landing on my head; a spectacular sight no doubt though one which I have absolutely no memory of.
The next part I can only recount via my riding companion who, fearing the worst, managed to get me to our local Bush Nurse Centre from when I was transported, unconscious, by helicopter no less to the nearest Hospital, which happens to be the small matter of several hundred miles away.
Copious tests, x-rays, scans and the like eventually revealed no worse than cracked ribs and severe concussion, a verdict which, I was informed, would have been far worse had I not been wearing a safety helmet. Yes, that’s right, the same piece of equipment that slipped over my eyes rendering me unsighted and highly vulnerable in the first place, actually stepped up to the plate and, according to the doctors, unquestionably saved my life.
So, there we are. I’m still here. But it was a close run thing. Having cracked ribs is no fun and neither are the awful persistent headaches that accompany concussion but, on balance, it’s a whole lot better than the alternative.
What’s more, being reminded on your mortality also has another benefit, reminding you how precious life is, how quickly it can be taken away and how important it is to make the most of it whilst you can.
In fact, if I was feeling like being a bit of a pretentious twit about it, I might say that I feel a little like the condemned Cavaradossi in the opera Tosca as he considers how much he loves life the night before his execution by singing the achingly beautiful ‘E Lucevan le Stelle’.
‘I have never loved life so much – loved life so much!’
But, not of course being a pretentious twit, I wouldn’t do that.
I came from a family of dyed-in-the-wool working class bluenoses. My dad and most of the males in my family were not only Gers supporters but also members of the United Grand Lodge of Scotland known informally as, of course, ‘The Masons.
One time, rummaging around at home, I found a masonic handbook which contained secret details about the famous Masonic handshake and various signs and coded phrases brother Masons use to covertly communicate their affiliation.
Naturally I then took great delight in extracting the you-know-what out of the stuff contained in the book, along with my pals and assorted other sceptical non-adherents.
I was told the penalty for revealing Masonic secrets was death most horrible and painful but what did I care about that – it was a laugh wasn’t it? – and let’s face it, nothing is better than a good belly laugh at the expense of the Pudding Basins.
The name of the horse that nearly killed me?