Notebook

Colin Brazier: Sentimentalists shouldn’t ride horses

Why did Colin's normally calm cob throw him off? (Getty)

In a world where all trouble must have a demonstrable cause, horses pose a problem. There may have been a reason why my ordinarily millpond-calm cob threw me off the other day, but who can tell? A burr under the saddle, a wasp in the tail, a bellyful of fresh grass, a stiffening wind, Aries rising Mars in Sagittarius?

Either way, George provided a kinetic illustration of a theory I had been expounding only days before we parted company in the woods. Regretfully, the irony cannot be felt over the pain in my bruised foot. My unoriginal point had been that, as society’s exposure to animals declines, so does our understanding of the eternal verities they exemplify. For even domesticated animals are wilful. That includes species that are making the best fist of this atomised 21st century of ours. The tabby cat still reminds his live-alone owner that nature is red in tooth and claw every time an eviscerated mouse turns up on the doorstep.

But the facts of life only really come from an animal that can kill you. It was futile to call out sweetly to George as he fizzed – riderless – towards an A road throbbing with traffic. The sound of a tub of pony nuts being shaken was the only realistic chance of a recall. As truly horsey-types will tell you, don’t try and treat half a ton of horse like your BFF.

We may be increasingly sentimental and soft-headed in our human interactions, but animals still ply a rough trade in survival. Which might be why people who work with them often seem so engagingly out of step with modern mores.

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I don’t know whether policemen are really looking any younger, but I think they may be better groomed (in the metrosexual, not the equestrian sense). The three officers who turned out to reports of a loose horse all looked fresh from a photoshoot at Men’s Health. Two had hipster beards, the other a sleeve tattoo.

None of this detracted from their efficiency as officers of the law. I was particularly grateful that they had not asked for the force helicopter to join the search, which would have turned a simply embarrassing fall into something much more expensive.

Coincidentally, George, none the worse, was found by a member of the public, handed on to a passing horse lorry and thence to a local stable yard, whose owner is a friend. All in all a powerful corrective to the fashionable view locally that creeping surburbanisation is out of step with the interests of our four-legged friends.

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The changing face of our emergency services extends up the ranks. I interviewed a senior fire officer in the wake of the horrific Grenfell Tower fire whose accent I struggled to place. Only halfway through our talk did I realise it was because her tongue was pierced with a golden stud.

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The deference shown to our fire crews at Grenfell did not extend to politicians. I spent seven hours broadcasting from close to the tower block the day after the fire. Even in that time it was possible to detect a deterioration in the public mood.

It seemed to begin when the Mayor of London arrived. He was meeting volunteers in the Methodist hall when a crowd formed outside. Tempers were raised. One man was arrested. At the line of cameras where Sadiq Khan was to give a press conference journalists looked at their watches. Would he run the gauntlet to address the cameras?

An hour later than scheduled and shielded by a phalanx of police officers, the mayor came towards our broadcasting position. My interview with him was chaotic, punctuated by shoves and shouts that drew repeated apologies for bad language from me.

One boy, hoisted on to another’s shoulders, constantly tried to interrupt by asking “Why did you let children die?” I honestly doubt whether this young lad – I would say no older than eight – had come up with the question. Nonetheless, it was a horrible moment for a politician.

Mayor Khan’s reaction, whether the product of media drilling or instinct, was precisely right. He finished my interview, turned to the boy and asked him what he wanted him to do. The youngster was flummoxed.

Everybody who watched the exchange will have been reminded that our elected officials face interactions – often on camera – which are not always what they seem. I suspect that the boy was the face of a put-up job designed to ambush the mayor.

We expect our politicians to share the public’s pain, even though it leaves them open to acts of political opportunism. We want them to be lightning rods for public anger, even if that indignation is occasionally confected. Mayor Khan’s performance was particularly impressive given that he was put to the test during the long, hot days of Ramadan which, I believe, he observes faithfully.

Follow Colin Brazier on Twitter: @ColinBrazierSky