Surprise party


It’s Saturday tea-time and the phone rings. “It’s Jeanette’s birthday tomorrow. We’re having a surprise party at the yard from 5.30pm. Would you like to come?” asks Justine.

I don’t have to think about it. I’d love to.

“We’re taking her for a hack and that will give time to set everything up. Everyone who is coming will hide in the tack room.”

It sounds fun.

The next question throws me a little. Would I like to bring my husband and children along? That one I have to ponder. I’m not sure I would.

Quent is driving back to London either Sunday evening or Monday morning and his scale of sociability varies enormously from delightful through to disdainful. I am amazed he holds down a job where he has to be not only polite to people, but also has to be charming on a regular basis. And as for the boys, well their behaviour has a similar scale, ranging from angelic to demonic.

So I run it past them, would they like to go. If they don’t that’s fine, if they do, that’s also fine. I would like them to go if they all tow the line.

Do we need to bring anything? I was thinking along the lines of wine, crisps, salad, dessert, serviettes , that kind of thing, but I learn we need burgers, sausages and buns. Mm…not stuff we’ve got in the fridge in any great quantiites.

I say I’ll run over to Co op afer I’ve had a bath. I can’t do anything till I’ve had a Radox ‘Muscle Soak’ bubble bath.

Incredibly Quent offers to go and get some, but he returns empty handed from Co op, which had reverted from Olympic opening times to ‘inconvenience’ store times and was shut already. I ask why didn’t he carry on to Tesco and wonder why I didn’t go myself.

The next morning I am nearly late as I have to write Quentin a note about what to buy and have to run out to the utility room for a couple of bottles of wine to take to work with me, in case Quent forgets the cool bag with them in later. At least, if he fails with the sausages, there will be something to drink!

All day at work, I wonder whether Quent will manage to get the sausages, be pleasant and amiable, and whether the boys will behave.

It’s 5.30pm. Balloons are in place, candles are on cake, guests are hiding in tack room, wine is poured in plastic cups, barbecue is smoking and …

“Surprise! Happy Birthday!” Jeanette looks… I’m not quite sure how to describe how she looks, a combination of surprised, moved and mortified. Becky pours drinks and everyone chats.

The boys pat Larry. Not a horse I’d recommend they shower with affection and I suggest they go find another horse to pat. They go off and when I go to check they are okay, find them patting Little Ted, a Welsh Section A, whose teeth marks are regularly on my arm. I guide the boys back to the barbecue.

They eat a hot dog but it doesn’t take them long to be drawn back to Larry, who seems to have magnetic powers over them. He doesn’t seem to mind them. In fact he seems to be rather enjoying the fuss. They feed him grass.

“Remember flat hands!’

The boys remember flat hands, Larry loves them and keeps them good for hours. They feed him more grass, eat hot dogs and drink lemonade.

The evening finishes with a delicious birthday cake, which tastes as if Nigella had baked it

… and a good time was had by all.



Back to work or play


This doesn’t sound like a post about playing but I can assure you it is. And I’ll tell you a secret, but shh, don’t tell anyone…

The reason it is about playing is because I love my job! Not many people can say they really love their job, but I really love mine!

In fact I’d do it for nothing and I think when he saw me, the boss thought, she’d do it for nothing and so he decided to pay me as little as he could get away with and me, being happy to do it for nothing, agreed. I’d like him to pay me a bit more now but that’s another story!

So what is the job that I love so much that pays so poorly but that gives me a body so lithe and toned, it is the envy of devout gym goers, with no gym involved?

Well, since January I’ve been working as a weekend groom at a yard with about twenty five horses.

The only thing that concerns me is that having been away for two weeks sunning myelf in Spain is that I am going to die as it’s pretty physical, not just physical but enormously physical and these last two weeks I’ve done nothing more physical than splash in the sea, laze on a lounger and try too many tapas! So much so that I now have 10 lbs to lose.

Mind you, when I think about the impending manual labour I can feel the the weight dropping off already!

And after I’ve had a day with the horses, a long bath and dinner, there will be no place like bed!

It’s just a shame we have friends staying this weekend!



The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art


On Saturday we fly to Spain. I can hardly contain myself. Having flicked through the Lonely Planet guide to Andalucía I want to pinch myself that the Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre is in the region where we are staying!

The Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre or the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, Jerez in Spain is where Spanish thoroughbreds known as the Cartujano or Andaluz are trained and showcase their incredible dressage. You can watch the horses in training and on certain days of the week throughout the year they perform at midday. There is also a carriage driving museum and a botanical garden (

My finger hovered over ‘buy now,’ for tickets to one of the midday performances, but something made me quickly check the distance from where we will be staying before I pressed. But now I wish I hadn’t. This out of this world equestrian facility is three hours drive away.

How can it be in the same region and be three hours away? I’m not sure I can face three hours in the car there and three hours back with a ‘not especially horsey’ husband and two ‘are we nearly there yet?’ children, not even for the hottest horses on hooves, and they could be hot or we could be by the time we get there as it is nearly 40 degrees Celsius in August. However, looking at the opulence of their stabling, they could well be air conditioned, but I’m not sure our hire car necessarily will be!

This will be a future visit, where we will fly to Jerez de la Frontera airport (the one on the doorstep) and combine it with the week long Feria del Caballo in early May, one of Andalusia’s biggest festivals, where horses go through the Parque Gonzales Hontoria Fairgrounds in the north of the town with traditionally dressed Spanish male riders in flat topped hats and frilly, white shirts with their female partners, wearing long, frilly, spotted dresses riding ‘crupera’ (translated as sideways pillion – they must mean side-saddle and not two riders on a horse?); or later in the year the September Fiestas de Otoño which culminates in a massive parade of horses, riders and horsedrawn carriages could be fun.

I wonder whether the Feria del Caballo ties up with half-term?…

Itchy, scratchy and swelling

Summer long days, cloudless skies, rolling fields and … horse flies.

Bitten by a horsefly, your horse will leap about and so will you. It hurts!

While the male horsefly fills up on just nectar and pollen, the female is the one to avoid. Needing a diet of blood for reproduction, the female will actively target your horse and you. Ripping at skin with serrated jaws, horseflies often inflict sufficient pain to allow them to escape. That said, they are easier to kill after they have had dinner!

Horseflies are attracted to movement and also to dark colours, which is why dark horses are more prone to horsefly bites than greys.

And in the way some horses react more than others, going all lumpy and oozing orange goo from the site of the bite, so do some people!

My bite was the size of a pinhead. Initially it was painful, but with the horsefly dead, I thought nothing more about it, until… it started to itch.

I scratched my leg just a little and then a bit more, until it was so itchy my raking fingernails were drawing blood! But did that stop the itching? No, it was still itching. No amount of scratching stopped it itching. And then, the tiny pinhead bite started to morph.

It was Saturday night and my leg was growing and growing fast. I could even feel the swelling begin to move as a separate entity when I walked! Was I starting to grow another limb from my thigh? Did my swelling require a discussion with an out of hours, non English speaking, locum GP? Was it bad enough to warrant a trip to A & E on the night reseverd for football fans and party goers? I was starting to worry.

All I can say is thank God, I have a better stocked medicine cupboard than the local hospital’s pharmacy. Piriton, Ibuprufen and Germolene cream got me through to the light of Sunday morning and and my leg returning to normal size or it didn’t, but at least it stopped growing!

My leg took a few weeks to get properly better but more brave people have gone to the doctor for less.

Note to self – wear insect repellant and lots of it in summer! Some of the citronella sprays smell lovely!

ps I’ve just seen citronella bracelets and mane tags. Not sure if they’re any good but I think they could be worth a try.