Tuesday, 28 February 2017


I'm doing the 'Rope-A-Dope', it's all I have left.

Mohamed Ali used the tactic against George Foreman in 'The Rumble in the Jungle'. No longer able to "Fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee", Ali spent much of the fight up against the ropes absorbing a terrible rain of blows from Foreman at some considerable cost to his later health.

Eventually Foreman was so exhausted that Ali was able to win the fight.

Well, I'm not going to win this fight but I am doing the 'Rope-a Dope'.

I've definitely damaged my back again but I was able to get up this morning OK which is just as well because I'm about to start 5 days of Radiotherapy which is going to involve some gruelling journeys.......and I'm quite worried about getting on and off the trolley too.

Meanwhile I'm on the eleventh day of my chemo tablets, only three more to go and I get a fortnights break.

So far nothing too terrible has happened.

On the ropes but hoping to get a blow or two in before the bell goes.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Monday, 27 February 2017

Sydney stole my chair.

These days Sydney has stolen my chair - as you can see here;

That's my chair, my rug and my cushion and Sydney appears to be playing dead when I try and get her out.

This poem seems to set out the situation quite well;

Squatter's Rights

(Richard Shaw)

Listen, kitten,
Get this clear,
This is my chair.
I sit here.

Okay, kitty,
We can share;
When I'm not home,
It's your chair.

Listen cat
How about
If I use it
When you're out?

Except Sydney doesn't go out.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Memories of things that never were.

I know it's a cliché but it's true; it's the things you didn't do that you regret, not the things you did.

Anyway, many of the things I did do I can't talk about, not least because I often did them with other people and it wouldn't be fair on them.

But one of the things I didn't do does occasionally fill me with regret, even though it wasn't my fault it never happened.

I was, for much of my life involved with the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, which was an affront to the whole of humanity.

Like so many people, I marched and protested and picketed - I did other things too, I'm happy to say!

In my travels I got to know someone who I'll call 'Joseph', which obviously wasn't his real name. He was a senior figure in the African National Congress's London Office and a member of the South African Communist Party too.

At that time he was someone who lived his life knowing that he was only one step ahead of a killer from the South African government.

If he had one problem it was that (like me) he was full of boyish enthusiasm, which meant that people didn't always take him seriously enough.

Anyway, by accident we ended up on the same committee and were having a chat after a meeting, sometime at the end of 1993 or early 1994 which was just before the first multi racial elections were due to take place in South Africa at the end of April.

Joseph wanted to make a last, big gesture for the struggle and asked me to help him.

I leapt at the chance. 

Every election, the South African High Commission used to have an 'open house' for white South Africans to have a few beers and watch the racist National Party win the fixed elections.

Not this year - this year was going to be like a funeral supper, as the white South Africans drowned their sorrows in Oranjeboom; the ANC was going to win.

For Joseph, this was an opportunity - we were going to con our way in to the election social and at a suitable moment make our excuses and get up to the roof where we were going to exchange the flag of the old South Africa with the flag of the ANC which we were going to smuggle in.

I was up for that!

Except, as I pointed out to him, the only problem was that Joseph was black.

I was slightly less impressed with the plan he'd come up with, which was to pretend that I was an Afrikaans businessman and naturally I needed to have my manservant (Joseph) with me at all times. He assured me that this would not seem at all out of place in the High Commission or amongst the guests.

I got the 'Jeeves and Wooster' analogy; Joseph was a brilliant Phd, a doctorate he'd obtained while trying to organise a revolution at the same time. Clearly he was intelligent enough to be the 'Jeeves' - my problem was how I was going to morph into an arrogant, racist businessman?

I just couldn't see how I was going to pull off being a South African Bertie Wooster.

Worryingly, Joseph didn't seem to think that was going to be that hard for me.

We started making plans - the first problem was that in addition to an Afrikaans accent I was going to need to acquire a false South African passport. Joseph probably already had one for himself. Pre 9-11 this was not such a serious problem as it would be now, but it would take time and money to arrange one for me.

And it was at that point that the plan fell apart - more senior and sensible people at the top of the ANC killed the idea dead, which was a huge shame.

The elections came and went and we weren't there to blag our way into the social; the ANC coalition won 62% of the vote and the rest is history.

We would clearly have got photos of our prank onto all the front pages of the world's press the next morning.

That would have been priceless.

And the cost?

We knew we'd get a thorough beating up from security but as long as we had a chance to destroy the fake passports first, we couldn't think of any obvious criminal offences we'd have committed.

But it was not to be and I still regret it.

Not least because so many Anti Apartheid marches ended on Trafalgar Square and there was a continual picket of 'South Africa House' which lasted for years and which I'd supported many times in the 1980's.

Even now when I see the building, a feeling of wistfulness comes over me.

As for Joseph it may be just as well it didn't come off. We never spoke again but it was easy enough to keep track of what was happening to him. He soon got a job at the very same London High Commission we had been planning our exploit against.

I can't begin to explain the joy I feel at the thought of him sitting at his desk, looking out onto the square below and thinking of all the struggles he'd fought to get there.

Then (inexplicably to me) he began a career in the diplomatic service, ending up as South African Ambassador to a major European country.

These days he's a bit corporate and it worries me that the changes we fought for haven't done enough for ordinary South Africans.

But that's an argument for another day.

In my mind's eye I see us on the roof changing over the flags and just wish it had happened.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Painful day.

This came from 'Punch', which was supposed to be funny but wasn't very. In a way it's one of only two or three memorable jokes it produced in about 150 years.

However, it does describe my day;

Vicar's wife: Now that you can't get about and are not able to read, how do you manage to occupy the time?

Rustic man: Well, mam, sometimes I sits and thinks and then again sometimes I just sits.

By Gunning-King, 24 October 1906, Volume 131, page 297.

Oh well, at least I kept my sense of humour.

I've been resting my back (which hurts) in the hope it may start to heal up a bit.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Friday, 24 February 2017

Doris and worse.

I spent a few days making fun of 'Storm Dora' which was supposed to be headed our way.

In fact it was quite bad; a big tree on our road came down and blocked the road until it got cleared. The railway line was also cut near us and at Tesco's I had difficulty walking, it was so bad.

Mind you I am a bit of  wimp these days.

This morning I was being sick at breakfast after a bad night and I damaged my back in the process. I've been through this before (broke my back) and I'm quite worried about it. At the moment I'm just in quite a lot of pain but I need to keep an eye on it and rest it as much as I can.

Which won't be easy with 5 days of radiotherapy coming up.

Wish me luck!

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Hidden Figures.

In case you wondered why I overdid things on Wednesday, it was because of Tuesday - we went to the movies;

The Empire in Slough is cheap (especially on 'Saver Tuesdays'!) but the multiplex was carved out of a 1980's theatre complex by an eccentric and cross-eyed architect.

So this time when I emerged from the disabled lift I found I still had four flights of stairs to get up (and down) and it really hurt.

But I made it and that gave me an inflated view of my abilities the next day.

We'd been looking forward to 'Hidden Figures' for a while; the real life story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson who worked for NASA in the 1960's. This was at the time when space travel was new and required new and complicated mathematics to calculate the trajectories.

There wasn't anything so remarkable about the three - this was the time before electronic computers when organisations faced with doing complex maths made use of large numbers of women as 'computers' to do the manual sums. What made them stand out was that at a time of racial segregation in America, these three like many others were black.

More than that, faced with a lifetime of prejudice many of the black 'computers' were in fact highly talented, pioneering mathematicians in their own right, capable of far more than the 'sums' they were asked to calculate.

These three were just a sample of those who worked very hard in the background to make the 'space race' possible.

As this extract from a recent 'Popular Mechanics' review of the film shows, they were some remarkable people;

"Katherine Johnson, the movie's protagonist, was something of a child prodigy. Hailing from the small West Virginian town of White Sulphur Springs, she graduated from high school at 14 and the historically black West Virginia State University at 18. In 1938, as a graduate student, she became one of three students—and the only woman—to desegregate West Virginia's state college. In 1953, Johnson was hired by NACA and, five years later, NACA became NASA thanks to the Space Act of 1958."

The film takes place as the great set piece battles to desegregate America were starting and against a backdrop of separate water fountains and restrooms for 'whites' and 'coloured's', when black people had to travel on 'the back of the bus', when you couldn't go to Woolworths Lunch Counter if you used the wrong entrance.

If anything, the things that disappointed me were that the film was too understated; at one point the head of the facility (played by Kevin Costner) smashes down the 'Coloured Ladies Washroom' sign after he hears that it takes Katherine an hour to get to and from 'her' restroom on the other side of the facility.

In the real world, Katherine Johnson simply ignored the rules and used the 'white restroom' without asking and the rules soon got forgotten - far more liberating and exciting than the movie version.

I suppose I wanted more - a 'happy ending' for example.

There wasn't one.

The black 'computers' did amazing things - they made American spaceflight possible and pioneered the use of massive IBM mainframe electronic computers, but they were held back by their gender and the colour of their skin which prevented them from getting the qualifications or the promotions their white, male counterparts would have got.

I suppose I wanted their battles to have achieved more - Robyn's view was that the film was about peoples 'little fights' rather than the great big battles that changed the world.

And a whole lot of 'little victories' make up a big battle.

Maybe it was because it's a patriotic film and the characters in it were patriots; it was the story of the American battle to build the rockets that put their men in space and (coincidently) their nuclear bombs on the top of those rockets.

Not a cause I could ever really support.

But in the process of doing it, the U.S. desperately needed the help of oppressed minorities and this film is about the small, individual struggles of those people against prejudice and injustice.

It came out a lot earlier in the States which means it's up for Oscars this week and deserves them - it out grossed 'La La Land' easily.

If the only Oscar it gets goes to Kevin Costner, I would be really angry!

Check it out for yourself.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Bacon sandwich day.

There's no fool like an old fool - I had a difficult day and then because I wasn't feeling too bad I went and added a couple more chores as well, which turned out to be big mistake.

At lunchtime I was back at Charing Cross Hospital at Radiology - I've been there a couple of times before.

Back in 2013 I had a little dose of cosmetic radiation which wasn't a big deal at all.

In 2015, I spent a very unhappy week at Wexham Park Hospital, screaming in agony because they were unable to control my pain. At the time my backbone was crumbling on me; every vertebrae was damaged, quite a few seriously so.

Wexham actually didn't realise what was happening or how to deal with it - luckily for me I had an appointment with Dr Feelgood at Charing Cross and got sent up there by ambulance.

Dr Feelgood refused to let me go back.

When I got there I discovered that my cancer had spread up my spine and I needed emergency radiotherapy. So, I turned up at Radiology on a stretcher, had my chest tattooed and then a scan.

By the next morning Dr Feelgood realised that Wexham really didn't have a clue and I got the all clear. At the same time, the agonising pain was brought under control and I started the slow process of getting back on my feet.

So I never got zapped although I still have the tattoo.

This time it's for real; I got fitted up with a really cool protective facemask which was moulded to my face as a hot thermoplastic.

I can keep it when they've finished and I've already decided how I'm going to use it on the Blog!

Next week I've got five visits to be zapped, but today I just had another scan.

The main problem was I had to lie on a hard flat surface which really hurt. And I forgot to bring any water with me and even forgot to get a drink before we left the hospital.

So I got tired out, hurt myself, got dehydrated and worn out and then I overdid it too.

We eventually got home and I collapsed - I slept until the evening.

Now I should explain; I'm on yet another chemotherapy and this time it regularly makes me feel sick, for the first time.

Well there were a few times before but not like this.

Anyway, this morning I grumbled to Robyn that I'd been awake at night  and was starving hungry. Which is odd because by the time I got up I was feeling sick in time for breakfast.

I told her how I was imagining a bacon sandwich in the early hours; something I never eat now because I'm largely vegetarian.

Then this evening, while I was still drowsing in a chair, trying to move my legs to shake off the pain, Robyn brought me a bacon sandwich - she'd sneaked off and bought a packet of bacon while I wasn't looking.

I'm not going to make a habit of it because I'm proud to be 'largely' vegetarian but it was a real kindness.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Unfettered and alive.

The way I see it, he said
You just can't win it
Everybody's in it for their own gain
You can't please 'em all

There's always somebody calling you down
I do my best
And I do good business
There's a lot of people asking for my time
They're trying to get ahead
They're trying to be a good friend of mine
I was a free man in Paris
I felt unfettered and alive
There was nobody calling me up for favours
And no one's future to decide
You know I'd go back there tomorrow
But for the work I've taken on

Extract from 'Free Man in Paris' by Joni Mitchell.

I had another rough day - lots of nausea from the chemo.....and lots of pain too. I slept a lot and then messed up the timing of my painkillers when I went to bed so that they stopped working too early and I ended up in agony in the early hours.

And I was thinking back to October 2014 when we just jumped on a coach to Paris for the day, just a month before my back started to break.

And spending the evening sitting at one of the pavement tables of my Algerian restaurant on the fringe of Belleville, eating couscous and pastries and watching autumn leaves blow gently past as the people of the night started to emerge from the shadows.

Mint tea and a cigar.

"I was a free man in Paris
I felt unfettered and alive"

Then I'm back on the Place de la Concorde, waiting until the very last minute to get back on the coach and the long journey home.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Monday, 20 February 2017


This is the glorious scene from 'Ferris Bueller's Day
Off', when the Economics teacher tries to generate some class participation in the lesson on 'The great Depression', only to be met with rows of blank faces;

Economics Teacher:

In 1930, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, in an effort to alleviate the effects of the...

Anyone? Anyone?... the Great Depression,

passed the...

......Anyone? Anyone?

The tariff bill?

The Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act?

Which, anyone?

Raised or lowered?... raised tariffs....

......in an effort to collect more revenue for the federal government.

Did it work?


Anyone know the effects?

It did not work, and the United States sank deeper into the Great Depression.

Today we have a similar debate over this.

Anyone know what this is?




Anyone seen this before?

The Laffer Curve.

Anyone know what this says?

It says that at this point on the revenue curve, you will get exactly the same amount of revenue as at this point. This is very controversial.

Does anyone know what Vice President Bush called this in 1980?


Something-d-o-o economics.

"Voodoo" economics.


Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Armchair supporter.

I had another lousy Sunday - I got cold sitting in the car park and it wasn't even really cold.

And I was hurting quite badly. I got so stiff while I was waiting I got out of the car and hobbled around for a few minutes - it didn't help.

On the other hand I spent the afternoon drowsing in front of the television and watching Tottenham, my team get through to the quarter finals of the F.A. Cup.

I don't expect it to go very well because they have been underperforming for as long as I can remember - and that's a
very long time.

I started supporting them in 1967 which was the year they won the F.A Cup and as a nine year old that seemed like a team that couldn't fail.

I was wrong - they didn't win it again until 1982 by which
time I had well and truly grown up.

And while there were a few minor victories, it's been a very lean period. Last year they played better than they had for decades until they fell apart in the last four games of the season and it all fell to pieces.

So I'm not holding my breath but it was a nice afternoon spent in an armchair, forgetting about all the bad things in life.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Hospital blues.

I was up at hospital again, got another bad result after a couple of months when it wasn't too bad. The last chemotherapy failed and we've cancelled the rest of the course.

Dr Feelgood has been rummaging through the cupboard at the back of the pharmacy - that's the one that's all dusty and full of old Christmas decorations, unread memos and empty lager bottles left over from the last time England won a football game that mattered.

Somewhere on the back shelf is a long forgotten chemo from before they developed the good ones (that didn't work for me).

It's not going to do anything dramatic for me but, hopefully I'll get some time and some laughs out of it.

I must admit I was beginning to get a bit jaded with the last one - the side effects were starting to build up on me and it cost nearly £4000 a dose.

Since July that's about £40,000 the National Health Service has spent on me.

I've also got a little course of radiotherapy to look forward to but I am hoping to get a really good selfie out of it!

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Friday, 17 February 2017

The man machine at Woking.

I couldn't resist posting these last photo's from The Lightbox, Woking - from the line of statues at the entrance, mainly on loan from the Ingram Collection.

The gallery is largely dependent on loans from Chris Ingram's huge collection of 20th and 21st century art.

I liked this self portrait of the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi;

It's from his 'Man Machine' series and that's clearer from this detail;

Paolozzi is most famous for his influence on 'Pop Art' and if you want to see a particularly good example of it, take a trip to Tottenham Court Tube Station where he was commissioned to cover the walls in the most amazing mosaic tiles.

It shimmers.

Paolozzi was Scottish although his art took him around the world. From 1960 to 1962 he taught art in Hambourg and one of his most gifted pupils was Stu Sutcliffe, early member of The Beatles and friend of John Lennon.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Henry Moore; Sculpting from Nature at The Lightbox, Woking.

Our Valentines Day Day Out continued when we went down a floor at The Lightbox, Woking to take a look at 'Henry Moore: Sculpting from Nature'.

I have to admit that this one was going to have to work hard to win me over - Henry Moore has never been a favourite of mine.

On the other hand I have always seen his rival Barbara Hepworth as the greatest British artist of the 20th century.

The relationship between the two artists is a fairly simple one; although Moore was about five years older, the First World War interrupted his studies.

So both ended up at the same art school in Leeds, both won scholarships to travel around Italy learning about classical sculpture, both were pioneers of 1930's Modernism.

Except Moore happened to be a man while Hepworth was a women.

So, in the Post war boom when public institutions found themselves with the money to rebuild they often commissioned public art as well.

Moore got the lions share of those lucrative public commissions and responded by producing a large series of massive and imposing bronze figures - including one at the entrance of Charing Cross Hospital.

And while Barbara Hepworth was almost as famous she isn't represented in the same way - her sculptures are often more intimate as a result.

More controversially, it was Hepworth who was the first to explore spaces in sculpture....if you like she was the first to put holes in her works, something that Moore adopted after she did.

So in many ways, Hepworth was the real pioneer but missed out on the fame and fortune that came after the war.

However, as you can see, it was a very popular outing on a cold Tuesday.

Most of the works came direct from The Henry Moore Foundation and I was impressed by the cabinet of 'maquettes', the models that sculptors make before their works are scaled up to full size.

Here on the far left you can see a flint 'found object', next on its right is a small clay figure inspired from it followed on the right by the finished model;

Just the same here are three stages in the development of a sculpture;

Most remarkable of all, on the left an animal bone, next to it are the two figures in clay inspired by it and then the finished article on the right.

This model is typical of his many 'reclining figures;

The walls were lined by series of drawings - in this case of ideas for 'Madonna and Child' works;

Here a small scale version of the finished article;

There's no mistaking this wooden 'reclining figure', although the finished article would be four or five times bigger and made of dark, weathered bronze.

I'm not so familiar with this as a Moore;

Even less so with the front view;

But I rather liked it. 

Anyway, I came away with a much better idea of how he worked and what he was trying to do. And just as Barbara Hepworth's abstracts are all, in fact, landscapes of one kind or another, so nearly all of Henry Moore's are human forms.

I still prefer Hepworth!

The exhibition runs until 7th May, entrance is with a £5 annual pass which gives entrance to everything at The Lightbox.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Neo Romanticism on Valentines day.

On Valentines day we went out - to The Lightbox at Woking.

I must admit my body did not co-operate at all and I was in a lot of pain throughout, which meant that I was probably more impatient with the art than I normally am.

Hmmm, maybe that's not a bad thing. 

It didn't help that all the roads were blocked in town - Woking is in the process of demolishing buildings .....and building bigger, newer ones to replace them.

Or that a 'sinkhole' had opened up on one of the main roads, as a result I had a long and painful detour.

We saw two exhibitions (entry through the £5 annual pass) the first was; John Minton and the Romantic tradition.

I wasn't so impressed until I realised that it included all the artists who'd influenced Minton and I started to get into more into it.

This is 'Bristol Docks' by John Northcote Nash, brother of the celebrated Paul Nash; 

This was a collection of artists who, while they were influenced to an extent by Modernism and Abstraction, had chosen a particularly English form of Romantic Realism.

I enjoyed Keith Vaughan's series of male figures;

But as I was walking through I was suddenly struck by an overwhelming feeling of familiarity amongst all the varied linocuts and lithographs.

All the artists exhibited were active from the 1920's to the 1970's but are most famous for their work in the 1940's and 50's. The likes of Graham Sutherland chose realism and wanted to democratise their work too - to bring it to as wide an audience as they could. It was natural that this would be through prints.

I was struck by a vivid print of The Tower of London and here is Edward Bawden's Brighton Pavillion - so familiar I'm sure I've seen it before.

It could almost have been on a tea towel or a placemat;

And I'm sure I have seen it - as a child of the 1960's I remember prints on the walls of schools, libraries, my university; all with a clear 1950's 'style' to them.

And none more so than John Piper's 'The Ship';

I'm fairly sure that this was in the dining room of my University's hall of residence, until one day it just 'disappeared'.


Either way, this realist art so popular in the 1950's is part of my DNA - even though I'm not so sure I actually like it.

While Modernism and Abstract Expressionism and all the other movements were happening, there was a safe and responsible part of British art that had retreated from world wars and atom bombs and new social movements into something comfortable and non threatening that could be accepted on the wall of an institution; like a Doctor's waiting room.

I was always a bit more daring than that.

Anyway, the Minton exhibition is only on until the 9th March, so if you want to have a look for yourself so that you can satisfy yourself that I've been talking rubbish, there isn't a lot of time left.

We then went on to have a look at 'Henry Moore; Sculpting from nature' - I'll let you have a look at that tomorrow.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Happy Valentines Day!

I hope you all had a happy and loving valentines day - thanks to Robyn I had a very special breakfast.

And she baked a cake!

We also went out for the afternoon but that's a story for tomorrow.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com

Monday, 13 February 2017

The last of the Punk Horses.

This post is for the people who've been reading my Blog since the beginning - a long time ago now.

And there have been lots of changes too.

Last week we were driving and were held up by some escaped horses in the road which brought back many memories for me.

Here's a Blog entry from 2013 about 'The Punk Horses';

Friday afternoon and I just had to get out of the house. In a way I’m glad I did, in another way it was sad.
I walked far too far, I went to where the wild horses live. It was beautiful day, cold and sunny with a harsh wind from the north. The kind of day to put on your walking boots and stride into the wind
This summer during some quite bad times I befriended a tribe of Punk Horses. They are semi-wild, someone owns them but they roam free over a site of ‘special scientific interest’. This is protected land that was once a gravel pit/quarry that was reclaimed when it was filled with rubbish. The horses were brought in a few years ago and they've been eating brambles and trees and ploughing the land up with their hooves  encouraging wild flowers ever since.
I’d had nothing to do with tame horses before let alone these fighters and I was always wary, so it was a struggle for me to befriend them. I learnt not to fear them and with some difficulty they learnt not to fear me. We became friends. 
They were rough and tough – they bite each other and fight. And although it was hard work getting to know them it was rewarding and therapeutic as well.
I’ve not been there for a long time, it’s too far now, and it’s been poor weather.
Friday I made it back. Made my way through deep mud, got messy and tired out. Muddy boots, muddy jeans. In the end walking far further than I meant to. 
My friends have vanished too, especially the one with a scarred forehead who used to run over to see me. The only horses left are a few of this year’s foals, now acting like teenagers, fighting and messing about. Just like this spring – punk horses. Yet they recognised me and came up to me for carrots, as they’d seen their parents do.
I fear for what’s happened to my friends. The best I can hope for is that they were sold on. It could well be worse. That, I’m afraid, is life if you are a horse these days. 
They did have an idyllic summer; of beautiful sun, ripe blackberries, warm evenings. I know, I really enjoyed it myself even though I had hard times as well.
It seems like a lifetime ago - I was tied up with caring for my Mother and desperate for every half hour I could escape. It was easy to get to 'The Wraysbury Alp', an old gravel pit that had been filled in with rubbish and then raised up into a hill.

It was the only place you could get a view from the valley bottom - you could see Windsor castle, the airport, the M25.

And play chicken with a lot of semi wild horses!

I didn't care back then. I used to stand in the middle of the herd and just watch as they reared up around  me, chased and bit each other.

It was very exciting.

Here's a picture I took;

I used to feed them carrots and we got to know each other.

Although they were a tough bunch they had foals and were nice when you got to know them.

Here's a foal with Mum;


Now, the owners are building an array of solar panels on 'The Alp' and it's all fenced off. There's a court order to evict the horses (doesn't seem to be working too well, perhaps they can't read) and the likes of us can't go there any more.

The irony is that the panels aren't economic except for a massive subsidy paid for by electricity consumers. In other words, it's a scam.

It's sad, although to be fair, I haven't been there since I broke my back - the path is too uneven and there are obstacles I can't cope with now.

The horses had a very beneficial effect on me at the time and I read studies that showed that people who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, victims of domestic violence and others had benefited from contact with animals like I did.

Although perhaps in slightly less dangerous circumstances!

But it is another chapter closed for me, which is sad.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
Home: helpmesortoutstpeters.blogspot.com
Contact me: neilwithpromisestokeep@gmail.com