Life as a fourth year


Let me tell you, dear readers, the story about a girl and her horse.

My very good friend Sophie celebrated her birthday last week, and on Friday night she threw a party to celebrate. A big fan of BBC’s much loved Miranda, she took inspiration from the goofy comedian and decided to theme the night ‘Childhood ambitions: what did you want to be?’. We all thought this simply marvellous, and promptly turned to gossiping about hours spent nursing our stuffed animals back to life, meal times spent cooking up a storm in the kitchen, or afternoons involving bringing back some law and order to our play dates. My problem was that my memory was not quite powerful enough to recall the finer details buried deep into my childhood, and for the life of me I could not remember what I had once wished to grow up as. My despair was swiftly put to rest as one bright spark suggested that I send a quick text to my mum to ask her – surely she would recollect any burning obsession that I held as a youngster, the dreary hours spent entertaining me as I trounced around the living room giving fake lesson plans to my room of fake students?

Within minutes my phone alerted me to the fact that my mother had replied. ‘Aha!’ I exclaimed, as my friends gathered round, eager to hear what reply had been given. My face dropped, my shoulders shuddered, and I believe (from popular accounts given by primary witnesses) that I turned an unpleasant shade of green. The black words staring at me from behind the screen of the phone read as follows: ‘You always wanted to be a horse, sweetheart’. The next few minutes melted into a hazy abyss, during which time I am pretty certain that my friends became privy to my most disturbing, dark, and somewhat worrying childhood secret. In my dreamy state it suddenly all came flooding back – I could almost envisage my five-year-old self, eagerly counting down the minutes until school lunch break, upon which I could gallop (no pun intended) out into the playground and run wild with the wind blowing through my mane of unruly hair (still got it) and with some young, would-be jockey atop my back…

I have always had an affinity towards horses, and my fourth birthday present was my first ever riding lesson. I remember it well; I was kitted out in my brand spanking new leather booties, and with a colourful silk placed firmly on my hard hat, I marched happily towards the stable door of Winky. Winky was a marvellous beast, towering over me at 11 hands tall and boasting the most magnificent white colouration. He was my baby, I rode him for years. Until I grew too tall (it got to the stage where my legs wrapped around his generous Shetland belly), by which point the handsome Shane was the new man/horse in my life…

My parents have probably since regretted their choice of birthday surprise, as for every single Christmas and birthday since – I count that as being 34 separate occasions – I have asked to be gifted my very own horse. To provide me with my horse fix over the years, I have been presented with endless themed presents: not a year went past when I didn’t own a horse calendar, if I was lucky I could persuade my family to take a carriage ride whenever we visited a new city, and I’m pretty sure that I have been granted a written promise to be taken to see War Horse when it visits the Edinburgh theatre next year. My most cherished equine gift was given to me by my father during my second year at university: named Prince Montague (Monty, for short), this valiant steed is a golden antique brass desk ornament, and sits pride of place on my work desk. As yet, I have had little luck attaining a real live beast, but I have been blessed with a tenacious character and I won’t go down without a fight (however I think I would finally come to settle for a life-sized, stuffed version of Winky).

It was the cackles of laughter and whoops of sheer delight that brought me back round to the present day, and as my eyes came back into focus I could see a half-dozen faces, wet from tears, staring right at me. Before I could utter a word of protest, my friends were pulling at my hair (in attempts to best replicate a mane) and checking out online websites to determine how to create a last-minute, DIY horse outfit. I felt too weak to resist.

Fast forward four days and I find myself at the aforementioned party. Was this experience mortifying? Humiliating? Awkward? Not really. Well, ok maybe just slightly. I wandered round the party, surrounded by aspiring vets, air hostesses and spies, making small talk whilst fretting with the worry that my hair style may have been ever slightly too much. Of course, like all well-behaved party guests, I stood and grinned through the obligatory burger/lasagne jokes, as a little piece of my soul withered with each punch line that hit me.

The story ends a few days after the party. Having had time to contemplate the whirlwind of the previous days, I think I can conclude that I am at ease with the fact that I once wished to become a horse. I had a very loving, safe, and happy childhood, and obviously running around my neeeeeeighbourhood (sorry, had to be done) pretending to be a wild horse on the plains of some exotic land made me content. Who am I to now judge that time of my life as embarrassing or indeed wrong? I think I would have been much more alarmed to have discovered that my ambition as a youth was to become an investment banker. The moral of my story is simple: don’t worry if any future child of yours approaches you one day after breakfast and claims that they wish to become a meerkat when they grow up. It happened to my parents, they accepted me, and I’ve turned out just fine…



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