OCTOBER 18, 2006 I am reminded of the last time I was in London.

I went over for the day. It was kind of silly, I had an exam to study for, I certainly didn’t need to knacker myself spending a day roaming round London, but I bought a cheap flight, figured that if I studied on the plane and during random tube journeys I’d remember things better, and there you have it.

It occurred to me that I could go for a horse ride somewhere, maybe even in Hyde Park, and/or buy some horse stuff. Anybody can go to London and see a bunch of museums— which I’ve done in the past, just so ya know— but hacking out in Rotten Row… that’s pretty cool.

Shauna waxed lyrical about trotting round Wimbledon Common as a child. I found the site for a place nearby that also boasted a shop, and a site for Hyde Park stables, somewhat more promising in the information department, which also had a shop, so I reckoned I was on my way.

The thing about horse people is that they’re busy with horses. They definitely have phones, and many have email, but catching them at either is truly a hit-or-miss proposition— mostly, you guessed it, miss. I had only been riding five, maybe six weeks, at the time; shy, I hid behind my firewall.

I didn’t get any responses.

Because the whole undertaking smacked of the ridiculous anyway, I spent the day trekking round London, my paddock boots optimistically tucked in my rucksack, trying to, ahem, get a ride.

The taciturnity of the horseperson is matched only by their suspicion. How much have you ridden? How long? The questions are few, but to the point, the point being that no one wants the horses or riders to get hurt [in that order]. I was greeted with the wariness usually accorded to door-to-door Mormons and I struck out entirely. [I bet I’d get a ride now, as I’m better, and would surely exude that betterness].

All was not lost. Following a trail of manure to the mews in which the Hyde Park Stables were tucked, I found myself in a little laneway that played host to horses plodding to and fro. I sidled into the office and inquired after the shop. A chipper young woman smiled.

‘What can I help you with?’ She gestured to a glass-fronted cabinet, one of the sort normally stocked with china. This one was stuffed full of breeches, crops, and the odd chest protector.

This was the shop.

I ended up with a pair of black jods that I tried on in the hallway of someone’s mews house [presumably someone connected with the stable]. In between trying them on and waiting for help whilst a young Kiera Knightly type threw shapes and kitted herself from top to toe, paying in cash, I also bought a whip.

I occurred to me in Heathrow that in the current air-travel climate, I probably couldn’t carry a whip onboard a plane.

The thing was not going to fit in my rucksack. I went up to a man in uniform.

‘I’m hoping you can help,’ I said, putting on my best non-hijacking voice. ‘I’m a bit concerned about something I’ve bought, and whether or not I can take it on the plane.’

‘What is this you’ve bought?’ asked the uniformed man politely, if awkwardly, semantically.

‘It’s a crop, riding crop.’ You know… I think I’ve just answered my own question.

‘A what?’

‘A crop. For horse riding? A crop.’

‘I do not understand you.’

‘It’s a—’ Hmmm, how not to say ‘whip?’ ‘It’s equipment. Sporting equipment. For riding a horse.’

‘A what?’ The polite smile strains round the edges.

‘Will I just show you?’

‘You may show me this thing.’

I removed the crop from its carrier bag.

He laughed in a horrified, condescending fashion. ‘That’s a riding crop! You cannot take a riding crop onboard a plane! This is a crop!’ And on and on as I backed away and headed for the Ryanair counter, stuffing the whip in my rucksack, having to curve it round the top— it seemed flexible enough… I checked it, and prayed.

It didn’t crack in two until I was walking out the door that Saturday.

I berated myself the whole way to the yard. Head down, I started searching the ground for likely looking twigs. I paid €25 for that feckin’ thing, and it broke before it even had an outing, broke too close to the handle so I couldn’t even use it in an abbreviated state.

I picked up two sticks, discarded one— and lying in the dirt was a crop. It too was broken, but in a better place, it was still at least two feet long. I grabbed it up, looked around furtively, stopped short of stuffing under my shirt. I waggled it casually as I made my jaunty way up to the portakabin.

I could have, by now, replaced it a thousand times over, but I’m quite attached to it.

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