Title change to
alan skeoch
Dec. 2017
Jan. 2018
This is Nolan Skeoch who has just turned  fifteen.  Without her love  affair with horses  OLD  ENGLAND  would never have  been found.  She  was the  trigger for the search.  Not because she  was interested in the roads, pubs or folkways. But because  she owned  the  horses and  the foals for which we were searching.  This story is a birthday  gift to you Nolan.  Of course Your mom is deeply involved in your life.  Not to be forgotten for she  found this little bit of Old England.
alan skeoch
Dec.  2017
SIX CANADIANS in search for Old England. left to right:  Marjorie Skeoch, Kevin Skeoch, Nolan Skeoch, Morgan Skeoch, Gabriela Skeoch and below them  Alan Skeoch ending a pint of  Old  England’s best bitter.
Once upon a  time two  months  ago as 2017 wound down and  2018 was about to be born six of us, Canadians, decided to see if Old England still existed.   We had  criteria.  We had  doubts that Old England existed anymore.
1) Old  England had to be found within a two hour drive of London.
2) Old  England would have ancient roadways … narrow and  deeply incised with towering oaks obscuring the sun.
3) Old England had to have tiny villages with wood bedecked bars and easy access to ancient ales.
4) Old  England had  to have slate or tile roofed barns with pigeon  roosts  and at least one large guard dog.
5) Old England  had to have lots of horses of all ages
6) Old England  had to have rain otherwise the deep green of the countryside could not thrive.
7)  Old  England had to have wild creatures co existing with domesticated creatures.
8) Old  England  had to have a sense of mystery, even tension.
9) Old England must serve roast beef with Yorkshire Pudding and trimmings
So we drove westward from Muswell Hill and  Crouch End towards the hills of Surrey.  We passed  beneath the thundering jetways of Heath Row international airport which raised doubts that Old England could be found.  Not to worry.
The deeper we got into Surrey the narrower were the roads and the more mysterious the land appeared as large oak trees spread their branches.  These were the same oaks that were harvested as timbers for the British Navy and the clipper ships that took our kin to Canada long years ago.
The road became a time tunnel.  These were medieval roads unchanged save by a skiffle of asphalt.
This trip was becoming mysterious…magical.   Our very own  time machine. These  same  roads had been travelled  by Romans long long ago and centuries later medieval carts  had rumbled along in those long ages when most people lived on tiny farms and never ever saw big cities.
Then we cut through a leafy laneway where an ancient farm was protected by this Rhodesian  Ridgeback, a dog whose breed  reputation was unsavoury  But
this guy was lonely…glad to see us.
Looks like a pigeon apartment building.  Likely is.  There was a time when the gentry enjoyed a plate of baby pigeons when fine  dining.  Probably why
they drank so much and got that foot disorder called gout.   Subnamed “revenge of the pigeons”
Now  this  is  really Old England.  Look at the  roof of the barn dead centre…heavy red tiles sloping almost down to the ground.  Those white doorways were once homes  of  small domestic animals…pigs perhaps.  The harvest barn designed for a  team of horses with a wood  wagon  piled high with air dried hay or hand tied sheaves  of grain ready for hand  threshing.  Old England.  Is that Thomas  Hardy peering through the title window on the left?
The intense  oak doors to the threshing floor are studded with heavy hand  made bolts (nalls>) .  Must be a reason. Escapes me though.  Maybe the doors
were stolen from a moated castle long gone.
A couple of thousand red tiles  artfully arranged on the roof.  Only oak  framing could hold this roof in place.
Eureka!  The horses!   Gabriela pulled aside a plank door incised  in a huge pilaff square hay bales.  And there they were.  the foals…Five of  them. Tucked away a modern corrugated iron exercise barn.  Tow belonged to Nolan and Gabriela.
“Why two? Was one foal not enough? Why buy a second one?”
“I was afraid he would be lonely.”
‘but there are five here…all this years foals.”
“I did not know that at the time.”
‘Are they expensive?”
“That tanned coloured one certainly is … worth 30,000 pounds…$50,000 dollars.”
“You paid that for a foal?”
“No mine were very cheap…not everyone wants a foal.”
“What happens to unwanted foals.”
“Let’s not go there, Alan.”
(end of  conversation)
“Is this the $50,000 foal…colt is better name  now…getting bigger.”
“Yes, beautiful.  Rare colour…reason for price.”
“Is he going to bite Marjorie?”
“Don’t you know difference between nuzzling and  biting, Alan. These colts
are all nuzzlers.  They like people.  They think they are people.’
“Believing that is akin to believing in UFO’s, Gabriela.  He is eating Marjorie’s scarf…smells silk worms maybe.  Keep him the hell away from me.””
“This is  our colt.  Knows us and loves us.  From the moment he dripped from his mother we have been with him.
Horses  are smart and  have wonderful memories.  Raise a horse with love and gentleness and he will respond  in kind.”
“When can Nolan ride him?”
“That is a slow process…perhaps  a year or more.”
“Then what can you do now?”
“Hug him.”
Here give him a hug.”
“Horses do not like me. Sorry, not a hugger.”
“He knows that…see how he looks at you.”
(end of conversation)
“Alan, this is George…a Spanish show horse…fully trained…has more dance steps in his head than Fred  Astaire had in his feet.”
“Why are you spraying him with cold water?”
“Cool him down.”
“Why would  he need cooling?  Is he hot tempered?”
“You can be a pain, Alan.”
“How can I get out of this barn?  He may bite  or kick me.  Marjorie’s horse tried to kick me one.  Jealous,  I think.”
“Why would  a horse be jealous of you?”
“He had been gelded.  I had not.”
“Stupid comment.”
“Is George a gelding or a stallion?”
‘Go take your pictures…we are busy.”
“But how can I get by?”
“Sit on a  bail of bedding and pout…but stop your infernal chatter.”
(end of conversation)
This is me on George in the exercise ring.  He was trying to throw me off but I had a grip of steel. My knees pressed tight to his ribs. He got quite agitated.
See that white rail fence?  Well, he got up to speed and  took a gallop right at the fence…then flew in the air clearing all  three rails  and  landing on spongy creek bed just below.  Being an  expert rider I leaned forward when we cleared the  rails.  Then we splashed our way up a creek doing threes and  jumping boulders.  George knew I was boss by then.  Fearlessly we climbed through the pastures  going at a clip so fast that it seemed we were doing the steeplechase at Epson Downs…with the Queen watching and  Philip cussing. “Who is that ass on George? Rides like a western cowboy…giving George the Go Go  Go with his  knees in the ribs.  The bastard  might win for God’s sake and my money is on another,  damn it.”
Imagination is a wonderful thing.
Really this is Kevin exercising George in the show ring.  I was safe cowering behind the fence.
All the horses on this  farm were cared for by a man and a  woman who rented the barns. They are not wealthy landlords more members of the horsy set at Epsom Downs.  They live in a small cottage beside the stables.  Really one big room.  A really comfortable room rich in colour and redolent with the aroma of horses.  Comfortable.  Nice people.  ’Twas always thus  in Old England as well.
Then our visit came to an end.  Slight rain fell as  George went back to his  big room with new straw bedding spread and old straw had been  trundled to the manure pile.  Raising horses is not all riding and  jumping.  Most of the time
Nolan spends with her horses is spent cleaning out the stalls so the  horses live in comfort.  Remember that if you buy a horse.  You need to like the smell of horse  manure.
So, this  part of  our search for Old England ended and we  ‘saddled up’ the Volvo, tightened the reins. hollered “Go” and we ambled our way out the farm laneway to the tunnel of time below.
Much of Old England  still exists…if you have the time to ramble around.  It helps to own  a few horses.  But Old England pub dinners…a must.  So we galloped the Volvo to a nearby village with narrow  laneways and whitewashed walls.  And  shop’s with quaint names like ‘Mad Jak’…see below.
What about the beef?  Coming below.
Plates piled high with slabs of well done beef slithering in fat accompanied by huge Yorkshire puddings and as many pints of ale that the police would  allow (one pint)   Old England lives!
Post Script:  Kevin giving George his exercise.  Seen it before.  But look beyond. Look at the tangle of trees…places where the wild  animals of England can coexist with humanity and  domestic  creatures.  That is where a family of badgers lives right now in  2018.
For how long?
“Any sign  of wild  animals around  here?”
“Whole bunch of badgers.”
Image result for english badgers
“Badgers? How  do you know?”
“See them sometimes … like when we came back suddenly one day … whole family of them right here at the stable … seemed to be  playing.”
“What happened?”
“They took off fast for the hill …  wooded … lots of badger holes up  there.”
“I thought they were nocturnal.”
“They are…it was  dusk when we saw them last.”
“How many?”
“maybe six or seven…more.”
“I read in the Guarsdian that they are dangerous.”
“Not to us.  Used  tp be dangerous…blamed for spreading  bovine Tuberculosis…whole milk right from the cow’s udder was linked to TB in humans… milk was pasteurized by force in 1950 …Badgers linked to the spread of  bovine TB…killing cows is  not popular…better to kill badgers.”
“All the badgers?”
“Big cull underway…20,000 to  be killed…kiliing on right now right now…”
“No kidding?”
“Nope a few years ago  the plan was 5,000…farmers  wanted more, conservationists wanted less.  Looks like
the farmers won.”
“Holy  Smoke..how many badgers are there?
“Who  knows for  sure…estimate is 40,000…half of  them  to be killed…gas and snipers.”
“Your badgers?”
“No the cull has not reached  us…ours  are safe for now.”
“No cows around here just lots of horses…and badgers.”
(end  of conversation…beginning of deep thought)
Image result for english badgers
“Sad isn’t it?  No one is even sure  bovine TB is spread  by badgers.”
“They are secretive creatures…mind there  own business.”
“But they do  carry the T.B.”
“You know, our world is  getting more  and more frightening.”
“Do  you still believe Old England  can be found, Alan.”
“Only a tiny fragment…like this horse farm.”
“No room for the natural world  anymore.”
“Natural  world…what do you mean  by that?”
“The world of Old  England where there remained untended forest and moors and  miles and miles  of stone
fences shielding  all kinds of  life not just badgers…and thousands of  hedgehogs.”
“Room  for all kinds of creatures in Old England.  Not so many people back  then.”
‘Victims  of our  own  success are we not?”
“What do  you mean?”
“No Idea, but lots I assume.”
“Wrong…dead wrong.”
“THREE PER CENT…AND GETTNG SMALLER…a tiny diminishing fraction”
“Where did you get that?”
“read it the other day in Scientific American… magazine for  scientists and  people like  us.”
“So  what should  be done about the badgers?”
“Vaccination…some are being  vaccinated…but thousands are being  culled…nasty word “CULL”
“Are scientists sure  badgers  are at fault?”
“Nobody is sure of anything.”
Image result for english badgersImage result for wind in the willows
“I wonder  how Badgers were treated  in  Old England?”
“Not much  better than today.  People  would catch  badgers, put them in cages, then let them go in the middle of  a bunch  of dogs.  To see who would die first.  Betting money.  Outlawed in 19th century.”
“What about those nice children’s books about Billy the Badger?”
“Just that…children’s stories such as  Wind in the Willows.  Children grow  up which  does not mean they necessarily get better.
Note:  The history of  badgers is fascinating…I  have  barely touched the surface.
alan skeoch
Feb.  2018

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