05.04.2006 08:40 - Horse Guard's Charade
Way back in the 1970's, I was obsessed with the idea of becoming a member of the Queen's Life Guard. It sounded a pretty interesting life to me. You got your own horse, for one thing, and a nice shiny breastplate , big sword (Misty take note) and helmet. It didn't occur to me, young as I then was, that all these items require considerable maintenance. My mania was further whipped up into a frenzy by the annual replacing of kid's morning programmes on Saturday with the trooping of the colour, in which the Royal Life Guards would be wearing more chrome and brass than you could shake a tin of Brasso at. I hadn't yet realised that the poor sods were in danger of heat exhaustion due to their heavy woollen uniforms, which were better suited to a Crimean winter, rather than a hot sunny day in London. But then, neither had the Life Guards, until it was too late.
That year, my father's firm were lucky enough to be invited to a tug-of-war competition at Crystal Palace. This meant that my father and I could grab a place on the coach on the pretext of "supporting" the team, although we did very little supporting, preferring to see the sights. This was a tactic I was to re-use many years later on the pretext of partaking in the Student demonstrations of the 1980s, although whilst my studently right-on left-wing comrades were busy lying down in front of Parliament being hassled by the pigs, I was spending my soon-to-be-cut-to-the-bare-bones student grant in "Forbidden Planet", and the remainder on a cream cake and coffee at the Barino Sandwich Bar over the road - a visit which became increasingly common in the following decades, as Guitar Mania took hold and I calmed the DT's after parting with large amounts of money. But I digress.
The first stop on our sniff of the Big Smoke was, you guessed it, Horse Guards Parade.
There it was, the object of my abject fetishism, a Royal Life Guard, on guard, on his big, black horse.
I looked up at the horse, standing there like a giant black statue with an even more statuesque bloke in a blue uniform and lots of tin on its back. It was huge. Just then, the giant black horse turned its head toward me, and nudged me.
I was terrified. What had I done wrong? Would I be suddenly hoisted on board the horse by his rider, and dragged screaming to the Tower of London for upsetting Her Majesty's Royal Horse, or even worse, would the enraged rider pull out his giant sword and behead me in one clean stroke, as a lesson to tourists who dare to upset Her Majesty's Royal Horses?
What I didn't know was, whilst I was standing there, awe-struck at this vision of equestrian power, some sadistic tourist bastard had thrown a sugar-lump in front of the horse.
Now, if you are one of Her Majesty's Royal Life-Guard Horses, there are some things you do not do. You do not, for example, break from your position, under any circumstances, to bend down and pick up a sugar lump. It's all part of being a British Army horse. You stay at attention, and ignore the nasty little foreigners milling round you, as best you can. And this horse was trying really hard, but that sugar lump was praying on his mind.
So what do you do?
I'll tell you what you do. You nudge the little boy who is standing next to you, to try and get him to pick up the sugar lump - a good plan, except for one thing. The little boy who is standing next to you hasn't noticed the sugar lump, and is terrified, because this great big equestrian behemoth has suddenly singled him out for a good nudging.
Nudge, went the horse. Nudge. His rider didn't look too pleased either.
Just then, my father picked up the sugar lump and fed it to the horse. The horse gobbled the lump, and immediately went back to attention. His rider looked visibly relieved, but not as relieved as I was, and I'd come quite close to relieving myself, believe me.
The Tug-of-war team lost, as well.