Magazine article The Spectator

Horse Cure

Magazine article The Spectator

Horse Cure

Article excerpt

Wars never get easier. Since Georgia, I have had flashbacks of an elderly woman crying her eyes out after being driven from her village by Russian bombs. When I was younger I used to bring real black dogs home with me, but not so much nowadays. My threestage prescription for recovery from war journalism is as follows. First, get extremely drunk. Get very, very drunk and you can delete or corrupt entire files of short-term memory. Second, find your woman and make love. A close correspondent friend says he has to do this with his wife the second he arrives back home from an assignment, before he's even sat down for a cup of tea.

Finally, there is what I call the Horse Cure.

The best way to administer this medicine is to own a farm. If you do not possess one, build a shed or a tree house. But in general a Horse Cure's vital ingredients include hard labour, the outdoors and the company of animals rather than people.

My father, Brian Hartley, invented the Horse Cure in 1955 for a friend of his called Laurie Hobson. They had served together in the Aden Protectorates for years. The work of a colonial officer among warring tribes was tough. Laurie was a fine Arabist, but vulnerable. The stress -- perhaps a form of what the newspapers today call PTSD -- got to him and he threatened to throw himself off a roof. My father coaxed him down, but soon afterwards my parents married, Dad retired and they settled on a cattle ranch in west Kilimanjaro, Tanganyika.

While still building the first huts of the farmstead a string of telegrams arrived, saying Laurie had suffered a relapse in Aden.

Uninvited, his colleagues sent him to the ranch. My mother fretted, 'What do we do with him?' My father said, 'He can help on the farm.' My mother continued, 'Where will he stay? All we have is the rondavel.' And so they put his camp bed in the rondavel, a mud hut outhouse with a beatenearth floor hardened by bull's blood. A centre pole held up a grass thatch roof. It had a door but he had to pee outside in the night, while lion and hyenas roamed. Laurie was horrified.

His nervous breakdown was in full swing. …

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