Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Not many people can say that their office in the middle of London looks out on a stable with working horses in it, but I look after the Royal Parks and the clatter of our police horses caught my ear this morning, They help at the Changing of the Guard and on other occasions, but mostly we employ them for policing the parks. They have advantages: the riders can see further and be seen from further away; they can cover more ground than police on foot; and they move faster. This morning the shire horses we use for carting were out as well. Heavy horses like these were developed for pulling ploughs, barrows, carts and wagons. For this they needed patient, enduring strength, dinner-plate feet to grip the ground and placid, gentle, affectionate natures. They were brought to handsome perfection over the course of centuries as they were adapted for their role. It might be thought that their era is over and that they should go too, banished to the same loving preservation as other beautiful things but no more than that. Yet they are valuable even today: for pulling a log out of a wood; hauling a load over ground covered with delicate vegetation; and for carting, especially if the hauls are short and the stops frequent. A pair of heavy horses can pull four tons on the flat. The driver can start them off by a mere word, and halt them in the same way. Nothing is quite so agreeable as two large horses and a cart. Their amiability is in sharp contrast to the noise and smell of a motor lorry; their hooves make a cheerful rhythmical clatter on the road, and the iron-shod wheels of the cart gate with a continuous burr, like the drone of a bagpipe. It is true that they are not fume-free, but each one produces manure to the value of 75 a year - a bonus that is not to be sniffed at. Cart-horses are more fun than a flower bed, give unequalled stimulus to sales of lump-sugar, win smiles from adults, waves from children, sell film to tourists, bring tears of nostalgia to pensioners, and stir thoughts of Young's bitter to Londoners, Shipstone's ale to older Midlanders, and milk to the citizens of Edinburgh.

Pigeons, geese, seagulls, dogs and greenfly have something in common: they defecate in parks. Dogs leave a particular remembrancer and we ask their owners to clean up after them. Canada geese defecate once every four minutes, in volumes that would give a good-sized poodle pause for thought. Our seagulls and pigeons are reincarnated omb-aimers, and the principal by-product of the greenfly is road rage. A big plane tree can accommodate two million greenfly; each one exudes a sticky syrup which drips onto any motor-car parked beneath it. Black fungus, which darts in to feed on the honeydew, spreads quickly and transforms the colour of the car in hours by coating the surface with a sooty mould. Motorists feel aggrieved and look for a park-keeper to chat to about the experience. Robert Burns in `Tam o'Shanter' speaks of Tam's beldame `nursing her wrath to keep it warm'- some keep warm spontaneously. We need more frost, as without it there will be more greenfly than ever in the spring. Gardeners who so successfully prayed for rain three months ago should now intercede on matters of temperature.

I am often asked about horticulture indeed, it is my calling. Last weekend I fielded the question, `What is there to do outside in the garden, just now?' `Nothing,' I replied. `Trimming, clipping, pruning, digging and manuring can all wait, and most pests are still asleep and can be left undisturbed.' This was badly received. Joseph Conrad observed in Nostromo that `action is consolatory. …

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