… and the goose is getting fat.

In a few hours time it will be November, the beginning of my least favourite time of the year. The clocks reverted to GMT on Saturday night / Sunday morning and the weather has been dark and miserable.

What I dislike most about this time of year is the relentless commercial racketeering that takes up at least two months. In fact, over the last ten years, Halloween has gained a prominence in the capitalist calendar that it never had before. The result is that shops start putting out their Halloween junk and their Christmas junk at the same time, in the last week of September.

So not only have capitalists bastardised the Christian feast of Christmas, they’ve also bastardised the pagan feast of Samhain.

As for all those kids who follow that odious American practice of going from door to door demanding treats with menaces (which they call trick-or-treat)… I reserve my language.

At this time of year I wish I could hibernate until February. But I’m doing the next best thing: I’m putting out all the lights and going to bed early.


“God forbid that I should go to any heaven in which there are no horses!”

So wrote Robert Bontine Cunningham Graham in 1917. And I fully agree with him. This love affair I have with horses doesn’t go back that far. In fact I’ve never been on a horse in my life. Yes I’ve always liked horses but it’s only recently that I’ve started really paying any real attention to them and buying books about them.

When I lived in England and went on my cycling tours in the countryside I would frequently pass ladies and the occasional gentleman on their horses and I would always slow down as I passed. One reason is because some horses get nervous if a bike or a car passes by at speed. The other reason is I simply liked looking at the horses.

Now I’ve been living in Downpatrick these past six months and that’s the closest I’ve ever come to living in the countryside. Before that I was living in London and before that in Belfast and neither city is terribly conducive to horses.

So you may be wondering why I, a born and bred city dweller, should have any interest at all in horses. I’ve always liked girls’ stuff and I’ve been interested in what girls are generally interested in, and that includes horses. Even though I was a boy and am now a man I never had much interest in boys’ toys. I wanted to have things that my female friends had and I couldn’t have them because I was the wrong sex. And that’s probably why I’ve become interested in horses.

Now, I’ve no interest in keeping a horse, that’s for sure. To say it’s hard and expensive work is something of an understatement. The work that goes into training a horse is huge. And they’re blooming heavy too. Goodness knows, it can be difficult enough keeping a Yorkshire terrier.

But, provided you have the money and the wherewithal to keep a horse, it can be very rewarding. If you train your horses right and treat them right then you will be rewarded with a lifetime of love and unstinting loyalty. That’s probably why so many teenage girls dream of having their own horses.

There’s ample evidence of it on the internet. May I direct you to Pony magazine.

And afterwards you might be interested in Horse and Country TV on Sky Channel 280.

Amanda McKittrick Ros – a local lady

I first heard of this lady in “The Return of the Heroic Failures” by Stephen Pile. She was a novelist and poet, born on the 8th of December 1860 in Drumaness, 13km northwest of Downpatrick, and died on the 2nd of February 1939.

Her output includes her four novels and many sundry bits of poetry but what really marks her out among writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is her distinctive use of the English language.

In her second novel, “Delina Delaney,” she makes an grand opening with a single sentence in a style that could not have been by any other writer.

Have you ever visited that portion of Erin’s plot that offers its sympathetic soil for the minute survey and scrutinous examination of those in political power, whose decision has wisely been the means before now of converting the stern and prejudiced, and reaching the hand of slight aid to share its strength in augmenting its agricultural richness?

And the dialogue in her novels is no less rich in literary invention, with threads of speech that would baffle the most ardent admirer of her compatriot James Joyce.

“Speak! Irene! Wife! Woman! Do not sit in silence and allow the blood that now boils in my veins to ooze through cavities of unrestrained passion and trickle down to drench me with its crimson hue!”
“Irene Iddesleigh”

One truly succulent piece of speech comes from “Helen Huddleson” (published posthumously), spoken by Maurice Munro.

“What do I care for all the world and its sections of shams? What care I for its halls of hilarity, its congested clubs of contamination, its showrooms of sacrilege, its morning-rooms of mistrust, its dining rooms of danger, its tea-rooms of test, its lounges of lust, its supper of slander, its ingle-nooks of ill, its forcing-beds of fornication and all enticing etceteras that go to shatter and crooken the straight lines of honest endeavour, when my Helen’s absence is ever present? Nothing whatever.”

And like Thomas Hardy, she excelled both as a poet and a novelist. Her poetical side was brought out in abundance by a visit to Westminster Abbey in London.

Holy Moses! Have a look!
Flesh decayed in every nook!
Some rare bits of brain lie here,
Mortal loads of beef and beer,
Some of whom are turned to dust,
Every one bids lost to lust;
Royal flesh so tinged with ‘blue’
Undergoes the same as you.

The eruption of the First World War brought out the die-hard patriot in her. She may not have been able to serve her country in any military capacity but she used her talents in no small way to encourage the British troops.

Go! Meet the foe undaunted, they’re rotten cowards all,
Present to them the bayonet, they totter and they fall,
We know you’ll do your duty and come to little harm
And if you meet the Kaiser, cut off his other arm.

Eat your heart out, Rudyard Kipling!

‘My chief object in writing is and always has been to write if possible in a strain all my own,’ she once wrote. ‘My works are all expressly my own – pleasingly peculiar – not a borrowed stroke in one of them.’

Nobody who reads and appreciates Amanda McKittrick Ros as I do can deny that in creating a style all her own she amply succeeded.