There are two forms of measurement in Britain: imperial and metric, depending upon what you’re trying to measure. For example, imperial measurements, such as ounces and inches, are used for fun things like drugs and cocks. Metric milligrams are for calculating legally incriminating blood-alcohol levels and such like. Horses, being undeniably hilarious, fall squarely into the imperial system, and are measured from ground to shoulder in imperial units known as hands. For example, a Shetland pony, such as the little bastard that lives in the petting zoo at Runton, is ten hands high. Like everything in the petting zoo, he does nothing other than destroy fencing and lark about, and is richly deserving of measurement in stroppy old centimetres like a hub cab or lamp post. We have discussed petting zoos before, and I once again urge you never, ever, to have one. It’s worse than having children. You can put children up for adoption if you decide it’s not really for you, but once you have a petting zoo, you’re stuck with it.
Happily, the horse I met last weekend, Conkers, was a fine ambassador for his species. I estimate him to have been about seven hundred hands high, and he arrived with a film crew shooting test scenes at Runton*. In the useless and autistic society we somehow thought it would be a nice idea to construct for ourselves, we are regularly urged to follow, believe in, or generally chase our dreams, presumably in preference to dealing with any kind of reality. A lie is a sort of dream, and I had lied enthusiastically about being an Olympic standard horseman to secure a small speaking part as a Union cavalry officer in the forthcoming cinematic epic. I have on two occasions managed to hang on to a horse, silently weeping, as it moved along at 1 mph. I can therefore confidently claim to have seen a horse, but genuine horsemanship is difficult to bluff, especially when confronted with all the stirrups and saddles and swishing and sheer horsiness of what an actual horse is. They are massive, they keep fidgeting, and our ancestors must have been pretty desperate to get somewhere slightly further away a little bit more quickly than usual to domesticate them in the first place. I asked if they could blue screen the shot and cgi Conkers in later, but it was already evident that I cannot do a decent American accent in any case, with my line – ‘Sir, you are to maintain your fire and hold fast your ground. General Meade will send reinforcements presently’ – sounding as if Worzel Gummidge was saying it, thus detracting from the gravitas of the scene. I looked at ‘Anton’, watching proceedings from an upstairs window of the Old Servant’s Quarters, but to no avail. He is black, and not allowed to ride horses. The debacle bought a snort of amusement from Joe, which I thought was a bit fucking rich considering the much-vaunted ‘affinity with animals’ that secured him the only paid employment on the Runton Hall Estate stems from nothing more than being born next to White City greyhound stadium.
This hiccup aside, everyone has been having a whale of a time with the film crew, who are unused to territorially assertive Romany children such as Graham’s. Most discourse between the two groups has gone along these lines:
‘Do you want to buy a parking permit?’
‘See that’s a shame. It was a fiver. Now I’ve had to ask you again it’s a tenner. I’ll ask a-fucking-gain if you like’.
‘Look. We’re having a little party before we leave – would you like to come to that instead?’
‘Can I put your little fucking party in my pocket and buy stuff with it, Jimmy fucking Savile?’
‘That’s fifteen fucking quid then. Not your fucking day is it, Jimbo?’
Despite this, and unlike the original glampers at Runton for whom threats of this nature were commonplace, everyone likes the key grips, gaffers, boom mike holders and so forth and, accordingly, Joe and/or Graham mediate such exchanges. The crew are indeed having a party for those of us constituting the staff at Runton, and usually Joe’s children, being as numerous as Graham’s are profane, would act as tiny, endearing waiting staff on such occasions. This time, however, Graham’s team of infant extortionists will also help, sharing in the generous whip round the crew have promised to have for us. Good mediation, if you ask me. It would be poor form to name the film, so discretion must prevail. That said, I will exclusively reveal that it features the grand-daughter of a very famous Hollywood star indeed, and some bloke who has a great aunt in common with Olive from On The Buses. Box office potential was adroitly summed up by Graham’s son, who pointed out that ‘You could sell their autographs on eBay if anyone knew who they fucking were’.
Most of the crew are glamping near German Field in tents hired from ‘Anton’ and myself, providing a sliver of income at a challenging time of year. Otherwise, we are occupied with the Old Servant’s Quarters, where I have swung into action as a plumber, in the same spirit that I previously swung into action as a nineteenth century cavalry officer. Practically speaking, this means unclogging a couple of u bends and replacing some exposed piping in a bathroom unused since 1983. It is straightforward enough, and as ‘Anton’ amused us by making sparks pour from the light fittings, it occurred to me that I could actually train as an actual plumber. I refuse to believe it’s that difficult, and it would do me good to learn a trade. Incidentally, I’m currently taking a degree in political science with the Open University, to then teach adult literacy in prison, this being the nearest I will ever get to a family reunion. However, that was prior to my involvement in the Runton Estate and all the exciting, cold, wet, miserable middle of nowhere opportunities that might unfold here. There’s enough plumbing work to keep me busy for ages, once I learn how to plumb, and I am following the same thought process that ‘Anton’ did prior to his journey into the glamourous world of the qualified electrician. I began to peruse the dilemma aloud. This annoyed ‘Anton’, who was eager for me to put the water back on as he was confident of having a go on a make up artist from the film crew that evening, and wanted a quick gentleman’s wash* first. Not for the first time, I found myself marvelling that, in the current climate, he remains un-arrested.
*To recap: the Estate is being used as a location for an upcoming film about the American Civil War, after a recommendation from Confederate re-enactors who recently camped in the East Wood, and now employed in consultative capacity.
**Whereby an optimistic suitor rinses his cock and balls in a pub toilet sink prior to anticipated sexual congress. It was extremely popular in the nineteen nineties.
Main: the Old Servants’ Quarters, lit up for filming. The room with the blue light in it is the one they were using. I was to ride about a bit on Conkers, then run up the stairs and deliver my line, but alas it was not to be.
Inset top: arc lighting to the side of the Old Servant’s Quarters showing the lawns and trees and everything, which are nice and tidy due to Joe’s top-notch groundsmanship.
Inset middle: a Shetland pony at Runton petting zoo.
Inset lower: Archibald al-Fantastique, sleeping deeply.