'THAT DAY WAS A BEAUTIFUL DAY...'
JUST A LOVELY STORY ABOUT A GREAT FRIENDSHIP
We were on our way to Killiow near Falmouth, Buz and me. It was a beautiful fresh spring morning with the bright sun sparkling the young leaves on the trees and the grass so shiny green you could just about see it grow. We still had our old Morris Minor convertible, and wore several layers of woolen sweaters, so we could have the top down. I was excited, wondering what I would see in the fields of the estate. That she would look like I imagined, that she would be the one I would want to take home with me.
That day became one of the most unusual days of our life. The mare was exactly as I hoped but it was the turn of events that made our visit so extremely memorable. It was also the beginning of an endearing friendship between a retired farmer in his seventies and a young woman of barely thirty years old.
Ian, a well-dressed fairly heavy-set man with a crown of white hair and a high forehead above impressive black eyebrows, walked towards us as soon as we drove up in front of the grand old house. When we shook hands, I recognized the same twinkle in his eyes as when I met him the first time at a friend’s house.
We walked together into a gently sloping field below the house, separated by an enormous border of huge camelia's, still in full bloom. There were several horses in the field, but I only had my eyes on the solid black mare with the big white face. She knew it, lifted up her head and wandered over to us. I fell in love with her right there and then, her gentle eyes looking at me as if she knew.
After I had looked the mare all over, we wandered back to the house, enjoying the first little bit of heat in the sun on our backs. However, something unusual happened when we entered the impressive hallway. There was this strange rough sounding voice, like sandpaper, from somewhere in the far dark corner. ‘Ian, who are they. Give them a wallop!’ Ian looked alarmed and tried to hurry us up the stairs to his office, however, Buz escaped, attracted like a magnet to that voice.
Upstairs Ian explained to me that, after he retired farming, he took on the job of turning Killiow from a private home into a business. Still, this didn’t explain the unusual voice from downstairs, and although I didn't dare to ask, inside my head it screamed to find out more.
After having agreed on the price for the mare which didn’t take long, Ian and I walked down the stairs with me wondering where to I lost Buz. Nowhere to be seen. So we walked outside and there, ambling along, was Buz next to an unusual looking woman with what could be a perm in a fairly unidentifiable colour, wearing a tweed skirt, thick red woolen stockings and silver high heeled shoes. When she saw me, her arms full of a huge bunch of camelia's, she made a straight run for me, growling ‘I love your husband!’ and I immediately recognized the voice from the dark corner in the hallway. My husband with the broadest grin on his face was following her. They had obviously had a grand time.
To say that Ian looked flustered is an understatement. He quickly said goodbye and disappeared back into the house. And after the woman had pushed a piece of fax-paper in the hands of my husband she gave us both a warm embrace and we drove off, gobsmacked about this most unusual meeting. At home we couldn’t believe what we read on the piece of paper we were handed. It was the dirtiest joke ever!
A few weeks later, the mare was delivered and Ian and his wife Bar came to see her in her new home with a most special gift. One of the beautifully crafted saddle racks from the original stables at Killiow which were turned into apartments. This was the beginning of a long and enduring friendship. I have fond memories of the many cups of tea and great conversations we had in their cosy living room late afternoon after my lessons near Truro had finished.
After Bar passed away, when I visited Ian, he would often talk about his earlier life. Little did I know that, before he became a farmer he worked for his dad as an architect! I had no idea, always thought he was a farmer, because that is how I met him.
His tales from the past were exciting with such great and unusual details. For example, his commission to draw the plans for changing the Manchester Evening Chronicle stables for the Hackney ponies used for deliveries into apartments. Ian was so sad that the beautifully tiled walls from the stalls had to be ripped out that he managed a plan to save one wall with a spaced wall in front of it. This way it could always be removed if the need was felt to uncover such a special piece of history.
He remembered how in the morning the Hackney ponies flew in their fastest trot through the streets of Manchester, the boys on the traps with their electric shouts when throwing off stacks of papers at exactly the right moment in front of the shops without slowing down even the tiniest bit.
He told me about the streets in Manchester in those days. How, until the early fifties, some of those streets were covered in huge pine planks to soften the clatter form the metal shoes on the huge feet of the docile Clydesdale horses, pulling the wagons with cotton from the docks to the factories. This to make life for the people living on those hectic streets somewhat more bearable. How the extremely valuable wood miraculously disappeared to goodness knows where, when lorries took over from the horses.
At one of those visits I finally took up the courage to ask Ian who she was, that strange lady we met on our visit to Killiow, when we first met. And Ian told me the story about Annie Penrose, nicknamed Spitfire.
Annie was the daughter of Sir Robert McLean, chairman of Vickers Aviation Limited. The story goes that after a flight in the small but ever so brave little fighter plane his company had designed and produced, he jumped out, saying that there was only one suitable name for this plane. ‘Spitfire’, the nick name he gave to his exuberant and fiery daughter in her early life.
The colourful Annie Penrose has done justice to her nickname and, just like the fighter plane, lived an exciting life with friends such as Vivien Leigh and Laurens Olivier. Rumour has it, that at some of the RAF parties, where she was a steady guest of honour, she occasionally travelled on the hands of the pilots through the room.
By chance, I met this woman, now older and still living the house she loved so much, never having lost her vigour and sense of mischief. Sending my husband and me home with a piece of fax-paper with on it a very dirty joke. That day, we truly met history.
To be honest with you, I did know the day Ian told me this story was probably the last time I would see him. Even with oxygen he was struggling. So I gave him a hug, said good bye and walked into the hallway, feeling desperately sad.
Ian called me back, ‘Liz, the day you bought that horse, that was a beautiful day...'
The saddle rack Ian gave me all those years ago is in the hallway with my saddle. After having given me five super foals the lovely mare I bought from Ian is long gone. I am now moving speedier than I like towards the age of Ian and Bar when I met them. Life moves fast as it is filling up with more wonderful memories all the time.
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About Liz Barclay
Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony.
THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...
My book 'THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...' with the subtitle 'A Personal Impression of the Development of the Gelderland Horse World' has been received with more enthusiasm than I possibly could have hoped for. Click here to contact me and I will send you a copy. £7.50 + postage, or click here to order from Amazon.