I am standing outside my front door chatting to a neighbour, when the clatter of horses’ hooves draws our attention to two magnificent police horses turning into our street. Whether by accident or design the horses are a matching sandy brown and their riders sit high and haughty in the saddles, resplendent in their blue police uniforms.
‘Now that’s a fine sight…’ I begin, but as they draw abreast of us the nearest horse is obviously agitated, tossing his head and rolling a baleful eye. ‘He’s gonna crap!’ Yells my neighbour’s young son, jumping up and down with glee - and sure enough as the horse strolls past, he lets fly with endless dollops of thick, smelly yellow manure.
My neighbour clicks her tongue in disgust and shooing her delighted progeny before her, picks her way through the piles of steaming poo to their house across the road, leaving me staring after the horses. In my mind I am five years old again and back in England at my grandparent’s house. The coal man’s horse has just passed by and the cry has gone out: Horse muck! Horse muck! And at every house in the immediate vicinity, kids are scrambling to grab buckets and spades and be the first to collect the inevitable booty left by this hard working animal.
‘Just what my roses need.’ Laughs granddad, egging my cousin and I on. ‘A penny each for a bucketful!’ As the youngest by two years, I would hold the bucket, while my cousin shovelled frantically. The kids who lived next door were about our ages and competition was fierce! Still, there always seemed enough to go round and my cousin and I would struggle back to granddad with our bucket of steaming bounty, to collect our reward. A penny in those days would fill the whole of a child’s palm and I would stare down at my huge, hard earned copper coin with satisfaction. A sherbet dab, pink sugar mouse, gobstopper, thin chocolate bar wrapped in tin foil… the mouth-watering treats this coin would buy were endless!
A passing car jerks me from my reverie. There are still no children anywhere to be seen and my neighbour across the road is calling me over for a cup of tea. As we sit in her back garden my eyes are drawn to a bag of fertilizer pellets standing next to her rose bushes. Clean, efficient, no pungent odour… and the only bucket and spade to be seen are the brightly coloured plastic ones in her child’s sandpit.
As I return home the horse manure is still there but almost completely flattened and crisscrossed with the tire treads of passing cars. But all is not wasted – a couple of magpies are pecking animatedly in the remains. ‘Ah well’, I mutter. ‘Peck away. After the street sweeper car has been tomorrow there will be no trace of it at all. That’s progress for you; a clean and sanitized world – but not half as much fun!’