Friday, August 10, 2012

Animal Magic

So, not quite sure where July went if I’m honest. Seems real life might have been just a bit too frenetic. Also not quite sure what the month ahead has in store excepting a week on a costa, soaking up rays and studiously not worrying about Ambridge. Or GCSEs. (Not for me you understand, at least not directly so… suffice it to say I’ll be keeping a number of digits crossed for a couple more weeks.)

That said last week was a rare joy—if not a once in a lifetime event. You see last week we became a tiny part of what would turn into a little bit of history. It can’t have escaped notice that Dear Old Blighty has been having a Sports Day thingy going on. You can tell it’s hugely important because our Beloved Leader has been popping up all over the shop, feting this potentate and pandering to that panjandrum and begging Vlad not to break his fingers in the small spat we’re having over Syria.

Happily he stayed away when we went to Greenwich to see something truly magical. It had been months coming and planned with nigh on military precision. Last Thursday famille Jest decamped to the Ibis hotel in London’s Docklands—right next to the Excel centre where a great deal of grunting and straining has been taking place. We hotelled amongst pretty much all the officials there to oversee the various martial disciplines taking place in the exhibition centre turned Olympic venue. Friday morning saw us up early and breakfasting in their lofty company, but we were not off to see Kick Boxers, Judo-ists or what have you, it was just the nearest affordable room we could get to Greenwich, where the horses were strutting their stuff.

After breakfast we trekked by DLR (a sort of over-ground tube), Tube proper, and then by hoof to the park. En route the atmosphere was extraordinary. London, and especially Docklands, has a reputation that suggests outsiders might not always be entirely welcome, but that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Everywhere was bonhomie in full flow. The most exuberant exponents were, without doubt, the Games Makers, strange people in pink bibs with at least one giant foam hand apiece, but everywhere you looked there were smiles and cheery waves and we were left with the impression that nothing would have been too much trouble.

Greenwich Park was extraordinary, from the vertiginous grandstands bedecked with the flags of seemingly every nation (and a few that were obviously made up), to the arena itself with its highly ornamented “sheds” for the judges, its little topiary embellishments and its manually operated, gnome height, white picket fences, to the high tech wizzo zipwire camera high above the action beaming its signal to the giant screen that was just a few tens of yards from our seats in the gods.

And there it was that we all sat for the better part of a day, watching horses dance. No really. It’s called dressage apparently, and it has since turned out that at least three of my compatriots are pretty good at it. We were watching heats, but even there it was evident that they knew a thing or two about it, as did all the riders we saw, after all they are the best few dozen exponents of the art on the planet. Each was required to follow a set routine of manoeuvres from trots to carousels to zigzags… even the salutes at beginning and end were marked. There was no questioning the evident skill of all the riders, or the levels of excellence in training of their mounts, but there were a few special performances that stood out. 

Every pair—rider and horse, ran through the routine in the right sequence. Barely a horse miss-stepped—so much so that the twice in the whole day they did there were suppressed gasps from the crowd, who otherwise sat in pin-drop audible silence throughout each ride, reserving the hooting and hollering until well after the end of each effort. And though sections of the crowd hooted louder for their own national team the whole crowd responded to every contestant.

Within all of this there were a handful of horses that stood out. For the others the routine was plainly well practised and well executed, but somehow still looked mechanistic. For the few special ones it was evident there was more to it. I mean it when I say that we watched horses dance. Dance, and float and pirouette with balletic precision.

In our overly cynical, over hyped, over commercialized world, it’s nice now and again to be reminded that there is genuine magic to be had out there, and for the past couple of weeks our little island has had more that its fair share. The spirit of the crowd on the trek home was if anything even more effortlessly cheery. If we could keep one tenth of that spirit alive when the last visiting contingent of supermen/women and indeed horses depart for their respective countries, that would be a legacy beyond price.

I feel privileged to have been allowed to be a small part of it in person, and I look forward to the day I have  grand-kids to tell all about the day I saw the horses dancing.