Port Meadow is about nine minutes from my home. It’s 440 acres which managed to survive the Enclosure Movement, which you should recall from high school history class. It’s never been plowed. Probably because the large, scenic pond in the middle is in fact a gigantic puddle which swells whenever the Thames overflows. Magistrates are historically generous with useless floodplains.
If you own a horse, you can leave it in Port Meadow. There are a bunch. Four-legged relics enjoying archaic English laws, that Freemen of Wolvercote are permitted to let animals graze there.
So, what I’m getting at is that there’s a giant public meadow close to my home with a bunch of horses milling around in it. Furry things, ungroomed. Some of them might even be wild for all I know. Occasionally the locals have problems because gypsies show up and steal some.
This weekend I started feeding them. It started Saturday when I popped into The Victoria/my living room for tea. “Hello Tim,” I said, because I know all the staff by name. “I’d like to order some tea, but I’m going to do it in installments. Specifically, I’d like four sugar cubes now. I’ll be back for the tea and my bill in… forty minutes.”
“Er… okay,” says Tim, grabbing a bowl of sugar cubes. My eccentric order is tolerated, because it’s best not to prod too much when you work in someone else’s living room.
So I walk to Port Meadow and mosey up to the horses. Here’s the trick to feeding sugar cubes to horses: you’re fingers look like carrots. Which is to say, if you don’t put out your hand completely flat and let the ponies grab the cubes with their lips, they will simply crunch down on your index finger, then get angry with you when your bloody nub doesn’t turn out to have betacarratine in it.
Horses are basically like four-legged irate homeless people. They go through my pockets looking for treats. When I give them sugar cubes, they look at me blankly for a moment and then entirely forget what a nice guy I am and start head butting me until I provide more.
Today a couple of girls came up and observed me feeding one of the quadruped ingrates. “Can we pet your horse?”
I’m a smart man. I know Valentine’s Day is coming up. “Sure. You stroke Ol’ Clunker to your heart’s content. Just don’t sneak up behind him.”
“Thanks. How long have you had him?”
The horse knows I’m lying. You can see it in his eyes. He bucks his head up and pulls his lips back, like he’s threatening to bite. His lower mandible swishes back and forth menacingly.
I glare at him. “About three years. He used to be a race horse, but he got nervous and kept galloping in the opposite direction. They were going to send him to a dog food factory.” The girls are horrified. “So I bought him. I don’t have time to take care of him at my place anymore, so I come out on weekends to feed him sugar cubes. You like sugar, don’t you Clunker?”
The horse’s eyes narrow, which I’ve never seen a horse do before. It stamps a foot down, nearly crushing mine. Stupid horse.
“Oh. What keeps you so busy?”
Here’s the thing about lies: you have to make them as close to the truth as possible. For instance, say you just got out of prison, and someone asks you what you’ve been doing for the last six years. Tell them “prison guard,” because then your abundance of knowledge about penitentiaries makes sense. And if you slip up and talk about when you shanked Buddy the Hotwirer, you can say, “Oh, I mean one of the inmates did that and I saw.”
“Secret agent astronaut,” I tell the girls.
Then it was just me and the horse.
Until I ran out of sugar cubes.