Make believe. What boy has not played at Cowboys and Indians?
Reading, I graduated from Rupert Bear to The Famous Five and Secret Seven to Biggles. A small group of us were them – Biggles, Bertie, Algy, Ginger – to the new adventures that I made up as we went along. I loved The Children of the New Forest, by Captain Marriott. Cops and Robbers, Cowboys and Indians were popular by the masses and when the masses needed some robbers and Indians, they picked on us, the outsiders, the geeks or the eccentrics. Regardless of what the masses wanted, I always chose to be an Indian. There was a huge satisfaction in outsmarting the cowboys, at which I was fairly successful, as I often managed to do the unexpected. The librarian even bought a book especially for me about Indian customs and dances for the Blackfeet tribe. Wampum, wigwams, breechclouts and stuff.
In my father’s workshop, I bent a hinge blade to make a tomahawk, sharpened flat-bar to make knives, made nails and reeds into arrows, fashioned my bows from whippy ‘karee’ tree boughs. Needless to say, this armoury was forbidden at school. So was my breechclout.
As a knight, I made a sword, shield and a suit of armour out of galvanised plate – a breastplate and helmet. It was so uncomfortable I was lucky nobody challenged me to a joust. I couldn’t mount my donkey with it on, anyway. Yes, I did, I had a donkey.
As a frontiersman, I made a firearm from a pipe attached to a wooden butt with a fire-cracker and marble to do what guns do.
To my vast disappointment, nobody wanted to play those childish games when I got to high school, which forced me to take refuge in my head. I wrote stories, but I also went to bed as early as I could so that I slept lightly and dreamed more often…
Several times, in my dreams, there was this white horse that limped when he walked. He had a huge dent in his hip, but when he ran, he went like the wind, galloping alongside my father’s car as he took me back to the farm, or so the dream often went. Then, that same year, I was given a very pale grey gelding by a friend of my parents. He was a retired race horse, they said, named Lord Bledisloe.
My brother said; never mind the Lord, he was just bleddy slow. (We never did get on.) I called him Sloe, for the colour of his eyes…
On the day he died, years later, I had ridden him to town from the farm to buy bread my father had forgotten. The sky was darkening with storm clouds as I turned Sloe across the three-lane tarmac and onto the centre island. The only vehicle on the road coming towards us turned on its headlights, causing Sloe to freeze, only his forelegs on the island. I saw it in slow-motion – the two men chatting in the front seat, laughing at something; the driver not watching the road. The car slammed into Sloe where my leg should have been, but miraculously wasn’t.
Next thing I knew, I was on my feet on the island, reins in hand, trying to get Sloe to his feet. The car’s headlight glass was spinning in the road, the front of the car smashed in. When the stricken horse got to his feet, his whole ribcage was dented in…
A friend helped me walk him home; he started bleeding from his nose and we knew his lungs were punctured. My father was angry because it was he that had to shoot Sloe because I didn’t have the guts. I didn’t leave my room for three days.
So, please tell me about your dream, then, and I hope it didn’t become a nightmare.