I am enjoying my after-swim coffee and catch-up with the newspapers at the health club when my eye is caught by one of the obituaries. Josephine Pullein-Thompson has died.
If the name doesn’t ring any bells with you, then you were / are probably not a pony-mad youngster. If, however, you spent the most carefree days of your youth like the Middle of the Darling Daughters, then you
will be mourning the passing of the author of “Pony Club Challenge”, “Prince Among Ponies” and any number of other horsey books. The heroines of the 200 plus books written by Josephine, her mother and her twin sisters were among the
first to show that anything the boys could do, they could do just as well if not better. Mucking out the horses, galloping across the countryside, falling off and getting straight back on again – no wonder the books appealed to a thoroughly
emancipated young lady like my middle daughter.
Not that the Middle of the Darling Daughters ever actually made it to Pony Club. Sadly our large family and not-so-large
income did not run to the purchase of pony, horse box, tack or even the odd bale of straw. Our daughter, however, was not inclined to allow such inconsequential difficulties cloud her dreams. Where there’s an obstacle, there is always the power
Initially she turned to our three pet rabbits whom she introduced to her own version of Pony Club. Every afternoon after school Rosie (so named
on account of her pink eyes), Etta (who ate a lot of rabbit food) and Arfur (R for rabbit) were patiently coaxed over low make-shift fences set out all around our back lawn, tempted by delicacies of the bunny variety. This phase did not last very long
on account of (i) the disinclination of all three rabbits to perform as required and (ii) the fact that simply watching others jump or fail to jump fences, whether rabbit or whatever, was not as exciting as flying over the jumps oneself.
It was but a small step – or should I say, hop – from rabbits to space hoppers. Every day my horse-mad daghter could be found careering round the garden on her Steed
of Choice, hurtling over imaginary fences, splashing through equally imaginary streams, risking life and limb in the Back Garden Steeplechase Stakes. Every evening, her “pony” would be lovingly brushed down and stabled in the airing cupboard for
the night. Whether these experiences stood her in good stead when she finally managed to persuade the owner of the local riding school to give her free riding lessons in exchange for a long, smelly morning spent mucking out the stables I am not sure.
It is possible that the space-hoppers were slightly more biddable than the real thing and certainly the airing cupboard was much less pongy than the real-life stables.
When I was young, we played games like “Runaway Lovers” - where did that idea come from, I wonder? My little sister and I spent a lot of time, I seem to remember, sitting in an old upturned box which served as the car in which the
ill-starred lovers escaped from whatever it was they were escaping from. Where we ran to, given that our transport was completely stationary, I have not the foggiest. My sister and I always preferred it when there were just the two of us playing.
Whenever Margaret, the girl across the road, turned up to play we sighed inwardly. Our Mum said we had to play with Margaret because she was an Only Child. She said this as if being an Only Child was the very worst thing that could happen to you – my
sister and I needed no convincing, we could not imagine life without each other.
A bit like the Runaway Lovers, now I come to think of it.