There are certain things every boy loves, not least, holes. They love digging and moving shed loads of soil – but not by hand, I hasten to add. Give a boy a digger and he is happy. One of the curious aspects of life is that boys never change. Their needs and desires stay straight and steady from cradle to grave. Alan is no exception. He had been looking for an excuse to spend a handsome amount of money on a new digger for a significant amount of time. I gave him the perfect excuse. Glamping. To me, glamping meant romantic little shepherds’ huts, nestled as if from a scene from ‘The Fairy Caravan’, with high spec interiors and furnishings to die for. To Alan it meant holes. No wonder he was so keen on the idea. Before I had barely finished uttering the ‘G’ word, he was on the phone and it was ordered. A brand new red and black one. Don’t ask me the spec, it had a couple of shiny buckets, lots of knobbly levers and a cab. What more could a man want? All his birthdays had come at once.
I didn’t see Alan after that. In the distance I heard the faint drone of an engine, and above the hedges I could just make out a metal boom. And boy, what a hole he dug. It could have swallowed the Eiffel Tower.
Admittedly, thoughts did cross my mind that were rather naughty. It involved the hole, a trap and a belligerent old man – but that is another story.
Alan kept digging. At one point, I did wonder if he had plans to drill for oil, but at last his hole was dug – 9 foot deep and wide – perfect to fit in the water treatment plant for the shepherds’ huts.
I praised his digging skills, and looking rather pleased, he commenced the concreting and back filling. Great. Job done. Or so I thought.
What followed was a week of trench warfare. Across the growing haylage field appeared a torrent of moles. Big, athletic, tunnel-digging brutes, that left a trail of destruction. Upon closer inspection, these moles were very clever and accurate – their tunnel was straight and true and headed straight for the ditch that drained the field ultimately into the Swale. On closer inspection, out of the tunnel came a black pipe – 5 feet deep and straight as a die from the tank. I wondered where Alan had been…
So at last, the project was underway, the drains were in, and the grumbling about cost had commenced. But the digger stood idle. However, I had a plan. It involved horses.
For many a year I have pestered, nagged and moaned at poor Alan for an arena. My eventing dreams were always a finger-tip away when I was competing against the pros. The big names in the business start their youngsters in the same classes I fumble my way through. They have the advantage of not only years of experience; personal skill and high class horses; teams of professionals at their beck and call; bottomless pits for pockets – they also have arenas. Many hours are spent on artificial surfaces coercing horses to do their bidding. Whereas I fly with eyes closed and teeth clenched on muddy wintered grass and sun baked concrete clay trying to convince Capote that we are in the same league as the Olympic riders. He doesn’t believe me. My dressage is not my best phase.
A basic 40m x 20m arena costs somewhere between 30 and 50 thousand pounds for a contracted company to install– a laughable amount for any man, but hilarious to a Yorkshire farmer – hence the years of fruitless pestering. Alan had pacified me by getting planning permission, fencing the arena (no issue for a fencing contractor – which is his main job) and had prepared the base. This alone was a massive and expensive job – I knew this, as I had been told many a time. But now we stood still. The arena was worse than useless – for the last year it has been covered in washed quarry stone 6 inches deep that no horse could work on. I knew I was asking for the moon. Each birthday and Christmas, my list was drawn – arena as number one, professional show jumps at number two. My list never went further – I thought it would be prudent to leave the 7.5 tonne lorry for another time…
Now Alan had a new digger, everything had changed. For the first time, the prospect of spending 2 days laying sand and the specially recycled shredded carpet known as ‘clopf fibre’ seemed attractive to him. I took advantage of the situation and struck like a cobra. The timing couldn’t have been better. The lorries that were to deliver the loads had to have the ground as dry as snuff in order to avoid getting stuck, the cattle had to be out, the harvest not yet ready, even the money had been saved, Alan was fast running out of excuses. So reluctantly, with the enticement of two whole days playing diggers, Alan agreed. I wasted no time; urgent phone calls were made to Martin Collins Arenas. The sand and fibre were ordered. I watched the heavens with bated breath – if it rained it was game over.
The Gods smiled down on me and the weather held. 9 eight-wheeler lorries rumbled into the yard, turned in the very dry field, and off loaded their cargo in the arena.
It took two days for the men to dig and level and spread and harrow and roll. At last it was done. I had an arena. My life was complete. Capote was very impressed and took full advantage of his new playground.