I like horses. I like them so much that I don’t fancy riding them, not that I get the opportunity much – the last time was in Cuba, if memory serves, back when Fidel was in charge. I do understand that that’s kind of what they’re for, but I figure that, given its druthers, the horse would rather not have me on its back.
I definitely like them enough NOT to eat them, although the events of the last few weeks suggest that I probably have had some Secretariat at some point, possibly in the form of a pie at a football match or maybe a burger van burger in a moment of, well, drunkenness. I know that they enjoy cheval in France and many other places (my dad, jet-lagged and exhausted, mistakenly ordered and ate horse carpaccio in Bogota), but for me, growing up on Gunsmoke, the Lone Ranger and Pit Pony (google it – the height of Canadian public broadcasting), it just ain’t right. And it appears to be just not right for many people in Britain. Although the furore will likely pass in a few months, just like BSE, the scandal has raised important questions about the provenance of what goes down our gullet, 107 years after Upton Sinclair raked mud all over the Chicago meatpacking industry in The Jungle.
Having said that, horse-gate has occurred at the perfect time for me and my new MSc seminar, Food and Health in the Twentieth Century. Not that my students need much encouraging, but what a way to break the ice before we launch into the business of the day. After a moment’s silence for the poor ponies, of course…
It all started with Christmas, or the lack thereof, I suppose. I was looking forward to Christmas, largely because Dashiell is starting to understand that it’s a special time of year, but I also knew that I’d be stuck with a helluva lot of work. First, there was marking – there’s always marking – but there were also two new classes to prepare, two chapters to write, a BBC shoot to script and prepare for, a presentation for the Department for Education to write, a REF impact statement to dream up, and a big interview with the Wellcome Trust to think about as well. Was that all? I can’t even remember anymore. I wrote down ten things at one point, but there might have been more. What I didn’t prepare for was the worst cold I’ve had since I was a kid. Coughing, hacking, sneezing, phlegm of mysterious colours and viscosity pouring out of my snout like pints out of a tap at happy hour – it was terrible. Add the lousy weather and a crabby son on Christmas Day itself, and it added up to a sub-par holiday season.
Then January hit and all the deadlines for all the things I had to get done loomed in front of me like a deer leaping out into the roadway in front of you. Not good. I was working on both the weekends and the evenings – something I tend to lump in with cruel and unnatural punishment. But the stuff had to get done. I didn’t sacrifice much Dashiell time, and kept up with more of my programmes (The Killing kept me sane, I like to think) And the deadlines passed, usually with me getting things done just in time. And, finally, finally, January ended. There’s more light, the sun is brighter, I’ve seen snow drops and the new shoots of daffodils, and February is looking a lot more manageable. Now I’m just doing what a normal academic does, which is doable. Next year, a holiday might be in order.