Kitty was always called the French Mare having been brought to Guernsey by the German invaders. I don’t know how Dad got hold of her and when but I do know she was one of those special horses whose memory lives on long after they have met their maker.
Her most outstanding characteristic was the bullet hole in her ear. Until very recently I had imagined she had, in true War Horse fashion, been on the receiving end during a pitched battle as the Nazi Blitzkrieg rolled across France. I now know that a German officer accidently shot her in the ear. Hey ho, either way she had a close call with death and how many people have a horse with a bullet hole?
The story I will now relate has been put together from many sources at least one of which is known for exaggerating the truth so much it is almost fiction but it reads well and you can make up your own mind.
A young Mr F, possibly a relation, was hired to work on Camps Farm. One of his jobs was to drive the horse into town to get loads of “grains” from the Guernsey brewery which were a cheap but well liked food for the cows.
I’d better tell you what grains are, Ask any beer connoisseur what beer is made of and nine times out of ten they will answer “hops”. Not so. Hops are used in the process but to add the bitter flavour and to help preserve it in the barrel. Water and yeast also are involved in the process but beer is made from barley. The barley is mashed in a big steel vat by steeping it in hot water just like making a cup of tea. After about an hour of mashing the “tea” is drained off leaving hot and steaming “grains”. In the Old Guernsey Brewery, sadly no longer brewing but standing as a ghostly shell waiting to become posh apartments, the grains were then shovelled out into a chute and slid down to form the most sweet smelling pile of steaming wet grains. I can smell them now as I type this, a wonderful memory.
Mr F once he was out of sight liked to use a bit of whip and move Kitty into 5th gear. Kitty didn’t appreciate the motivation and was a horse who knew how to show her disapproval. Always best to keep on the right side of Kitty but Mr F didn’t which led to his downfall which in turn led to the purpose of this story and also to his dismissal from Camps Farm.
A carriage driving whip is made up of three parts. The handle, stick and lash. The handle is about a foot long, the stick four feet and the lash two feet. A skilled driver like my dad could flick a fly of a horses ear with the whip without the horse even knowing. Just after the first world war there was a lady who drove a four in hand post van and she could rip unsuspecting pedestrians newspapers in half from her high seat as she drove past just for fun. Usually the whip was used for making a loud cracking sound which was enough to do the job. In fact a skilled driver uses the whip without hardly ever touching the horse and even then only lightly if needed.
Mr F wasn’t a skilled carriage driver. He was more of an over enthusiastic learner who hadn’t mastered the light use of the whip. The more he laid it on the more Kitty played about. At the end of the lash of this whip a small knot had been tied. By a million to one chance, which would have been better served by buying a lottery ticket, Ferbrache cracked the whip and threaded the lash through the hole in Kitty’s ear. As he wrenched it back what went in so easily decided it wasn’t coming out without a fight and Kitty’s ear was torn asunder. Mayhem ensued and it didn’t go unobserved by the crowd.
On his return to the farm Mr F was summarily dismissed after he couldn’t offer a reasonable explanation for the injury to a fine animal. He was last seen being chased down the Bouet by dad with carriage whip in hand being used to good effect as an only an expert can.
That’s the end of the story.
Or it would be if the event hadn’t traumatised Kitty who became something somewhat hard to handle and difficult to drive. She also didn’t like to be approached or touched. Dad took her in hand and drove her for a few days but the velvet glove had to come off and some tough love administered.
It didn’t take long before a horse loving member of the public complained to the GSPCA. The Guernsey Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a fine organisation dedicated to enhancing the lives of all animals. For farmers they can be a pain in the neck particularly when the uninformed but good intentioned public see what they believe is cruelty but is in fact perfectly acceptable commercial behaviour. Suffice it to say there was usually some tension between my dad and the GSPCA inspector.
In fact there was tension between any “official” and my dad. A new Agricultural Advisory Officer came down to the farm to introduce himself. He spent sometime walking around the farm examining everything and telling dad where he was going wrong and how he could vastly improved everything. Dad took it remarkably well. At the end of the visit the AAO said he would put all his recommendations in a letter and then revisit in a few weeks to see if they had all been implemented. “Wouldn’t it be easier for me to come to your farm and see how a good farmer should do it?” asked Dad. “I don’t have a farm” replied the AAO. “Then keep your expletive ideas and expletive recommendations and don’t expletive come back and see me until you expletive do” shouted father as he saw him off the premises.
Imagine then the welcome the Spanish GSPCA man received when he visited Camps Farm to investigate a complaint of cruelty against a grey horse. I can’t recall his name and as the tale has been told over and over again he is only ever referred to as the Spanish GSPCA man and that is what I shall call him in the next instalment of Kitty’s story.