One of my favourite children’s books was ‘Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse.’
Today, whilst researching for this blog I discovered that Ursula Moray Williams, the author of this children’s story, briefly attended the Winchester College of Art, as did my daughter.
This is the story of her rocking horse, Marigold; she doesn’t rock as such, rather she swings on an ‘I’ shaped wooden base six feet long and three feet wide.
My father carved her from solid wood and painted her in dappled shades of black, grey and white; Marigold has large blue eyes and elaborate black eyebrows painted with acrylic. Her mane and tail are real horsehair and she has a soft, pale leather bridle, saddle and stirrups.
She looks more like a carthorse than a thoroughbred. She is big enough to carry two children and my father would prove her strength and stability when he visited by riding her himself.
He liked a bet on the horses and had named her Red Rum, but the day she arrived at our house, my daughter,then aged two, christened her Marigold and the name stuck. That was her first journey, from South London to Southampton strapped on the top of my father’s Fiat Uno, causing consternation or delight to motorists all the way down the M3.
Underneath her tail is a triangular section of wood, which covers a hollow compartment where my father said he placed a secret message. Speculation as to what the message might say is intriguing. He died six years after making Marigold and now, thirty two years later, I can only wonder what words he chose to leave for posterity. How faded would the ink be now? Would we be able to decipher his appalling handwriting? Dad painted pictures; maybe the message is not in writing at all. Marigold’s paintwork will be spoiled and her body damaged if we try to open the compartment so the mystery remains.
The world has changed so much in the years since she was made. The internet and smart phones allow everyone instant and constant messaging. I think my father would have loved this new technology. In what form would he have chosen to leave a message if he was alive today?
My children’s memories of their granddad are through family stories, photographs and the things he made. For Marigold is not the only horse. A year earlier he made his first rocking horse for my niece. This horse had a round barrel shaped body and an angular head and looked more like a toy horse. Dad named him Shergar after the famous horse, who broke the record for flat racing at the 1981 Epsom Derby and was subsequently kidnapped and killed by the IRA.
Marigold has become a horse of journeys. Her first fourteen years were relatively stable (no pun intended) and she lived in my daughter’s bedroom in Southampton. But almost seventeen years ago, my husband died suddenly and unexpectedly. We’d only moved seven months before and my children and I never settled in the new house. My daughter went away to university soon after and later on moved to Madrid. I became a wanderer, moving six times in as many years. I also became the guardian of Marigold.
She travelled with me from Southampton to Corbridge in Northumberland, then to the West Road of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, back to my birthplace in South London and in more recent years to a house in Kent, which looked out onto the Thames marshes before relocating to the heart of Rochester.
I used to be more like my brothers; they still have a fascination in seeking out and keeping old things. But I changed, circumstances made me change. I have car booted, auctioned, ebayed, gifted and thrown away so many things from my past life, but still have Marigold.
She was made for posterity, which would be fine if she was not such a mighty, weighty and unwieldy horse. As the Geordie removal lads remarked when they had to carry Marigold down the one main street in Corbridge and up the stairs to my flat, ‘That’s one bloody heavy horse you have there, pet!’
During my itinerant years, Marigold has lived in a bathroom, becoming an elegant towel rail; looked at the back yard of a greengrocer’s shop and resided in the depths of a garage in Kent, nestled under the central heating boiler. Now, she can watch the daytime tourists and locals on Rochester High Street and enjoy the excitement of the street festivals and drunken Saturday nights.
One of my brothers asked me if I have found my cottage with roses around the door. ‘I don’t have a garden,’ I replied, but that isn’t what he meant. Perhaps this will be the place I finally settle, but what about Marigold?
One day, when my daughter has a big enough flat, Marigold might make her longest journey yet, to Madrid. Will that be her final resting place?
Nine years ago, I first saw the statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in the Plaza de España in Madrid. I realised that she resembles Don Quixote’s plodding horse. My Father loved the idealism, chivalry and bravery embodied in Cervantes’ epic tale.
Who is to say that Marigold will not one day take her place, fighting windmills in the land of La Mancha? But will anyone ever get to read her secret message and when might that be? And will she be ridden once more by the new baby that is arriving this spring in Madrid?