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Horse power

FROME FOSSIL 75: June 2020

A few weeks ago we sat in the garden drinking coffee and reading. The newspaper rustled, insects buzzed, leaves flapped in the breeze, the dog snored on the grass, a robin sang in the hedge, from a distant oak a woodpigeon gently implored Taffy to take two cows.That was all. A profound peace had descended all over the land, courtesy of the lockdown. No cars, no lorries, no motorbikes, no helicopters, no mowers, no leaf blowers, no nothing.

Then suddenly the air was rent by a brazen ripping noise, somewhere between a rocket taking off and someone blowing an amplified kazoo. I flinched, spilt a bit of coffee, then went back to the sports pages. The other animals carried on undisturbed. Because we all knew what had produced that raucous blast. The old horse in the field next door has developed an unfortunate metabolic reaction to grass which causes him to produce – and emit – copious quantities of wind. Which reminds me of the hoary tale of the the man who is in the midst of bargaining for a length of calico at a market stall when the stallholder similarly lets fly. “Don’t tear it, madame,” pleads the customer, “I’ll take the whole piece.”

The horse doesn’t seem too discomfited by his little problem. And in the grand scheme of things it is a minor disturbance in our sleepy lives. But now lockdown is over, and the sound of even a trillion flatulent geldings is as nothing compared to the world’s joyous return to its petrol-guzzling uproar. All the combustion-engined machines on the planet are now blowing out their waste gases more enthusiastically and loudly than ever,without pause. They fill the roads and the air with their thundering, whining, clattering, snarling, snorting, screeching discords. We are, in short, back to normal.

All the same it’s a rude awakening. Lockdown brought plenty of misery, but it also brought something which was almost silence, during which – if we listened - we could hear the natural world getting on with its life in blissful tranquillity. There was a general consensus that this was a Good Thing, and that maybe we could all change our lives so that it would continue. Seems laughable now.

We have embraced yet again our customary compulsion to tear it all to shreds. I’d rather take the whole piece.