I had a conversation with a good friend a few minutes ago and he said:
“Mikael, you should deal with elevating the human spirit, not deal with all this negativity! Read your Testament of Life! Drop the Long Walk right now!”
I agree fully. I don´t feel to well when accusations fly around and digging into unknown peoples life´s become an obsession. The Long Walk just takes hold on you, and drags you along. Enough for me. Time to move on. No more about the Long Walk from me! This is a job for people who have that as a life line, to investigate others to reveal the truth. Whatever that is. Not my vocation anyway. So, for this reason, I will return to what I like the best, introduce original people to you. And who could be better than Simon Mulholland!
Friends and disaster
In this illustrious company of explorers, to describe a pair of journeys, one from Brecon to Balsall Heath in Birmingham, and the other from Exeter to Hyde Park in London, both interrupted by illness and restarted from the middle, takes courage. So I have at least one part of an explorers toolkit.
But my trips were explorations in the way that Cobbett’s Rural Rides was an exploration. Cobbett was looking at the stateof the nation, and reading his book, as I travelled slowly, pony drawn, solo, from Brecon to Birmingham I saw the country anew. Cobbett menioned the rookeries in every parish. I counted the rookeries between Brecon and Birmingham, 6. I know I crossed more than six parish boundraries.
The foreword to Rural Rides emphasised the importance Cobbett placed on people. Heathland, especially in Surrey was to Cobbett, anethema. There were no people. On my journey, if, in the course of one day’s travel, I saw 6 people outside towns and villages, outside their houses and cars, I thought it remarkable. I drove from Brecon to Symonds Yat, five days travel through Wales, along canal towpaths, rural roads, through villages and towns and it was at Symonds Yat that I first heard children playing outside, in the country.
I travelled from 7am till 8 pm every day, with stops to look and listen, and for Obama to graze, so I was listening before they went and after they came back from school. I was travelling through a deserted landscape, a desert. A lush, green, fertile, productive, deserted desert.
I didn’t set off to depress myself. I wanted to test the Saddlechariot Mark 10, an eccentric (in horse terms, eccentric is safe) pony drawn vehicle I had been developing over the last 10 years, and I wanted to test a new pony training system I had invented with Obama since I got him as an untrainable rescue pony in January 2009. I called him Obama because working with inner city kids with a pony called Humpty was just asking for snide remarks. Obama was the perfect name because he was black and white and it was the least relevant thing about him.
The journey wasn’t really the test, I wanted to work Obama and the Saddlechariot at Balsall Heath’s City Farm to show my mate Beau, and the guys there, that my vehicle and my training system could do what I said. But getting me and the pony and the vehicle to Birmingham, would cost money, and I would be looking at a very short sharp demo. But if I drove there, it would be cheap, educational, and I would very definitely know if the system worked. And so would the guys I was going to see.
The one bit which I knew would work, was taking a pony into a city centre. It is the most magic experience. David Grant commented when driving round the world, horsedrawn, that the further east he went from the Channel, the friendlier people got. I find the same effect, based on property prices. When the police start hanging around in groups and wear protective blue rubber gloves the whole time, I relax.
A pony drags you into a different world, one where you arrive at a shop, the owner brings out a chair and sits you down to discuss your travels over a cup of tea while his family scurry round the shelves bringing wares for your approval. I felt I should have been in Kabul, or Timbuctoo, or any of the places with which your real guest writers are familiar. But I was travelling north from Shirley to Balsall Heath, mildly lost. Compasses really aren’t the best way to navigate across Birmingham, so I stopped at this large family owned convenience store to a royal welcome..
The pony brings his own magic. The next day, Beau was leading Obama through Balsall Heath when two police officers stopped him to say, “That’s not Henry.” They were right, the last time I had been in Balsall Heath, Henry had been with me, and Beau had been leading him but that was 18 months ago. Ponies really matter to the people who don’t get to see them much..
The London trip was testing another vehicle, the Bannedwaggon, a wheelchair enabled, one man, safe, all terrain, pony drawn vehicle. Again money was a factor. I wanted to prove that it worked, and the idea of driving solo, from a wheelchair, down Rotten Row, in Hyde Park, on my own, seemed such an obvious thing to do. And really the only way I could afford to get there, given the cost of parking in London, was to drive nthere with Obama pulling the Bannedwaggon.
When a friend, living on the traveller’s site where I am based, said he had always wanted to go horse drawn, I thought “here’s a mug.” and conned him into coming with me. To make sense of the trip, as well as Obama, we took a rather tricky pony who’s training had gone wrong, and was consequently terrified of vehicles behind him. I thought this was safer than the very scared and abused mule I wanted to take, which was marginally OK with traffic and terrified of people.
With two animals we clearly needed two vehicles, so I finished building the Bannedwaggon Sunday, drove to a photoshoot with Country Smallholder on Monday, welded a tow hitch on and on Tuesday set off with two ponies, two vehicles, myself, Lee a mad novice with delusions of going horsedrawn, and John who was photographing us setting off.
We got this insane rig up to the Kennet and Avon canal at which point Tiki the new pony showed serious escapist tendencies. When relying on one strand of electric fence, this is impossible, so he was collected from the canal side, and Lee, Obama and I soldiered on down the Kennet and Avon to just past Newbury.
At this stage Lee had to get back to work, my arms had ballooned up to stupid sizes, Lee and I were both knackered, and were a long way from base with no transport. But the first farm we stopped at, knew my vehicles, knew about me and put Obama up while we let the train take the strain, and hit Exeter.
I had to get Tiki from the farm where we had left him, to Wales, and I wanted to take Obama and Bannedwaggon to a motorcycle rally in Birmingham. Deciding a break would do us all good, I looped at high speed round the country returning to Thatcham, a week later, and set off, this time on my own.
Newbury to Hyde Park doesn’t sound much, but I wouldn’t do it again. The personal strain, with nobody to talk to, yet the total responsibility for another individual, ie Obama, is tough. I came into London from the West looping south to Richmond. The property prices are scary, and the people scarier. A black and white pony and a bloke in a reflective roadmender’s jacket screams Gypsy, despite the pink Crocs I was wearing as disguise.
I was eyeballed by security guards and the Police from Chertsey onwards, and only occasionally could I find a small shop with friendly people who understood that Obama worried when he hadn’t got eye contact with me. My paranoia was starting to affect him. He was fine while I was there, but I couldn’t leave him for a minute. Big cities are hungry places on this basis. Just how many shops do you know that will help you shop while you talk to your pony, in the smart areas.
The Surrey heathland that Cobbett despises, gave us a couple of undisturbed nights, but at Chertsey, the Council arrived within minutes to move us on, in Richmond Park I had three Police within minutes and Hyde Park was terrifying. Obama was losing the plot big time, crossing Kensington Gore at 3.30 ish on a friday is as near suicide as you will get. But we had gone north too early and had hit Kensington Park Gardens. And there, ponies aren’t welcome. Within 15 minutes at least 5 officers were circling me, suggesting with varying degrees of contempt that I should get out of the Park and take Obama down 500 yards of Kensington Gore, to get into Hyde Park where I would be legal.
Obama had eaten some of the Royal Grass in Kensington Park, which was why we were in deep something or another This was Royal Grass, and common ponies weren’t allowed anywhere near it.
My comment that at least he hadn’t smoked it, did little to lighten the mood. The Police attitude was that we had got here by road, we could get out by road and back to Hyde Park where we would be legal but watched like a hawk. I spent ten minutes ringing horsey experts to get an estimated lifespan, for taking a scared pony, with a vehicle, down the main western artery to Hyde Park Corner, at 4 o’clock on friday. Nobody thought I would last ten minutes, I didn’t think I would last that long.
At last the plod saw sense and allowed me, under heavy escort, to walk along an empty footpath, to Hyde Park.
I reshuffled all my camping gear so I could sit in the wheelchair that had come with us from Exeter, hooked the gear around me, and set off to drive Obama, without a bit, without a whip, without blinkers, without horseshoes, without any help, down Rotten Row. I videoed my passage, turned round at HydePark Corner and headed for home.
It was 7 before the traffic was safe enough to get out of Hyde Park, and I wanted to head for the only place I felt safe. The canal from Paddington runs west under some tower blocks with a reputation as a tough area. Within an hour’s tricky walking, we were camping, Obama in a fenced off patch of grass, not royal, me in my pop up tent, chatting to an endless stream of kids and adults who came to chat, to bring food and drink, and to teach me that within an hours walk of Hyde Park there are people, real people.
The next day, brought more friends and disaster. The canal community, especially John a retired lengthman, befriended Obama and accepted me. When I flipped the vehicle over in a narrow path, panicking Obama, who bolted, attached to the rig, I was knackered, not concentrating, but holding the ripcord. I pulled it, releasing Obama, who instantly stopped, and turned back to me. My injuries were painful, but I was mobile. Obama said no way was he going back in the vehicle, so I pulled it back to John’s place and begged sanctuary for the night.
The next day, collected the van and trailer, picked up Obama, and headed for Wales, and rest and recuperation for Obama.
I had what I wanted, a test of the vehicle and a test of the safety system, and had got both. The test, under extreme conditions, of separating a bolting pony from the vehicle, while being dragged, was perfect. I would never have put a pony in that situation, but when you are in it, it is really nice to see the sytem you designed, actually working, mostly because otherwise, you are dead.
But I also wanted to show that wheelchair users could enjoy pony based activities in safety, and there I failed, but I succeeded in doing something really radical. I challenge anyone, to drive a pony and vehicle, into any capital city from a couple of hundred miles away, and then drive solo, in a wheelchair round a major public landmark, and NOT get into any form of media at all.
I did it, I still don’t know how, as I had two people contacting all the major media organisations to say there was a wheelchair enabled vehicle etc.
Still, if anyone wants to get some celebrity, discretely into a capital city, without any press coverage, I have the system. It may be slow, but I can absolutely guarantee, no media coverage. That’s got to be worth big money.
Simon Mulholland is 55, and has done most things, few of them well. As a cook, he is proud to have roasted Peacock on a portable inglenook fiireplace of his own design, for the Hell’s Angels. He has spent ten years developing a safe, modern, pony drawn vehicle system, most recently incorporating a wheelchair enabled version. He doesn’t train ponies, he works with them and lets them train him. He takes pony drawn vehicles to motorcycle rallies, and wears pink crocs and wonders why people think he is odd.
He wants to drive a chariot from the Tell Ajrab, where a beautiful onager drawn, bronze model of a straddlecar from 2600 BC was found, to Troy. This marks the start and finish of chariot use, although they continued to be used for another millennia for racing.
Mikael, it is just great to see Simon Mulholland featured here. I have never seen the Banned Wagon but have seen and driven the Saddlechariot and what is more, seen disabled kids learn to drive it, safely, after only limited instruction.
Both vehicles are brilliant and its is a scandal that the British Horse Establishment, with its collective head jammed right up its arse, has so far refused even to look at them.
I am a huge fan and the possibilities for interesting journeys and, more importantly, working with handicapped children (and indeed adults) are enormous.
well done for highlighting two journeys that are as worthy of inclusion as many that are more exotic, perhaps.
Just found you on facebook and now to read your story!! March Forward my man! from Newnan, Georgia USA