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The Lost Horse
I remember a special horse from my early childhood. It was a rocking-horse and not like other rocking-horses. To begin with, it was painted a bright red, with a white horse’s head made of a flat board mounted at the front. It was solidly constructed and quite small, though to a three-year-old child, it seemed much bigger than it was. Made of wood, it rocked on it’s curved wooden sides, and the horse’s head had protruding wooden handles to hold on to. It’s rider sat on a wooden seat literally inside, and made it rock by a forwards and backwards movement. For me it was a wonderful ride, and later took me on many journeys, which I shall describe later.
Who made it? For it was surely something unique. I later discovered that a distant uncle, a relative of my father’s, had made it especially for me. He was a carpenter, and its sturdy, almost chunky construction certainly suggested this. But its very solidity made me feel secure, and I can never recall falling out or tipping over. When it came into my life, it was a comforting, protective toy, one that gave me intense pleasure to ride, not on it, but in it. I can recall the simple sensation of rocking back and forth, seeing the world tilt and move around me, something that I had never experienced before.
AS I grew older, I began to be too big for it. But it was not just this that changed its identity and meaning in my life. Instead it became a vehicle for my imagination, a metaphorical vessel for my new journeys. When I began to read, it changed with me. It changed because as I became more and more aware of a wider, stranger and more exotic world, it became a new thing. It became a sailing ship, which carried me on my imaginary travels. Its shape corresponded to a galleon, with the seat as the ship’s poop deck, it’s floor the main deck, and the front as the forecastle, with the horse’s head, complete with painted eyes and mane, as a giant figurehead. Its sturdiness became that of a sailing vessel, capable of travelling long distances. It was manned by a motley crew of toy soldiers, who had unanimously elected me as their captain – not that they had much choice in the matter. We filled it with provisions and planned long and complex voyages around the world.
We travelled together in our ship on many perilous journeys. We survived many savage storms, to which the ship’s natural rocking motion gave reality, and fought off enormous sea serpents and monsters (simulated by other larger toys). We fought many fierce battles with pirates, and we landed and looked for treasure on remote islands (courtesy of our small terraced rear garden) My increasing knowledge from story books allowed us to encounter strange new and exotic lands and peoples, and feast with them in their remote and primitive villages. We explored great cities, bringing back various collections of goods and treasures and conversed with great kings and emperors. We met strange animals and marvelled at the scale and size of the (imaginary) jungles around us (in reality our garden’s larch trees), and eventually travelled home, excited and weary, for tea.
All this from a simple wooden rocking-horse! But, from the hindsight of adulthood, that object marked the last and most joyous part of my childhood, before the onset of the more prosaic world of school. It allowed me to explore my own imagination, fuelled by my increasing knowledge and skills. It helped to open up new worlds, and carried me to then unknown territories, and was a representative of my own hopes and ambitions. After all, in a way, it too had seen the world with me.
As to what happened to it, I know. My parents donated it to the local nursery school, to be used as a plaything for other children. Though it was then lost to me, I have a vivid recollection of it, and even though I cannot draw it properly for some reason, I still know exactly what it was like. I like to think that it began a new life of it’s own, rather than being discarded and thrown away, or broken up for firewood. I forgot it for many years, until some chance remark brought back the affection and nostalgia that I still feel for it. It was a wonderful gift to me in many ways, and had an impact on my life that remains still.