Saturday, 20 August 2011

Introduction: Bunty Pargeter welcomes you to Vaysey Pastures

Welcome to the leafy Vale of Vaysey and to my livery yard Vaysey Pastures!

If you haven’t been here before, I’m sure you will enjoy this beautiful area
with its pretty countryside and picturesque villages and hamlets.

Hopefully you will find something of interest about the lives of the folk in and around my yard, the liveries, staff and various helpers and connections.

My family, the Pargeters have lived in the Vale for generations. In the last hundred years or so, our fortune has stemmed mainly from Pargeter’s Mints.

A bequest from my late father Reggie enabled me to live my dream and set up my livery business, Vaysey Pastures twenty or so years ago.

It’s been a lot of hard work but we have just about survived and now live to tell the tale.

The yard stands in thirty acres or so between the villages of Nibble and Dibble on the northern edge of the Vale in the scenic lea of Benny Hill. Look out for the map showing the whole of the Vale.

We have what you would expect from a medium size livery business with paddocks for turn out, an arena for schooling, two large blocks of boxes, a common room and tack room for the liveries and my little office.

It’s been many a year since I last had the time to sit on a horse, since I have my work cut out running the place.

I couldn’t possibly manage without my loyal staff. Some of them like Enid Possett and Bert Postlethwaite have been with me from the outset, whilst others, such as young Eve Harriman, have only recently joined us.

Similarly, many of my liveries have been with me since we started such as Patsy Pottle, Tiffany Lampwick Joan and Betty Crumblewick and Rita Palgrave. My longstanding ladies are quite formidable in a friendly sort of way; they rule the roost over coffee and cigarettes from their common room overlooking the stables. I have heard their little conclave compared to the coven in "Macbeth," but I'm too busy to interfere and let them get on with it.

We have some newcomers on the yard including some brave late starters like Dolly Grubb and a rare male livery, Kevin Winkle.

We have all sorts in the mix including the trendy Podmores and our busy journalist mum Hyacinthe Crabbe-Legge.

We aim to cater for all ages and abilities and have youngsters with ponies such as the boisterous Hilton twins to teenagers like Dorinda Miggins – such a sweet girl. Fortunately everyone seems to get on very well with each other and my hard-working staff.

Around the yard we have a marvellous support team and are fortunate to have the expert veterinary services of Fred Marpleston and the brilliant farrier Kirk McGurk, who is so popular with our lady liveries.

A short drive from the yard is the Vale of Vaysey Riding Club, which hosts show jumping and dressage competitions for all levels.

On site we also have regular dressage and jumping clinics including by the well-respected international trainer Pandora la Gueriniere and German bereiter, Werner Flumpenhoffer.    

The Tales from Vaysey Pastures  start with some of my "longer established" ( a polite way of saying "older") liveries. The stories are listed in the Appendix opposite, so either click on the title you want or scroll down to find it.

At the end of this blog is a Glossary listing most of the names and places mentioned and hopefully explaining them with some short articles on horsey themes and even a livery quiz.

Here is a taster of what is to come. Naturally no right or interest whatsoever is claimed in the delightful backing track

I do hope you will agree that we have much to offer at Vaysey Pastures in the unspoiled Vale of Vaysey. Please enjoy your visit.

Kind regards,

Bunty Pargeter (Miss)

Map of the lovely Vale of Vaysey

Set out below is a map showing the principal town and villages of the leafy Vale of Vaysey with its public highways and larger hills.  Vaysey Pastures, the livery yard of Bunty Pargeter lies in the lea of Benny Hill between the hamlets of Dibble and Nibble and nearby Wibble. It is in driving distance of Shipston Vaysey with its riding Club and surrounded by many picturesque villages, inhabited by the liveries and connections of the yard. To obtain an enlarged view of the map, please just click on it.

The Proprietor and Staff

As you might imagine, a large yard like Vaysey Pastures does not run itself.

Although there are some clients who “Do it themselves” – an unfortunate term I always think – the majority are on what we call “Full or Part” livery.

This, more costly, alternative means that we take responsibility for various tasks ranging from mucking out the stable and turning the horse out to graze and bringing it in to feeding, grooming or even exercising when the owner has not the time, energy or general inclination.

If I might descend to the vulgar topic of money, it is on the added services such as clipping, schooling and teaching that most livery yards make the profit that keeps them afloat nowadays, but enough of Mammon.

In many ways, livery yards are not unlike girls' boarding schools. Beloved princesses are removed from the perfect environment of home to strange surroundings where a group of highly strung individuals are corralled together and managed by staff of varying characters and degrees of competence.

There are good times and bad and, quite often, a hysterical hot-house atmosphere develops. In this and so many ways Vaysey Pastures resembles
Mallory Towers and the dramas of the liveries common room mirrors those of the lower fifth Remove: a surprisingly potent cocktail of hormones, tears and passion. To steal a term from the immortal Bette Davis, it is generally adviseable to "fasten your seatbelts", since it's going to be "a bumpy night" at the yard.

Returning to specifics, it would not be possible to run the yard without loyal helpers. In my case I have relied mainly upon an experienced senior girl of any years standing and a factotum handyman to keep the place going. I have younger staff who come and go - often leaving a trail of havoc in their wake.

I must admit my employees have always been hardworking and committed and, to be honest, I have taken them for granted. I now know I haven’t always been terribly quick in recognising their views and feelings or acting upon them. To find out more about me and my team, please read on…

The Proprietor

Vaysey Pastures stood between the pretty villages of Nibble and Dibble in the leafy Vale of Vaysey and had a fine view of Benny Hill. It was Bunty Pargeter’s realm; it was her jewel set in a silver sea – or at least, in a convenient, semi-rural location.

Her role as proprietor was not "a job"; caring for her clients and their horses was her "vocation". For Bunty it had a selfless and noble quality with some Mother Theresa, a little St Joan and a lot of Elizabeth I.

As a cinema fan, Bunty saw herself as regal: a hybrid of Bette Davis as redoubtable Gloriana and Anna Neagle as a feisty, but much-loved, Victoria.

Bunty always said she had been forced to treat her personal life as secondary since she was "married to Vaysey Pastures" and "the liveries were her children."

In reality, managing Vaysey Pastures was a prosaic mixture of coping with blocked drains, missing tack and unpaid livery bills. The job required many different skills in balancing the demands of staff and customers and coping with various incidents.

Experience had taught Bunty to appreciate simple survival and getting through each day. After decades at the helm, she tended to take a pragmatic view of most things and, wherever possible, opted for the line of least resistance. 
Sometimes her staff found this blithe refusal to look deeply into things frustrating.

Her longstanding senior girl Enid Possett was the soul of reliability, being the first to start each morning and last to leave every night. Bunty however myopically failed to recognise this dedication or reward it by the title of "Yard Manager" that would have cost so little, but meant so much.

Similarly, Bert Postlethwaite, her odd job man, had made the yard tick over twenty three years and was personally devoted to her, but Bunty only thought of him as a hard worker with a good sense of humour.

Indeed Bunty’s favourite people on the yard were those that caused her least trouble, such as Bruce and Betty Penge, who paid promptly for full livery and were hardly ever there. They were fully occupied in earning the money to pay for it all.

Privately, her least favourite were the troublemakers like the Hilton twins wreaking havoc and destruction and the complaining ladies who could only just afford the fees and who seemed to be in the common room smoking, plotting, bickering and gossiping sixteen hours a day.

It had been many years since Bunty rode a horse or mucked out a stable. She presided over the yard from her little office next to the tack room wearing a range of colourful print frocks, usually matched with faithful old green hunter wellies.

Her start in life had been comfortable as the only daughter of Reggie, the founder of Pargeter’s Mints and Edwina, the bulwark of the WRVS and local charities.
Well-educated at Rodean and Girton, Bunty could have gone on to a successful life like her school-friend Pandora la Gueriniere, the glamorous dressage teacher.

Depressingly, Bunty’s main concerns were now the next delivery of haylage, which liveries were pilfering straw and whether she could last out until her next holiday.

Bunty’s foreign holidays only addressed the symptoms rather than the root cause of her angst. On her Thomson safari to
Kenya, she considered seizing a new life by marrying a Masai warrior, thirty years her junior.

In Skiathos, she daydreamed about buying a beach restaurant with Costas, the moustachio’d fisherman.

She would return to Vaysey Pastures and look into Patsy Pottle’s missing numnah and wonder what her life might have been without the ‘effing horses.

The Senior Girl

Enid worked at Bunty Pargeter’s yard for more years than anyone could remember.

She opened up at seven each morning, gave the horses their breakfast before staff or liveries arrived and was invariably the last to leave each night.

Although she had no qualifications, everyone said “What Enid Possett doesn’t know about horses isn’t worth knowing”. A firm believer in the efficacy of poultices and bran mash, her knowledge owed more to “Black Beauty” than the current “BHS Manual of Stable Management”.

She always gave the young ones their first lessons pre-Pony Club and unfailingly instilled the same principles of straight-back, heels-down, leg-on and “Don’t take any nonsense!”

Her recurrent mantras were “When you fall off, get straight back on” and “It’s a horse, not a pet, child!”

Enid had a jaundiced view of liveries. A strict pecking order was to be observed. Full liveries were acknowledged, albeit grudgingly, part liveries merited the slightest nod, on a good day, and DIY’s were ignored completely.

All liveries were to be regarded at best as a necessary evil. They would be tolerated, provided they did not interfere in any way with daily routine.

Liveries must not obstruct Enid’s access to straw, hay or water and must never, ever touch her favourite wheelbarrow, extra long-handled fork, snow shovel and broom – the efficient one with a luxuriant head of bristles (unlike the majority on the yard).

Enid took pains to ensure that her seniority was reflected in her relationship with the other girls. She ate her own sandwiches each day in her corner of the tack room and never joined in chips on Tuesdays or trips to the Red Lion or Trugg & Gussett. She would, however, usually eat a cake on someone’s birthday.

Enid’s relationship with Miss Pargeter stood the test of time. Enid would not hear a word against her employer and was quick to squash any complaints amongst staff or liveries and to report back any disloyal remarks.

The reward for decades of such devotion was the general understanding that
Enid was the senior girl on the yard. Other than her preferred tools, a few pounds extra a week and a card at Christmas, she received no further privileges. Enid was never invited to share a meal with Miss Pargeter or to call her "Bunty".

Over tea, following
Enid’s funeral, Miss Pargeter commended Enid’s work, but was not aware she had been her “senior” girl.

The Life and Soul

After Kirk Mc Gurk, the hunky farrier, the person always guaranteed to have all the liveries in stitches was Bert Postlethwaite.

Bert had been at Vaysey Pastures since it was first opened by Bunty Pargeter. The more mature ladies holding court in the comon room always said he was an honorary member of their "Old Guard."

He did all the odd jobs around the place a few days a week with duties ranging from repairing broken fences and gates to unblocking drains and coaxing the temperamental ring main into life.

Miss Pargeter marvelled at the sheer range of Bert’s skills and how nothing was too much trouble, even after all these years.

A workaholic, Bert was a blur of blue overalls and Woodbine smoke in perpetual motion.The soundtrack of his work was hammering and sawing accompanied by a non-stop commentary on the human condition as manifested in the many and varied inhabitants of Vaysey Pastures.

No-one, even the most staid and reserved of ladies, was safe from Bert’s stream of observations, gags and double entendres.

When Patsy Pottle innocently commented that she was worried about the loss of hair from her
Chihuahua, Bert laconically suggested that she get a new bicycle saddle. To this day, Patsy doesn’t understand the helpful advice or why most of the liveries in the common room choked on their coffees or nearly suffocated on their Marlborough Lights.

Half the fun with the more worldly liveries was the exchange of glances whilst Bert was undertaking a conversation at an entirely different level to that of his innocent listener.

Classic jokes of years gone by in the vein of Max Miller eventually developed into a kind of shorthand between Bert and the liveries, so that any mention of the word “vestry” evoked uncontrollable giggles stemming from a shared memory of: “Vicar, is that Fanny Green?” and the response: “No, my dear, it must be the light shining through the vestry window”.

On the days he was working, Bert would usually stop mid-morning for a cup of tea and a smoke with Rita, Patsy and the older liveries.

He was always included in the round of cakes when birthdays were celebrated and every year joined in the yard’s Christmas lunch at the Red Lion.

On these occasions, although Bert invariably turned up in his best suit, he would soon loosen his tie and make sure the party went with a swing.

The girls could always rely on Bert to fire off a stream of jokes, start off the karaoke with his Matt Munro and lead a festive conga.

When he returned alone to his flat in Daisy Vaysey after the party, Bert made a cup of tea and sat down by the gas fire. He opened a card with a cheery robin on the handle of a spade in a snowy garden. It wished him “Best Wishes for a Happy Christmas” and was signed “from Bunty Pargeter”.

Bert lit another Woodbine and pensively gazed into space. He opened the toffee tin on the mantel piece and placed this year’s card inside, on top of twenty-three others from Miss Pargeter.

If dear Bunty only knew how he really felt about her.

The Treasure

All the liveries spoke very highly of the new girl: “so helpful and energetic”.

Patsy Pottle agreed with Tiffany Lampwick that she was "an absolute treasure: nothing’s too much trouble”.

Even Enid Possett, the senior girl who had worked for Miss Pargeter from the very beginning, had to admit Eve was “quite a find”.

Overcoming her usual resistance to change,
Enid found her young colleague a welcome addition. Eve was more than willing to take on arduous jobs around the yard, including the some of the messier stables and turning out the more boisterous mares.Enid found it refreshing that her hardworking helper was so eager to learn.

After a remarkably short time, Enid found herself imparting her knowledge, gleaned from decades working with horses, to the youngster who seemed so grateful and keen to benefit from her experience.

So close did they become, that
Enid even let Eve sit with her in her holy of holies in her corner of the tack room and share her lunchtime sandwiches and flask of tea.

Within weeks, Eve had offered to help by arriving early to open up the yard. She also gave
Enid a well-deserved break by being the one to stay late and lock up.

After watching
Enid teaching the young ones a few times, she also offered to deputise when required. Enid was only too happy to let Eve share the burden.

By her long hours and cheerful hard work, Eve gradually won the hearts of most of the liveries young and old. More of them turned to Eve with requests for help or advice.

Most agreed that she was “more with-it than dear old
Enid” who tended to be a little brusque if not downright grumpy and whose remedy for most ailments was a good old bran mash or poultice. Eve was more at ease with modern trends, from shock-wave therapy to reiki.

Bunty Pargeter herself came to realise that Eve Harriman was a valuable addition to her staff.

All the liveries and even dear old
Enid spoke so highly of her. She seemed reliability itself and, unlike some staff, was always willing to put herself out.

Uniquely, Eve was also computer literate and able to help in the office when the new-fangled pc crashed “or whatever it was it did”.

Before long, she wondered what she did without her bright young assistant. When Bunty returned from her holiday in Skiathos, distracted as to whether she should throw in the towel at Vaysey Pastures and return to run a taverna with her new friend Costas, she had found Eve particularly sympathetic and supportive. In fact Eve “virtually ran the office” for those weeks.

By December Bunty had concluded that dear Eve was quite irreplaceable and, at the yard Christmas party at the Red Lion, made the surprise announcement to liveries and staff that “in recognition of her sterling work since arriving earlier in the year, Miss Harriman would be appointed Yard Manager”.

All the liveries looked straight at
Enid and Patsy Pottle remarked “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night”.

To everyone’s surprise however
Enid said nothing and just sipped her snowball. Later, as Bert Postlethwaite led the traditional conga, Enid slipped away unnoticed. No-one at the yard saw Enid again.

Gathering outside the church in Wibble following her funeral on a cold March morning, the consensus amongst the liveries was that, although the death certificate referred to pneumonia, Enid Possett’s heart had been broken.

Ironically, Eve did not return to the yard after Christmas either.

It emerged that Miss Harriman had run off with Mr. Penge, a longstanding livery and the respected manager of the Snood Parva Branch of the Vale of Vaysey Building Society. Eve had grown to know Bruce Penge whilst giving riding lessons to his two daughters at the yard.

Miss Harriman and Mr Penge were now thought to be running a bed and breakfast in Cromer.

When the news broke, Patsy Pottle commented wryly “Not such a treasure then, Miss Pargeter?"

The Liveries: the Old Guard

A fitting place to start our Tales from Vaysey Pastures would appear to be my longest standing liveries - the Old Guard.

These old hands are an exclusively female group of what might be politely described as of  "a certain age" or "mature years."

All have been with me since my first year at Vaysey Pastures. Each lady considers that this longevity entitles her, if not to downright favouritism then to "special consideration" and that is what each gets.

Although my older stagers are a varied bunch - some single some married, living alone or with a spouse or sibling, they have much in common. The life of each is dominated by the yard and its complex politics, the lives of their fellow liveries and the well being of their beloved horses. As in any enclosed community, issues and emotions are prone to instant magnification and exaggeration which on calm reflection in the cold light of day might be less pressing.

Amongst my formidable Old Guard we have all sorts: the dedicated livery, the competitive, the gossipy and judgmental and the mysterious and surprising. I hope you find them an interesting group.

The Stalwart

Patsy Pottle had been at Vaysey Pastures longer than anyone could remember. She must have been one of Bunty Pargeter’s very first liveries.

Like a prisoner on incarceration, Patsy eagerly laid claim to the driest and most sheltered stable and a favoured position at the far end of the tack room, well away from any draughts and dampness.

Since annexing her territory all those years ago, she had tenaciously remained in occupation as though by right, stoutly resisting periodic efforts to usurp her.

Such effrontery swiftly prompted bewildered surprise and the most brutal and effective of responses. All liveries and staff at the yard soon understood that mild-mannered Miss Pottle was “not to be messed with”.

Spinster Patsy’s life was centred on the yard. She spent much more time there than at her immaculate but empty home in the charming
village of Eggnog.

There was so much to be done each week from collecting the tea money and replenishing supplies to maintaining the birthday list and buying cards and cakes to mark the birthday of every livery.

Patsy never missed the chips on Tuesdays; she would invariably take everyone’s orders, pop down to the fish and chip shop in the nearby vilage of Dibble to collect them and tidy up the tack room after.

Christmas was when Patsy really came into her own, organising the liveries’ sit-down turkey lunch at the Red Lion followed by a surprisingly energetic rendition of the Birdie Dance after her second Martini and lemonade.

Over the years, Patsy shared her life with several irritable skewbalds and participated in all riding club activities.

The living of her Bedford Ladies’ box was festooned with orange and purple rosettes. There was the odd one in green or yellow, but nothing in blue or red.

Patsy could always be relied on to fill a place on the team, but her mare Doncaster Spinner, fondly called Donna, never once became soft or round. Together they never achieved a top three finish or took part in the mounted prize giving at the Championship.

Available for competitions year after year, whatever the weather, distance or inconvenience of starting times, Patsy persevered with her Prelim 10's and occasional combined training.

Her team-mates came, competed and moved on: on to senior school, university, marriage, children and even grand-children.

Patsy’s finest hour came each summer organising the Fun Show at Vaysey Pastures.

Like all such events, this was supposed to be “a little fun, mainly for the younger ones”. In reality competition was fierce, with no quarter given.

Participating as ever, Patsy joined in the 2’3” jumping and, yet again, attempted Prelim 10.

Patsy sighed as she pinned up yet another purple rosette in the living. For yet another year, the red one had eluded her.

The Pothunter

Tiffany Lampwick was well-liked at Vaysey Pastures and was a popular member of Dorinda Miggins’ circle. She never forgot a birthday, invariably loaned tack and always joined in the chat over coffee and ciggies in the common room.

Despite seeming one of the gang, Tiffany always wanted to be more than just a happy hacker. From the outset, she had secretly set her sights high and did not intend to settle for anything less.

What marked Tiffany from the rest was her fastidious approach to horse management. Not quite so marked as to amount to an obsessive compulsive disorder, everything had to be just so.

This rigorous mindset was reflected in her dispassionate approach to the disposal of horses which did not quite fit the bill.

An un-biddable thoroughbred soon followed an amiable but stiff cob out of the door. They were succeeded, at considerable expense, by a svelte warm-blood schoolmistress. Everyone agreed the new mare was "very fine". They were told she came from “somewhere up north” and there was some talk of dressage points.

The same remorseless logic used in finding the perfect horse was applied in other areas. A powerful German 4 x 4 and smart trailer were soon complimented by a powerful German trainer and smarter wardrobe and tack.

Now all the components were in place for the campaign to begin in earnest.

Lessons progressed well and Tiffany and her mare were soon able to perform a very respectable test at medium level. At this stage –“given the mare’s age” - it seemed best to enter a walk and trot beginners’ test.

Always immaculate in polished boots, pristine breeches and beautifully cut jacket, Tiffany excelled in competition. The unsuspecting six year olds on ponies and novices on hairy cobs were blown away.

Invariably Miss Lampwick smiled coyly and expressed genuine astonishment as she politely thanked the organiser and collected her rosettes.

Before long, Tiffany was winning restricted Prelim classes and continued to be thrilled at the unexpected success of her "young mare", now approaching 14.

She particularly enjoyed going out of the district to enter other club’s mini dressage competitions, designed to encourage the genuine novice horse and rider. To her surprise Tiffany usually came away with a win or two.

After being on this rewarding circuit for some years, the odd dark cloud is now appearing on the horizon. Worryingly, words like “open” and “novice test” seem harder to avoid.

Unfortunately it was always about winning rather than just taking part for Tiffany, who admits: “To be honest, I only ever really liked the red rosettes. After all, second is only the first of the losers".

The Protective Owner

Widowed for ten years, Rita Palgrave always said the main reason she came to Vaysey Pastures was "the company". Competition did not feature highly on her list of priorities.

For vivacious redhead, Rita, much of her time at the yard was spent over coffee with the girls in the common room or chatting animatedly somewhere around the stables.

In addition to her treasured Siamese, Barry, the light of Rita’s life was her irritable palomino pony, Norris.

Rita and Norris had enjoyed many years at the centre if things at Bide-a-Wee Stables, another livery yard on the edge of the Vale of Vaysey.

Although outwardly attractive and undeniably cosseted by his adoring owner, Norris was inclined to take a dim view of most other horses and all people.

On relocating from Bide-a-Wee to be closer to home, Rita felt that her mission in life was to make a comfortable new environment for her pony at Vaysey Pastures. On welcoming Rita to the yard, proprietor Bunty Pargeter reassured her “All our horses are treated equally well” but Rita needed further reassurance that her Norris would be recognised as “ extra special.

Rita was coping reasonably with widowhood. Her husband Wilf had suffered an ill-timed heart attack on his second visit to the salad bar at the Harvester one Saturday evening, before even finishing his ten ounce rump.

Childless, Rita now shared a cosy cottage in the pretty
village of Crispy Cantering, in the lea of Vince Hill, with her unmarried sister Mavis.

She made ends meet with Wilf’s executive pension from the Vale of Vaysey Water Company and irregular contributions from Mavis - although Mavis found her earnings from catalogue-modelling had tailed off in recent years in proportion to her increased consumption of
Malibu and Kit Kats.

Whatever life’s difficulties, Rita swore she would never part with Norris. It was essential that Norris had the best of everything, including any new rug or tack on the market.

Every ailment, however slight or transient, demanded a visit from the vet and detailed and almost universal discussion. The world was presumed to be holding its breath until Rita hung a reassuring metaphorical bulletin on the railings outside Norris’s stable.

Ignoring compelling evidence to the contrary, Rita argued that it had not been proven that her Norris had kicked Tiffany Lampwick’s mare, Donnerkebab, or stamped on Patsy Pottle’s little
Chihuahua, Rupert.

To the surprise of many, she later came close to admitting regret at only being concerned as to whether Norris might have jarred himself in such exertions but, careful as ever, still insisted on two week’s complete box rest as a precaution.

The Shopkeepers

Like their friends Patsy Pottle and Tiffany Lampwick, spinster sisters Joan and Betty Crumblewick were members of the advance guard of Bunty Pargeter’s original liveries. They had been ever-present since the opening of Vaysey Pastures.

Through good times and bad, they had borne with dear Bunty, not that there had been many of either. In truth, the intervening years had been disappointingly unremarkable.

The Misses Crumblewick were horsy to the core. They had a particular interest in the arcane rites of side-saddle, for which they employed the services of ancient and placid chestnut mares, Winnie and Sannie – short respectively for Wincarnis and Sanatagen.

As well as donning the veil and bowler periodically, the Crumblewicks earned their living from horses.They were proud proprietors of “Bits & Bobs”, a “high class purveyor of riding habits to the discerning equestrienne”, next to Mrs. William’s off-licence on the village green in nearby Wibble.

Their emporium was a time capsule of old-world gentility and charm. It had a reassuring haberdasher’s smell of new cloth and lavender tinged with Silk Cut.

Its window always had a seasonal display and elegant costumed mannequins. There was a glass-topped counter with trays of wares.

Neat shelves contained everything from top hats and boots to cotton reels and thimbles.

A clever contraption still sped a brass capsule of change across the room with a satisfying whiz and ping, when it would probably have been quicker to hand it over in person.

Bits & Bobs – or “B & B”, as it was known to its aficionados – was a truly feminine establishment. It catered particularly for ladies of a certain age.

Joan and Betty were of the generation that swore by well-cut foundation garments. Each admitted privately that she owed a great deal of her success in the cut-throat world of side saddle to erect posture, which in turn owed much to strategic support from whalebone and extra strong, pink elastic.

The more mature liveries at Vaysey Pastures enjoyed dropping in at B&B. They could sit comfortably on the wicker chair placed by the counter for the convenience of customers, hear all the news and put matters to rights with the Crumblewicks.

Their world was in a time warp. Ladies to be admired were obviously Her Majesty the Queen and the late lamented Queen Mother. Role models included the legendary Pat Smythe, Marion Mould on Stroller and
HRH the Princess Royal.

From within their chintzy bubble, they found modern girls so hard to understand.

Betty readily agreed with Joan that: “Anneli Drummond-Hay didn’t get to the top on Merely a Monarch by spoiling herself with piercings and nose jewellery. She made do with a plain silver crop pin, warm flannel comforter and a nice clean snood”.

They grudgingly respected Lucinda, Mary King and Pippa, and since her successes at Blenheim and
Aachen were now firm fans of Zara, having overcome their earlier concerns regarding “that tongue thing and the jockey”.

The younger element at the yard found the atmosphere at the shop rather intimidating and rarely ventured over the threshold. They preferred baseball caps and tops in pastel shades to serge wrap-overs and corsetry for the fuller figure.

Amongst Dorinda’s set, Joan and Betty’s soto voce gossiping and forty a day habits led to the nicknames of “The Hoarse Whisperers”. For them Bits & Bobs was either “Bots 'n Boobs” or “SnoodsRus”.

Fortunately, the Crumblewicks never heard of this.

The Whipper-in

Verbena Sprowte was one of Bunty Pargeter's longest standing liveries. Her hunter, Trixie, had occupied the corner stable next to Patsy Pottle’s mare for more than a decade now.

Despite her longevity, Verbena, or "Vee" as she was known to the other liveries, was never at the centre of things at the yard. Her only real claim to fame arose from her keen membership of the Vale of Vaysey Hunt, where she was one of the few lady whippers-in.

Otherwise, her profile was low. She never joined in coffee and character assassination in the common room, chatted over chips in the tack room or found time for a quick drink in the snug of the Trugg & Gussett.

Verbena led a quiet life. Since the death of her parents, she shared a thatched cottage next to the general stores in the pretty
village of Daisy Vaysey with her bachelor twin, Chutneigh.

The siblings were comfortable enough. Chutneigh taught piano whilst his sister was Senior Wayleaves Officer with the Vale of Vaysey Gas Board.

Verbena marvelled at having risen to such a lofty position in what she called "the high-powered world of easements", but somehow coped with all the pressures.

It was at a Wayleaves Conference that Verbena met her mild-mannered boyfriend, Melvin Simpkins. They had known each other for twelve years now and shared regular rambles and trips to the picture palace in nearby Snood Parva, but their relationship had never really "developed."

Verbena had thought something was afoot when Melvin’s hand touched the front of her cardigan over supper at an Aberdeen Steakhouse after a matinee of "Cats" in 1997, but he had just been reaching for the ketchup.

Notwithstanding such disappointments, Verbena’s life appeared busy, if a little staid. It was an orderly mixture of easements and keeping house for herself and Chutneigh, enlivened by hunting on Trixie and occasional chaste outings with Melvin.

You may imagine the surprise of Patsy Pottle and the other liveries to learn from the front page of their Sunday newspaper that a senior cabinet minister had been exposed. He had been, they read, an enthusiastic guest at "weekly S & M parties hosted by whip-wielding, rubber-clad dominatrix, Verbena Sprowte, 53."

The dungeon "in the cellar of her rural retreat in Daisy Vaysey" was reported to be "fully-equipped, yet cosy".

For once, silence fell upon the common room as the liveries absorbed the picture of a smiling Verbena, whip in hand in fishnets and basque.

She was, they eventually agreed, "a very dark horse."

The Best Friends

Rose and Penny had known each other since childhood. When someone said they were just like sisters, both chirped up in unison “Oh no, we’re much closer than that!”

The girls”, as they were known in their circle, had always done everything together. Their lives had run in parallel since their meeting in Miss Bradshaw’s class in the juniors.

They had seen each other through senior school and college, Pony Club and teenage years onto jobs in admin at the Vale of Vaysey Cottage Hospital and married life with George and Jack.

Each found her Mr Right within months of the other through Young Conservative Dances in the village hall.

As Mrs. Bush and Mrs Black, Rose and Penny would compare notes on wedded bliss over coffee in the kitchen of their bungalows a few doors down from each other in the picture-postcard
village of Wibble.

As well as being the scene of their courtships, the village hall provided facilities for many shared hobbies. Over the years these had included upholstery, yoga and even car maintenance.

Equal first amongst their shared passions was ballroom dancing and in particular Latin American. Rose and Penny considered themselves “aficionados of the dance”.

They enjoyed appending a definite article to nouns. It always made the word sound so profound.

Each thoroughly involved her other-half in the dance. Both husbands threw themselves into the process with commendable gusto, although their competitive edge declined with the passage of time.

George’s spangled Lycra cat-suit for the samba was less than alluring as he entered his sixtieth decade and Jack found it harder to clutch a rose between his ill-fitting dentures at the climax of the tango.

Their other chief passion was riding. They were amongst the longest established of Bunty Pargeter’s liveries at Vaysey Pastures and, with Patsy Pottle and Rita Palgrave, constituted the core of the mature set on the yard.

Following retirement, much of their time was spent caring for their mares Margot and D’Arcy, hacking around the lanes and practising for unaffiliated dressage competitions on Wednesdays at the Vale of Vaysey Riding Club.

Both ladies could be prevailed upon to judge some Prelims occasionally. They were pleased to help out and enjoyed the opportunity to gain revenge for past misjudgements and perceived slights. At local level in the Vale, what goes around comes around - sometimes with interest.

The competitive edge, apparent in the dance, also extended to dressage. Each took competitions very seriously. The test was practised to the nth degree and both mares and riders were immaculately turned-out.

Their shared background in the dance meant each saw herself as quite the glamour-puss and neither was a stranger to the sequined snood or diamante nose-band.

After competing, both Rose and Penny awaited the results anxiously. The winner was congratulated fulsomely and floated off to the canteen, as though on wings.

Outwardly the loser smiled sportingly; inwardly she knew the bitter truth of the saying “every time a friend succeeds, something inside me dies a little.

The Liveries: the Newcomers

Over the years I have seen many arrivals and departures from Vaysey Pastures.

In many ways busy livery yards resemble large hotels. We have the long term residents, whose lives revolve around the place and who, like lifers in Strangeways, become somewhat institutionalised.

There is also a passing population whose very transience and anonymity sometimes fosters behaviour of which they might not be proud in the cool clear light of day.

I suppose its is the combination of the two disparate elements that creates the rich and colourful mix that is life at Vaysey Pastures.

Please don’t assume that Bunty Pargeter from Vaysey Pastures confuses herself with Greta Garbo from “Grand Hotel” - well not very much anyway. I like to think I’m more “grounded” than that – a term I heard one of the younger mothers say last week. I’m still plain old “Bunty from the stable block” as I gather someone called "J Lo" might say. I wonder if that makes me "B Pa"?

Anyway, enough street talk (I’ve been watching Sky 1 on the television) and back to our stories. A multitude of people have undergone a myriad of experiences as newcomers or old hands. Here are their stories of some of our more recent liveries.

The Late Starter

Kevin Winkle began to ride at the surprising age of 46. He always tells his acquaintances in the snug at the Trugg & Gussett: “It was my mid-life crisis. Other chaps buy a Harley Davidson or run away with the receptionist. For me, it was deciding between learning to tap dance and riding a horse”.

Even in implementing a quixotic gesture, Kevin was methodical. Having decided to ride, he immediately organised an assessment and then a lesson each Saturday morning at his local riding school.

Bunty Pargeter put him on a serene and thoughtful cob called, with uncharacteristic irony, Flash. Kevin and Flash were soon walking and trotting around the indoor school and, shortly afterwards, cantering to the rear of the ride.

Kevin liked the absorbing quality of riding. It stopped him thinking of his accounting duties at Amalgamated Widgets and his rather mundane life. He also enjoyed the paraphernalia: the tack, clothing and jargon of an entirely new horsy world. It was almost a way of life, a subculture with its own language, attitudes and priorities.

It did not take long for Kevin to become addicted and to start looking around for a horse of his own. Miss Pargeter confirmed that part-livery was available at Vaysey Pastures and even offered to help find a suitable mount.

Common sense dictated that Kevin should go for a sensible schoolmaster, suited to riding club activities, as Flash had been.

Instead Kevin scanned the For Sale columns in “Horse & Aga”. Like Icarus, Kevin was tempted to fly higher than was advisable. His attention soared towards Brendan, a young chestnut Irish draught cross thoroughbred with long eye lashes, a blaze and four white socks.

Sadly, like Icarus, this dream was destined to end up on the ground in a heap of crumpled feathers – or more precisely, with a cracked collar bone and bruised ribs.

Strangely, Miss. Pargeter didn’t warn Kevin off Brendan, even though it was obviously an accident waiting to happen.

Kevin admitted later that he knew he should have started with a Nissan Micra rather than a Ferrari. He simply couldn’t resist it. For once in his life he had acted on impulse and had not carried out a comprehensive audit of risk.

Unlike many middle aged men, however, Kevin wasn’t serially self-deluded. After Brendan had been re-homed with a team chaser near Lutterworth, Kevin quietly bought Flash from Miss Pargeter for cash.

Now, as he hacks around the lanes, he gently pats Flash on the neck and still feels glad he didn’t choose tap dancing.

The Late-flowering Livery

Bunty Pargeter could always tell when Dolly was on the yard. One clue was the untidily parked Fiesta. Also, from her office Bunty could hear the tell-tale peals of laughter, punctuated by the odd cough, coming from the common room.

Unlike several of the liveries and most of the staff, dear Dolly didn’t ever have an “off day”; she never allowed herself to be tearful, hormonal, under-the-weather, under the doctor or just plain depressed like everyone else. Dolly had a ciggie, a nice cup of tea and a laugh and just got on with it.

Although actually Mrs Dolores Grubb, widow of Wilfred Grubb, a farm labourer lately of the nearby village of Wibble, everyone knew her as Dolly.

Prior to her Wilf’s untimely demise in a threshing accident in the lower field, Dolly had for many years been the valued cleaning lady of the Pargeter family.

Nothing was too much trouble for Dolly, who was recognised as reliability itself and an absolute treasure. Dolly’s earnings from cleaning were a welcome addition to Wilf’s labourer’s wages. They just about managed to make ends meet and keep the wolf from the door of their small cottage on the Green next to the Post Office and Stores.

It was a sad irony that one Saturday morning, only a week after Wilf had been laid to rest, Dolly found a spare pound coin in the lining of her handbag and bought a lottery ticket. That evening she found herself looking right up into the cuticle of the great finger in the sky as the sole winner of a rollover jackpot.

Dolly was not tempted to lash out on a mansion or villa in Spain, but did pay off the children’s mortgages and bought them each a new car. She also treated herself to a new Fiesta and had central heating, double glazing and a stylish bathroom installed in the previously damp and draughty cottage.

Her friends and family expressed shock at Dolly’s choice of luxury: a pure grey Highland pony mare called Snowdrop. At well over normal retirement age, Dolly had the satisfaction of achieving a long un-stated ambition and, in the process, surprising everyone.

With Dolly aboard, Snowdrop would process sedately around the lanes near Vaysey Pastures - not unlike Queen Victoria on her Highland pony, but without the steadying hand of John Brown.  
Dolly would return to the yard to spend happy hours grooming and generally fussing over Snowdrop. She took part in chips on Tuesdays in the tack room and drinks with the girls in the snug of the Trugg & Gussett on Fridays.

The yard’s knees-up at the Red Lion with Bert the handyman leading the conga and karaoke was the highlight of each Christmas.

Most afternoons, after her hack, she would join Patsy Pottle, Rita Palgrave and the other more mature liveries in the common room for a cup of tea and to set the world to rights. In any event, Dolly’s world was now in pretty good order.  

The Journalist

Hyacinthe Crabbe-Legge led such a frenetic life. The liveries at Vaysey Pastures marvelled how she managed to juggle her hectic career as deputy soft furnishings correspondent of Horse & Aga with some freelance interior design, a spot of affiliated dressage and being an exemplary wife and mother of five.

Responding to an admiring “I don’t know how you do it” from Rita Palgrave as she flew across the yard, Hyacinthe shouted over her shoulder, “Oh, its just organisation dear, list, lists and more lists, my invaluable Blackberry and my two darling, hard-working Fillipinas!”

In truth, although the acknowledged maestro of time-management, Hyacinthe had always sailed close to the wind in keeping an implausibly large number of balls in the air at once.

At university, she had managed to secure a lower second whilst editing the student newspaper and spending most of her time making contacts in
London. By dint of chutzpah and frenzied networking, she secured interviews with some surprising luminaries.

In this way she achieved her aim of being noticed and had a plethora of options when the milk round of publishing interviews hit the campus.

Hyacinthe had plenty to say to the dear little HR man from Global Glossies Inc. and even agreed to join him for dinner later that night "to amplify her CV".

Hyacinthe’s career with Global had been meteoric with successful placements at "Home & Gazebo", "Game & Gumboots " and ultimately "Horse & Aga".

Specialising in chic rural interiors for bonus-rich and taste-poor City folk, Hyacinthe gave country living edge.

She innovated by bringing a PVC trim to the boot room and distressed denim to the inglenook. It was she who introduced the half-timbered wet-room to Tetbury and featured Cirencester’s very first dual-purpose panic and meditation room with flotation tank.

Jude, Jade, Jody, Sienna, Madge, Liz and both Kates were on the speed-dial of Hyacinthe’s mobile which resembled the index of "Heat" magazine.

Hyacinthe’s husband Crispyn was happy to hitch his star to hers. His work in the City meant he only had time to catch up with his wife on the mobile after the markets closed in

Fortunately their diaries usually had a matching window for part of the weekend at their cottage facing the village green in Dibble in the lovely Vale of Vaysey.

They tried to go to ink and wrest one or two of the children from the Fillipinas there for at least an hour on most Sunday afternoons.

It was hardly surprising then that Hyacinthe only rarely appeared at Vaysey Pastures.

Her dressage horse Global Bonbon was on full livery and schooled several times each week by her eminent and expensive trainer Werner Flumpenhoffer, who occasionally competed on him.

Several horsy magazines featured Hyacinthe watching Bonbon being ridden by Werner or happily grooming him in his stable. Typically, on such occasions, her mobile would ring and Hyacinthe would have to rush off to one important media event or another.

Rita and the other liveries never ceased to be impressed with Hyacinthe’s relentless schedule and limitless stamina. When they came to think of it, however, they could not recollect her ever actually riding the horse.

The New Age Liveries

Bunty Pargeter thought she had seen everything, but the Podmores took her by surprise. They were her first new liveries ever to apply the principles of feng shui in considering the allocation of their horse’s stable.

Fortunately Vaysey Pastures and stable number six ticked most of their boxes.

Tyger Lily explained that the yard was not located next to disturbing influences and was on flat ground, which was calming.

Che observed that the shape of the yard did not inhibit the accumulation of vital sheng qi and asked that the straw bed be kept away from the stable door. This should assist restful sleep.

They had already checked that the yard was near no malevolent lay lines and both felt confident that their mare, Moonflower would be comfortable there.

Accepting their cheque for the first month’s livery Miss Pargeter confirmed that she was very pleased that they thought her yard “had a good vibe”. She too was confident that “everything would be cool” and suggested over her shoulder, whilst rushing off to “an urgent prior engagement”, that they "visit the common room to meet the other liveries".

There, beneath a cloud of Silk Cut, Patsy Pottle and Rose Bush were enjoying a cup of instant whilst dissecting the character of Rita Palgrave following a mild altercation over the use of diamante browbands the previous evening.

With their critical faculties already sharpened, they turned their analytical eye upon the smiling Podmores.

At a glance they took the couple in from head to toe.

They noted Che’s pony tail – remarkable in a man of his age – single earring and sandals.

Tyger Lily was striking in a bandana, low-cut blouse and voluminous peasant skirt. The effect contrived to be both bohemian and ethnic, in a middle-European sort of way.

As first impressions went, this was a startling as it ever got at Vaysey Pastures.

Hardly shy, the newcomers soon introduced themselves; they amiably excused the absence of herbal teas or macro-biotic snacks and made do with coffee and a hobnob.

Che and Tyger Lily explained they had lately become followers of the Guru Naseem Goreng and lived by his teachings. As a result, they were "more in touch with their own key chakras" and "felt all the better for it."

They were soon regaling Patsy and Rose with their views on homeopathy and a range of alternative holistic therapies. Their Moonflower had flourished since receiving regular reiki.
The Podmores never travelled far without lavender for grounding and had already lodged crystals strategically around Moonflower's stable.

Rose and Patsy were impressed by the new-age newcomers. They had laughed about Tyger Lily’s excitement when Che told her he was going to give her something from Sting, her thrilled anticipation of unbridled tantric sex and disappointment on receiving only his Greatest Hits CD.

Driving back to their bungalow, Ashram Podmore in the hamlet of Gusset, Tyger Lily enthused about the yard and the fun they would have there every weekend.

In the week, however, she would return to being housewife, Ruby Podmore and Che would remove his pony tail wig and earring to again become Honest Sid Podmore, Turf Accountant.

The Unlucky Amateur

In many ways Magenta Hayes seemed to have everything going for her. She was healthy, attractive, happily married for twenty years to successful wholesaler Harry and mother of bright and sporty teenagers Kermit and Framboise.

All the liveries at Vaysey Pastures did, however, agree that "our dear Magenta is unlucky with horses."

The year since she had arrived at the yard had seen a succession of comings and goings.

Cobs Boris, Brian and Finbar had met the same fate as show ponies Mimosa Princess, Coco Chanel and Lambada Laverne. Each had been acquired but shortly had to be sold for a variety of reasons: too small, too large, too boisterous, too dull or with a health issue.

When such problems arose, Magenta always coped. She invariably seemed able to rustle up an offer she couldn’t refuse and in the blink of an eye a stable was freed up for her next new arrival.

Spirited and energetic, Magenta coped with these setbacks with admirable practicality and courage. Her horses always seemed well cared-for. They were clipped, shod, bathed and groomed on arrival and promptly schooled by Magenta or her children.

The Hayes travelled widely in their smart lorry to show rings in a large area and usually returned with several rosettes.

Patsy Pottle and the other liveries found Magenta a mine of information on showing technique.

She was always scouring the classifieds in “Horse & Aga” and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of blood-lines. When Magenta considered a pony was well-bred it meant something.

As well as having an acute eye for quality horseflesh, Magenta was an adroit negotiator. Bunty Pargeter had been a little taken-aback that Mrs Hayes had been quite so assertive in arriving at such a low livery rate and a tad disappointed that she had to be reminded most months that livery had been due several weeks earlier. At least it was paid, eventually.

The other liveries were very happy to benefit from “our Mag’s contacts and eye for a bargain.”

Never afraid to ask for discount, she could be relied upon to source - and sell-on - rugs, tack, clothing and supplements at rock-bottom prices.

The back of her large SUV with the tinted windows was a positive Aladdin’s cave sometimes as the liveries crowded round, cash in hand, to snap up the latest goodies with no questions asked.

After yet another successful day, Magenta was pleased as she drove out of the yard and turned towards her self-built, neo-Georgian executive residence with electric gates on the outskirts of the hamlet of Eggnog to the west of Vince Hill.

So far this year she had netted enough to pay for Kermit and Framboise’s school fees and a winter break somewhere hot.

What she didn’t know was that awaiting her on the door mat was a letter from the Inland Revenue asking for "an account of profits, penalties and interest for the last three years from the undeclared trade or business of dealing in horses."

The Liveries: the Younger Element

Families and children are the life blood of most livery yards. Enthusiasm for horses often strikes young – particularly in girls - and once it’s in the blood, that’s often more or less it: regardless of common sense or finance, it’s what you do.

Over the decades, Vaysey Pastures has seen many different kinds of youngsters. Nowadays the offspring of the aspiring middle classes seem to lead such pressured lives with out of school hours crammed with mini rugby, expressive dance, extra maths and jazz-tap. The tots don't seem to have time to play any more. Their activities seem to be divided between the useful and the anti-social: a strange mix.

In recent years we have the borderline psychopathic Hilton twins and the idol and raison d'etre of her parents,’ the demure but somehow terrifying Dorinda Miggins. Such offspring often seem to fill a void or even to justify an otherwise futile existence - but who am I to flag up the aching pointlessness of the lives of some of my customer's?

If I was to be honest, I would have to admit that I don't care for children very much - but fortunately no-one has ever asked me and, in any event, such frankness has never been compulsory or a useful tool in running Vaysey Pastures on the margins of profitability.

The yard is often an outlet for parental social ambition, expression and self-assertion, as is evident with the Plebbes and Penges and their daughters. Maternal love is "blind" - on or off the yard - as demonstrated by the at least "myopic" Brenda Hilton.

As you might expect in today’s hectic and complex world, involvement in horses often puts pressure not only on family finances but also on marriage itself – as you shall see…

Daddy's Little Princess

Dorinda came late into the lives of Ken and Minty Miggins. The Miggins had counted their blessings each day since the arrival of God’s tardy but precious gift of an only daughter.

Being a special child, Dorinda wanted for nothing ever since her fourth birthday present of an implausibly expensive pony, Bijou Blitzkrieg.

A precocious infant, Dorinda soon amassed a fortune’s worth of top of the range horsy brands and a bedroom full of red rosettes. Each season’s riding wear reflected the current vogue as did tack, transport and teachers.

Rabid professionalism ensured considerable success from an early age. Victory compounded the pressure on both parents to drop everything to take Dorinda to lessons, rallies and Pony Club camps.

Team Miggins would find its way to every competition within an exhaustingly wide radius and functioned year after year with a Germanic efficiency.

Minty very occasionally came close to flagging. More than once she wistfully yearned for a Saturday off to shop or an evening at home to enjoy a small sherry with the latest Jilly Cooper.

Blissfully unaware of this, Ken remained perpetually in awe and at the disposal of his little princess who could do no wrong and for whom nothing was too much trouble.

Now 18 and about to depart for uni, Dorinda’s arrival at the yard is announced by the heavy base of the stereo in the BMW convertible given by Ken on her 17th.birthday.

A blonde pre-Raphaelite in Raybans and snow-white breeches, Dorinda oozes poise as her costly dressage mare Faberge Sturm und Drang is brought out for schooling.

Dorinda rules her circle of friends at the yard with the same calm authority as employed on her doting parents. They will all soon be left far behind as their baby heads for pastures new, a flat in South Ken and a titled older boyfriend called Gervaise.

The other liveries will soon resume their lives, but for Ken and Minty the silence will be palpable. Their last conversation not about Dorinda took place in 1996.

The Chavs

Bunty Pargeter had some reservations when she agreed to make her two last stables available to Mr and Mrs Plebbe. From the outset, she realised they weren’t quite like her other liveries. They seemed to be what Bunty called in her, at best "semi", semi-rural way, “city folk”.

Still, they seemed nice and were so very keen to bring their daughters’ ponies. They were also prepared to pay full livery monthly in advance.

Fifty Cent boomed from their black 4 x 4 with its dark windows and unusual Burberry upholstery as the newcomers unloaded their daughters’ equipment.

Candice Plebbe smiled and giggled but coped as she tottered across the yard carrying tack in white stillettos rather than the hunter wellies usually seen at Vaysey Pastures. Her gold ankle chain glinted in the sunlight and certainly gave her a jaunty air.

Husband Ian’s piercings also struck the watching liveries as "festive" and set off his gold earring a treat.

The Plebbe sisters settled in quickly too. Emma Dale and Corrie Anne soon made friends with the other juniors on the yard and before long were trotting their piebalds ponies Pikey and Wino around the school.

When it came to clothing and equipment, the Plebbe girls wanted for nothing. As Ian and Candice proudly watched their offspring compete at the gymkhana in nearby Wibble, Brenda, the mother of the Hilton twins, admired the ponies’ matching rhinestone brow-bands and monogrammed numnahs.

Ian replied “Well, there you go, babe. You can’t beat a bit of bling. It’s the same with designer gear. You won’t catch Candice and me sending our girls out unless they’re both all properly labelled-up”.

The Plebbes could usually be relied upon to call in to the snug of the Trugg & Gussett for a drink with the other liveries on a Friday evening.

Ian was invariably the first to buy a round for all as the others hesitated and twittered nervously about getting their own.

Despite being on nodding terms with everyone on the yard, the Plebbes didn’t join the dinner party circuit or make any real friendships with the other liveries - even the other parents with young families.

They were disappointed that so few were able to accept invitations to their summer barbeque and pool party, but amiably put it down to the holiday season.

Although they never became close to the other liveries, the Plebbes got on best with the staff at the yard. They always had time to enjoy a chat with the senior girl, Enid Possett and a laugh and joke with long-serving handy man, Bert Postlethwaite.

Bunty Pargeter noticed when she was counting up the liveries’ collection for a gift on Bert’s retirement: the Plebbes’ cheque for £100 was rather a contrast to the total of £43.54 from all the other liveries.

"True class will out", thought Bunty.

The Twins

A tense hush descended on Vaysey Pastures as Brenda Hilton drove her black 4 x 4 off the yard with a wave and cheery farewell of “Bye, bye my darlings. I’ll be back at four – do be good.”

The Hilton twins’ weekend schedule was hectic with riding slotted in between extra maths coaching and mini-rugby. Mrs. Hilton covered thousands of miles each year taking Warwick and his twin brother Milton from home in Weston Subuteo to a round of engagements in a perpetual quest for improvement and a competitive edge impressive in eight year olds.

Clutching their juice boxes and packed lunches, the twins sauntered silently over to the stables of their veteran ponies, Reggie and Ronnie. They looked forward to an afternoon of grooming and practising gymkhana games in preparation for camp.

The twins were not universally admired on the yard. Whilst they were around, gates tended to be left open and electric fencing switched off with resultant chaos.

More worryingly, when Warwick and Milton were there, more that the average number of accidents seemed to take place.

Despite the twins usually being at the centre of activity amongst the younger element at Vaysey Pastures, their leadership skills did not always impress everyone.

The parents of little Penny Fforbes-Lane, for example, were none too pleased when Warwick and Milton persuaded those attending camp to protest against the ban on hunting by substituting Penny for the fox.

Fortunately, after a spirited, two-mile chase, Penny had the common sense to go to ground in a septic tank near Lower Steam or who knows what would have happened.

Penny’s relieved parents did not press charges on the condition that Warwick and Milton were examined by a child psychiatrist.

Dr. Rogers carried out a very thorough assessment, including ink blots and word association. Although he took the view that both twins were "border-line psychopathic", Mrs. Hilton was confident that it was "just a phase" and that her boys would "grow out of it".

Sadly, before Dr Rogers could confirm his diagnosis in writing, he was involved in a fatal collision on the motorway. The police investigation showed this was caused by the cutting of a brake cable in his estate car by person or persons unknown.

Warwick later accessed the relevant motor maintenance manual on the internet and cleverly explained to his mother how the terrible accident might have happened.

Bunty Pargeter had mixed feelings regarding the twins. She did worry about the disappearance of Patsy Pottle’s little chihuahua so soon after the twins received airguns for their birthday, but the full livery she received for Reggie and Ronnie came in so handy.