“A four-legged friend, a four-legged friend,
He’ll never let you down.
He’s honest and faithful right up to the end,
That wonderful, one-two-three, four-legged friend.”
As a boy my favourite game was Cowboys and Indians. In this respect I was like just about every other little boy growing up in the ‘50s. At the beginning of the ‘50s few households had a television set. The Coronation in 1953 changed that and by the end of the decade most did, even if the majority were rented. The most popular TV programme style was Westerns both for children and adults. One of my earliest memories is watching TV in hospital while recuperating from a hernia operation. The programme was The Cisco Kid. There was also The Lone Ranger, Bronco, Roy Rogers, the Virginian, Bonanza, and many more.
An early birthday present was a Davy Crockett outfit. This consisted of a Davy Crockett hat with an imitation racoon tail down the back and a jacket together with a gun that fired caps. For a while even my Mother called me Davy. Davy Crockett was a real life American hero, a Tennessee backwoodsman who became a US congressman, and was then one of the martyrs who died at the Alamo. Thus he was not a cowboy but somehow this did not matter. In the legends of the Wild West the story of the United States expansion westwards was liberally interpreted. Rogues like Billy The Kid, Jesse James and Butch Cassidy were somehow seen as heroes just as Robin Hood is by the English. What was important was the simplicity of a fight between goodies and baddies. Goodies always wore light coloured clothes with white hats. Baddies always wore black hats or were Indians in which case they were always bad.
The true history of the American colonisation of the Great Plains is undoubtedly one of great courage and fortitude. It also involves ethnic cleansing of epic proportions approaching genocide, as it does in most colonial history.
But these moral issues were in the future for a little boy who needed heroes to aspire to in his play. Playing with toy guns was normal and great fun. What it did not do was to give me any ambition to be a cowboy and ride a horse. My sister, Angela went through the obligatory rite of passage of taking riding lessons but I did not seek to follow her example. Football took that place as we have seen in another thread.
However, in 1968 I had the chance to be a cowboy, if just for a day. I was coming to the end of my year in America and a friend invited me to her Father’s ranch for the day. This ranch was a tax dodge I understood, but a pleasant escape from the city. Four of us saddled up to take a bullock across the farm. The farm was large enough that the return journey took the best part of a day. My ride turned out to have a mind of his own. I had been on donkeys on the beach but had never ridden a horse before. I now find myself on a mustang who instinctively knew that I was not man enough to be his master, and no doubt had something of the Englishman about his riding style. One canter turned into a gallop and I had no way of bringing this to a conclusion. We sped across fields and under trees. I wore no helmet and still think that the horse was trying to get me knocked off. But I hung on and after that he had a little more respect for me
This was enough Cowboys, if no Indians, for a while, until in 1982 my girlfriend, Carmen and I got engaged in a mountain resort called La Leonera some distance from Santiago. In our romantic mood we went riding the following day. I made a ring out of grass and we trotted gaily together through the foothills of the Andes on a beautiful spring day. Carmen later told me she had been scared stiff but it was a delightful beginning to our engagement.
Then in 1995 we took a cottage in the hills of North Wales. I visited a Sony dealer in the town and he invited me to go riding with him. My daughter, Michelle, joined us and this time it was her turn to have the pony with a mind of his own. The tradition of Cowboys and Indians lives on.
Note: this essay features in a collection of autobiographical pieces I am publishing shortly in a book called Threads and Patches.