Monday, 12 November 2012

Friend for Lifetimes - a Rocking Horse called Prince

Goodness me, how time does fly.  It's now a week since I posted last, and it's time that situation was rectified.  So, before I get too tied up with Christmas present  buying, creating the Christmas round-robin (a difficult one this time) and sorting the Cards out in time to meet the international posting deadlines, thought I'd recount  the story of Prince, a Rocking Horse who has been a friend both to Peter (since he was a Toddler during the Second World War) and then Philippa who inherited him when she too was a small girl in the 1970's.

Prince the Rocking Horse - a frontal view
Exactly how he arrived to become Peter's friend - they "rode" for many hundreds of miles together until Peter became too big to ride him - is not clear.  Family legend says that he was made for Peter by the young soldiers of his Father's regiment (the Manchester Regiment) when both were serving in the Liverpool area during and shortly after the Liverpool BlitzPrince moved everywhere the family did - which was frequently at that time - but spent some of Peter's childhood in Manchester where the family eventually purchased a home  (as opposed to living in military billets).  I don't think he moved with them when Peter's Father's regimental posting to Singapore took the family there and what happened to Prince once they all returned and they went off to their respective boarding schools is also somewhat hazy, but I would surmise that he stayed with Mum (who provided the family hub after their Dad died in 1951).

While they all lived in Manchester, the story goes that Peter was loth to allow anyone else to ride him - with good reason apparently.  One day, one of his many cousins came to play and was allowed to ride him - without supervision.  Alas, said cousin decided it might be fun to see if his mane and tail came off - and before the grown-ups could stop him, sure enough he got them off.  The result was that from that time onwards until many years later, he was a Rocking Horse minus mane, tail and forelock.  However Mum was able to rescue the brown mane and tail - and it was carefully stored away until such time as the right person could be found to re-attach them.  It's a specialist business achieving such results and it was a long time before we were able to get the job done.  

My first memory of Prince was shortly after Peter and I got married in 1969 when he was living in an allotted space in Mum's bedroom - which is where I think Philippa first met him (although she was too small at that time to actually sit on him).  However, by 1973 he had taken up residence with us, and travelled wherever we happened to be.  Philippa too  (the name actually means "Lover of Horses"  in Greek we discovered after we had christened her) spent many a happy hour riding Prince everywhere in her little imaginary world.  (She did have riding lessons a few years ago under guidance from a Household Cavalry instructor - courtesy of the FANY, but after a nasty fall, has rather lost her nerve.  She is determined to get back in the saddle one day - but not quite yet!  However, her love of horses is unquestioned).

The one photograph I have of her in such mode  is not very clear and would have to be scanned into this post - and, alas, as I type this, the printer/scanner is being doctored after we suffered a bad paper jam late last week.    (I have been absolutely lost without it - never thought I could get so attached to a blinking machine!)  Also, my scanning efforts to date have not been as successful in our posts as are the digital illustrations.

Showing Prince's brackets and Stand
When we emigrated to Canada in 1975, Prince came along too - and continued to occupy Philippa until she too got too big to ride him.  I don't recall Clare riding him very much - somehow she and horses (Rocking or otherwise) have never been close and I suspect she found him a little unsteady for comfort.  After all this time, and travelling inter-contintentally his brackets had indeed got a little rocky.  Alberta's climatic conditions (dry, cold winters and similarly dry summers - interspersed with torrential downpours occasionally) together with the central heating did not do Prince's wooden frame a lot of good - because his paintwork began to flake and he also showed signs of cracking.  However, he carried on - often acting as a clothes horse when cupboards etc. were full!

Prince, side-ways on showing off his saddle and strirrups
For the next ten years, after we returned to the UK , Prince spent his time somewhere in our house - usually covered with an old unused gentleman's coat - to keep the dust off.  However, in 1998 we sold our house - as Peter became increasingly less well and moved into a small apartment where Prince could no longer be accommodated.  Philippa who had been appointed Prince's guardian by this time, was living in a small room in London, and then moved to work in Belgium, so Prince was put into storage together with our excess baggage. In 2000, we moved again - this time to a bungalow - and while he could not stay in any living space, there was room for him in the attic so Prince took up residence in a large space - which could get quite cold during the somewhat wetter winters in Lancashire, which again did his wooden frame no favours.  Still, he soldiered on until Philippa moved into a large enough flat where he could be comfortably housed.

He has been with her ever since and a couple of years ago, she managed to find a specialist Rocking Horse Restorer to put the old fella to rights. You will notice that his forelock, mane and tail are now properly attached, but this time, they are Grey. (Horses are never white as you know - unless they are the White Horses we have here in Wiltshire, which have been cut out on hillsides with Limestone soils):  they are different shades of Grey.   The Restorers confirmed that he is a "Liverpool" model, but his Brown mane was incorrect - which does, in my view, confirm the family legend referred to in the introduction:  that Prince was indeed a handmade present to Peter based on the Liverpool Rocking Horse Model - but because it was war time, the crafters used whatever material came to hand - which just happened to be Brown!

Prince in his corner in Philippa's living room
In addition, I never remember him being so White - in my recollection, he was more of a creamy yellow colour, which again confirms his original artisan origins, where they made do with what they could find at the time..

Prince now stands proudly in Philippa's living room in High Wycombe - and awaits any Little People who come to visit for lunch or to stay and who happen to be the right size and weight  to sit comfortably and safely on him.  In the interim, as an elderly gentleman (in human terms he's got to be in his 70's), he stands contentedly in his corner and watches as the days go by.