only fools & horses

12.30 Sarah-Jessica-Parker-in-New-Years-Eve

It’s not that I don’t like horses, but sense they don’t much like me.

There’s been a bite, a kick and once, after being talked into riding a “quiet, ancient, slow” hack, the duplicitous old nag tried to dislodge me at every tree branch when no one else was looking.

For all that I respect and admire horses albeit from a discreet distance, but for their own sakes really don’t like to see them in Swanston Street.

The landmark Young & Jackson Hotel affords one of the best views of Melbourne.

Sitting upstairs enjoying tapas and a glass of wine watching the time-lapsed surge of humans and vehicles through the famous intersection it feels like you’re the eye in the sky – simultaneously at one with the city and completely detached from it.

But each time a carriage horse clops through the picture, I feel strangely deflated as if someone let the tyres down on life.

Put yourself in the shoes of the horse.

It can’t be much fun plodding nose-to-tailpipe in the same futile exercise – especially on a day when you can see heat rising off the bitumen.

And frankly I can’t really understand what’s in it for the human cargo either.

That large bearded man covered in tattoos who just climbed in is no Cinderella and I begin to wonder if the attraction of this ride isn’t as perverse as holding up the legions like some latter-day emperor in a chariot.

Supporters of the horse and carriage street traders say they provide a romantic tourist attraction redolent of the city’s past.

Others believe it’s cruel and anachronistic.

From here, watching as one animal reassuringly nuzzles its co-worker while they are stopped at lights with a cargo of obese people taking selfies, it’s the horse that reigns.

It doesn’t seem like very enlightened treatment of animals to force them to work in such conditions when tourists can enjoy much the same perspective in an open-topped bus.

And, there’s certainly nothing romantic about spooked horses running through red lights as happened last year moments after Shane Burdon proposed to his girlfriend Natalia Oleksaik.

It was,” he said, “very, very scary.”

Just what distinguishes this from an organ grinder’s monkey or dancing bears?

The new mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio has announced his intention to ban horse-drawn carriage rides in mid-Manhattan.

The iconic tourist rides around Central Park would be replaced with a fleet of vintage-replica electric cars.

Many New Yorkers are unhappy because they see the carriage rides as part of their city’s cultural history, immortalised on screen in such classics as Woody Allen’s Manhattan and in more recent times Sex In The City.

Horse-drawn carriages have been a feature of Central Park ever since it opened in 1858 and some of the current drivers are third-generation “carriage people.”

With latest polls show 61 per cent of New Yorkers would like to see the carriages keep rolling it will be interesting to see if de Blasio holds to his promise.

But the carriage rides in Melbourne are not embedded in our collective psyche.

There need be no debate.

It’s time we too put the horse before the cart.


facing facts


Having signalled the need to go outside, the dog was back at the door seeking readmission in next to no time.

That didn’t take long, I mused mostly to myself.

But somebody was already way ahead.

21 seconds,” intoned a voice from the recliner.


Camels and dogs take the same amount of time to empty their bladder – 21 seconds.”

What about people?

I don’t know.”

You don’t know!!!

The next day there’s a stream of facts about urination across the species in my email inbox.

This will be followed by a link to a learned scientific study on how dogs – given their druthers – prefer to defecate body aligned on the north-south axis in accordance with the earth’s magnetic field.

Ahh!! I hear dog owners among you exclaim, at last possessing an answer to that strange circling …they poo to polar north.

The next instalment brings worrying news though.

Climate change may be hastening the reversal of the earth’s magnetic poles with magnetic north migrating toward Russia at a rate of 64km a year – faster than at any time in human history.

You see this is a man who will seize any opportunity, no matter how spurious, to whiffle out truffles of information.

Logging on each day there is almost always a surprise waiting for me gleaned from the dozens of sources he subscribes to, ranging from WiseGeek, LifeHacker, Neatorama and The Futility Closet to respected journals like the Atlantic Monthly

Recent offerings include:

Why Superheroes Wear Their Underwear on the Outside? A: Because the first ones – dating from the ’30s – were modelled on the trapeze artists of the day.

Why Carmakers Historically Insisted On Male Crash-Test Dummies? A: Because it would cost more to produce cars with design and safety standards reflecting both genders.

How Do Lost Wallet Contents Influence Returns? A: Wallets containing photographs of a baby are returned 90 per cent of the time, wallets including pictures of puppies are returned in more than 50 per cent of cases while wallets with no photos have a 20 per cent return rate.

Why would Prince Charles have more success talking to plants if he grew up in a council house in Tyneside? A: Because scientific studies show plants grow faster if you speak to them with a Geordie accent.

And finally when do women look their oldest? A: At 3.30pm on Wednesday – a time when work stress levels commonly peak and energy levels plummet.

It’s not always such a random collection.

Sometimes the flurry of facts follows a conversation or observation.

After pointing out a punchy newspaper crime story which began thus:

The mother of a teenage girl who was apparently murdered and turned into kebab meat was stalked by a man who became obsessed with her daughter’s killing.”

The man parried with: “When a hitman pulled up beside Florian Homm’s limousine and shot him in the chest, he did what any self-respecting hedge fund tycoon would have done: stuffed his wound with $100 bills and called his wife with a dying message – sell.”

Some women may prefer flowers.

But the average cut rose will last only a week, though a white one will almost always outlast a red one.

My daily bouquet of weird and wonderful facts just keeps bloomin’ on and on.