On the road: A bumpy ride
Which particular aspect of the UK's crumbling road infrastructure are you currently least gruntled with? Endless potholes? Incessant roadworks? Inadequate gritting in winter? Country lane surfaces knobblier than the face of a Doctor Who extra? Flooding severe enough to make you wish you were driving something 300 cubits long and clinker-built from Gopher wood with accommodation for two of absolutely everything that moves under its own steam?
Or, apparently, none of the above (though the prospect of mucking out the Ark does somewhat resonate). Because, astonishingly, a recent survey suggests that what really sprinkles sand in your collective automotive Vaseline is horse riders not clearing up after their steeds. Indeed, of 3,000 UK drivers quizzed, a stout 97% feel that riders should pick up horse manure from the road.
Were all those questioned residents of blunderbuss-and-bonnet central London in the mid-19th century, this I could understand. Faced with total immersion in upper-class horse pooh, those unfortunates picking their way along Piccadilly on foot must have resembled a mass audition for the next Riverdance tour. But today?
Now, considering them to be dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle, I have no truck whatsoever with horses. So I'm somewhat surprised to learn that – not including the moth-eaten specimens that have free-rein over the likes of Dartmoor and the New Forest – there are some one million of them in Britain, kept by over 550,000 owners or stables.
However, because we tend largely not to kick horses out with the cat last thing at night, I'll warrant that there are a good deal fewer mounds of their pooh on our roads at any one time then there are, say, Muntjac deer. And which would you rather pile into at 60mph on a dark February night?
Besides, even assuming riders aren't so perennially busy deploying wrists of steel and thighs like tug boats in a vainglorious effort to control the second most dangerous end of a horse that they're blissfully unaware of what the more lethal end is up to, how, exactly, are they supposed to pull over on a main road and clean up after their mounts?
Try fitting indicators to a horse and you'll instantaneously find yourself kicked clean into next Wednesday. Ditto hazard warning lights. Or a handbrake. So the moment you dismount, dropping the reins to deploy that XXL pooper-scooper- your steed will invariably amble off to taste some irresistible morsel of the countryside on the other side of the carriageway. Not a good idea…
Honestly, as pooh-based gripes go, wouldn't it be more sensible to target dog owners who fail to pick up after their pooches on footpaths and in the parks in which our children play?
Out here in Mudfordshire, then, if I were to pick a beef with anyone over what lies atop our road surfaces, it would be the farmers. F Giles is long acclimatised to being master of all he surveys and, in his mind's eye, this clearly includes every road running through his domain.
Legendarily grumpy about as many different things as possible all at once (the weather, combine rental costs, the weather, vet’s bills, the weather, ramblers, etc.), the last thing on a farmer's mind is clearing up after himself if there's no profit in it. Come the plough, this leaves our local byways knee-deep in mud and slicker than a by-election politician's patter. And that's properly dangerous.
Even worse is the season in which F Giles hangs a massive, flailing propeller half-inched from a Blue Riband liner off the back of his tractor, and trims the hedgerows, the detritus of which tempestuous topiary ends up all over the road.
And that includes a healthy smattering of hawthorn. Honed at the anvil, said shrub's stiletto-sharp thorn will go through the tread of an everyday car tyre like a knife through horse pooh, making the seasonal variation in Mudfordshire puncture frequency no coincidence at all.
Happily, though I fear we have as much chance of making farmers clear up after themselves as we do horse riders, I have a solution to this last thorny issue. We must all fit tyres fabricated from giraffe tongues. After all, the four inches of finest Toledo steel that is the thorn of the acacia tree relegates a hawthorn's armoury to the status of hair brush bristle. Yet giraffe's blithely ingest the foliage without once sustaining so much as a scratch.