My partner, Di, is a member of a group called ADHS Riders or something like that. The members are a group of people that include the owners of the local stables and the owners of the horses that are stabled there. We no longer own a horse but Emily has sort of been adopted by the owners, the horses and the dogs so she hangs around there making herself useful. In fact, she works hard enough that she earns her time in the saddle - any saddle, as long as it has a horse underneath it.
Once every few weeks a huge truck arrives at the stables. This truck is enormous, far bigger than anything I have seen on the road. It is about 2 stories high and it is loaded with 1200 bales of grass, each weighing over 20 kilograms. The truck is too big to get close to the stables so it parks on a plot of open land about 500 metres from the storeroom where the grass is stored.
I have seen this monster vehicle only once and hoped I would never see it again. It was during the level 5 Lockdown when everybody had to stay confined to their homes that this steel beast arrived with grass to feed the horses. The grooms were all in Lockdown so a small group of horse owners and the stable owner and her family had special permission to go to the stables and off-load the truck. I was lucky enough to be one of the volunteers and arrived at the stables early, before the grass arrived.
I was assigned to the storeroom where the grass was going to be packed and Emily and 4 guys were assigned to off-load the truck. So, how it works, a group of volunteers with small pickups or cars with trailers park next to the truck and the off-loaders throw the bales off the truck onto the smaller vehicles which then drive to the stables where we off-load them and pack them into the storeroom – 1200 bales x 20 kilograms = 24,000 kilograms of grass.
It took us 4 hours to off-load and stack the grass and when the job was done we stood together sweating and broken. Scratched and filthy but with a feeling of camaraderie and satisfaction. While we were all standing around recovering and eating doughnuts and drinking Coke courtesy of the African Dream Horse Safari Team, I heard a distant roar which sounded like a big pride of lions and was told it was the grass truck getting ready to leave. I hobbled to the stable yard fence and peeped through the latte and saw a cloud of dust billowing around this enormous dark apparition which moved slowly out of sight. I thought to myself “thank God I will never see that creature again” believing that by the time it returns everything will be back to normal.
Many days went by before the newly discovered muscles receded back into a state of dormancy and I was able to move around without pain. A man in pain is an unpleasant creature and in Lockdown it is beyond anything you can imagine. Di is a very patient, albeit unsympathetic, nurse with a very short memory when it comes to some things.
The group that Di is a member of and which I am not a member of, sent out a request for volunteers – the huge truck was returning. Without batting an eyelid or consulting me, both Di and Emily volunteered me for the job again and as I was about to turn off the light on Monday night Di mentioned in passing that I had to be at the stables the next morning to help off-load the grass truck.
I lay in bed stunned, and as soon as Di was asleep I grabbed my phone and Googled all the rules and regulations pertaining to Lockdown level 3 that could prevent me from exposing my aged self to this brutal activity. I thought of all the food I had eaten over the last few days that had the potential of giving me food poisoning, but abandoned that idea in the early stages mainly because of my unsympathetic nurse.
Tuesday morning was beautiful, notwithstanding that I did not get much sleep while running through every possible way to get out of this job and coming to the conclusion, that short of my girls seeing that I am a wimp, I would show up and do the job.
I drove Em to the stables at 06h00 and told her to tell me when the truck arrived. I took the licence off the Landrover, failed to put on my safety belt and my mask and asked god for a roadblock. Maybe I could get arrested, but there were no cops on the way to the stables and there were no cops on the way home. God had a plan for me and it was not detention in the local police lockup.
I waited at home until finally the sound of a message, the gentle knock of my WhatsApp notification “THE GRASS TRUCK IS HERE.“ I said goodbye to Di and Aidan like I was going to war and I strode bravely to the Landrover, leaving my mask in my pocket, the licence in the cubby hole and my seat belt unbuckled in a last ditch effort at salvation.
With no sign of law enforcement, my day had dawned. As I approached the stables I looked towards the open patch of ground where the truck had previously parked and saw that a housing complex was going up there. I blinked, looked again and finally my brain recognised it - the truck, standing in all its glory waiting for us little ants to off-load it. I saw 3 tiny little figures standing right on top of the trailer looking down at the world below.
I continued my journey to the stables where I was met by the rest of the volunteers and I was assigned to the detail that was going to off load this man-made mountain of steel. I returned to the truck with the first vehicle to be loaded. Looking up with my powerful binoculars I could see 3 teenage girls, one of them Emily, standing on top of the grass just below the asteroid belt. Just then an icy wind started to blow and fine dust and tiny particles of grass started billowing around the girls giving them an angelic effect.
“How the hell do I get up there?” I yelled, immediately ending the angelic effect. Emily pointed out a ladder hanging precariously between the two trailers and I made my way to the top of the piles of grass. I cannot really describe the feeling as I hoisted myself off the ladder and rolled onto the grass. I got shakily to my feet and smiled at the three young girls watching me. I was cold, I was tired just looking at the grass and I was terrified because if I fell off this monster vehicle I would be dead.
The girls started picking up the bales, one each, one at a time and dropped them off the side of the truck onto the pickup and the trailer parked way below. They were laughing and joking and staggering about, teetering on the edge as they leaned over and dropped each bail, competing to see whose bail fell the neatest. Teenage girls: those creatures that all parents, teachers, little brothers and psychologists fail to understand and therefore fear; standing in the icy wind off loading bale after bale of grass.
When I arrived on the truck one of the girls was assigned to the off-loading station at the storeroom and the 3 girls and myself off loaded that giant vehicle. It took us 4 hours and not once did they stop laughing and joking and dropping their bales and ragging each other each time one missed the pickup or bounced off a trailer. I have trained with special forces and have been around the block a few times but that day will be etched in my heart forever. I have never been so humbled and so proud and so privileged to work side by side with such awe inspiring humans who cannot even vote.
On every Facebook page and on every news platform there is nothing but madness, adults screaming about their rights, making demands and strutting about displaying their attitudes of entitlement and it gets splattered over every TV screen in the world, chipping away at the very fabric of society. That day, working with those girls and hearing them shout “I can see floor!“ when they got to the final row of bales, I heard a shout of hope for humankind.
If just for a short moment what I experienced could have been flashed on every TV screen on earth, if everybody could just for 1 minute have stopped and watched 3 grubby, windblown, grass-scratched, sweaty teenage girls high five each other when they “saw the floor”, then just maybe, for an instant, we could have all seen hope.
If all those bales of grass that were off-loaded – all 1200 of them - by 3 young girls and an old man - represented the burden of hatred and anger we have placed on ourselves, and the happiness we felt when we saw the floor, then maybe every day we should look at our lives as that big truck full of grass bales and off load them one at a time until we see the floor of love, understanding and tolerance.