By the time you read this I will have delivered my long-awaited speech to the World Horse Welfare annual conference in the presence of the Princess Royal. I say ‘long awaited’ not because I have some inflated sense of how important I am. But because I have been working myself into a right old lather about it.
I was perfectly fine until the organisers sent me a few emails with useful information about the conference themes and asked me out for a coffee to discuss my speech.
‘Agh!’ I thought. ‘Why are they asking me what I’m going to say? I have no idea what I am going to say. But more to the point, why do they feel they need to ask me?’
In the bowels of the WHW headquarters, I became convinced, there were top people holding high-level discussions involving panic-stricken remarks along the lines of: ‘What have you booked her for, you idiot? Did you not read what she’s been writing about the RSPCA?
‘We’re going to have our conference ruined by a paranoid loony spouting conspiracy theories about secret horse-culling — and in front of Princess Anne!’
A few months ago, you see, I was involved in a story revealing that the RSPCA had loaded a dozen horses on to a lorry, driven them to a location many miles away and shot them. They then billed for thousands of pounds for looking after them as if they were alive, though they later withdrew the claim blaming an administrative error.
I duly rang lots of leading horse experts for comment, expecting universal outrage, but the response of the official bodies was unanimous: ‘Nothing to see here! Nothing happening at all!’
The off-the-record response of one veterinary official to the revelation that vets had been billing for phantom treatments given to some of the dead horses was particularly instructive: ‘Well, it’s only a couple of wormers.’ The reaction was eerily of a piece no matter which equine authority I asked: ‘Move along, please, crazy conspiracy woman! You’re making a fool of yourself!’
So you will forgive me if I have started to assume that the word on the street is that I sit huddled in a cold, damp flat wearing grubby mittens and a beanie hat, staring wild-eyed at newspaper clippings pinned to every inch of the walls, running to the windows every now and then to peer through the closed blinds to see whether a mysterious dark van has appeared outside that may contain people sent to deal with me. (This is almost absolutely true, by the way.)
It was, I decided, most unfortunate for the WHW to have already invited me into their august midst by the time I went public with my wild notions.
Naturally, once they realised what they had done, the emails started to ping in asking me what I was going to say. Of course they were having second thoughts about booking me. Who wouldn’t?
The problem was, every time they asked me what I was planning to say, I couldn’t tell them. Because I had no idea. I’m not that organised. I’m not only a paranoid conspiracy theorist, I’m menopausal. But the more I told them I didn’t know, the more worried they seemed to become. Of course they did.
And then I went down with flu and had to cancel the meeting they arranged to discuss my speech. At which point they sent me an email in which they sounded so worried they were ready to come round to my house and sit at my bedside and help me write my speech in between vapour rubs. But I couldn’t let them do that because then they would see the newspaper clippings about dead horses all over the walls.
A few days before the speech, however, I felt so sorry for them I sent an email offering to stand aside in favour of another speaker. But this was rejected. The programmes had been printed.
So we are where we are and my speech is tomorrow and I need to get to grips with it. The theme of the conference is: are traditional methods of horse management best? I really ought to just say yes, and leave it at that. But here are some points that we will be discussing in detail: how often ought we to be worming? (Don’t mention the dead horses given wormers …don’t mention the…) Can laminitis happen all year round? (Don’t mention the dead horses …don’t mention…) Should we allow a horse to rest before and after it has travelled? Gosh, I don’t know, how about we ask the RSPCA? I know they sometimes ‘rest’ a horse indefinitely after it has travelled, so I’m sure they could give us some tips.
Stop it! I must get a grip! I must not lose concentration and suddenly slip into spouting the truth. No good will come of it.