The Southall Horse Fair

We have been down South for a week: the Renaissance Society of America was convening at Cambridge, and we had business there. Cambridge was showing its snarliest face; hail, bitingly cold, damp winds and grey implacable skies. Big conferences are a rum go in any circumstances, and this one was bigger, and rummer, than most. Such papers as we wanted to catch were inevitably back-to-back, since there were about eight sessions going on simultaneously. There were thirty-odd people attending of whom I knew and liked twenty-eight while considering two borderline certifiable: you can guess which two we kept meeting. But it all went all right, more or less, and we came home to the spring – the weather had been better up here and the place is awash in flowering bulbs.
We also, as it happens, came home to the Real World Consultant, who had turned up with a portable opera as happens from time to time – the SNO tour had come to Aberdeen in our absence. We did a catch-up on local news, and à propos of the unfortunate pony Magic, he told me about the Southall Horse Fair. From time to time some tenacious rural phenomenon surfaces from underneath the ordinary texture of urban life, like a root breaking through tarmac. The Southhall Horse Fair predates the Mumbai of West London, in fact, it predates almost everything that’s visible above ground. It relates to a lost Southall which was a small town near London, and a stop on the drove-road which brought cattle from Scotland to Smithfield. The RWC has encountered it a couple of times, by accident. It is not a folkmoot and exchange of valuable beasts like the Appleby Horse Fair, but something much sadder; the horse fair at the end of the line; the market for poor old beasts with fewer teeth than legs and rejects of all descriptions, where pikeys buy and sell Kattomeat on legs and future candidates for the boucherie chevaline. It is no more depressing than any other meat market, if one is being logical. But the weird thing is, that while Smithfield’s operations have been hived off out of central London to somewhere where the citizenry does not have to contemplate them, the Horse Fair refuses to shift; but obstinately continues among the saree-shops and hits from the Bollywood shows pumping out from the grocers and general stores. It has been there since time immemorial; it therefore has a legal right to exist. England is a very strange place. And even after the next shake-up, after the Asian population of Southall becomes more prosperous and moves to somewhere leafier in North London, to be replaced by the next wave – Eastern Europeans, say; so that walking down Southall High Street becomes an experience of fast-food pirogis, cut-price samovars and Shostakovitch – it is more than likely that the poor old nags will still be there.

2 Responses to “The Southall Horse Fair”

  1. the tropical Godfather Says:

    It is extremely selfish of you two to be forever gallivanting leaving the rest of us to suffer for WEEKS ON END from BLOG DEPRIVATION. I think you should promise us all NOT TO DO IT AGAIN. Unless, that is, you are gallivanting to Malaysia, which is ALL RIGHT.

  2. Jane Says:

    Dear Mrs Doubtfire, this is possibly good news for horses given the way it all ended up, but it’s sad all the same: London used to have its fish market at Billingsgate, its meat market at Smithfield … the thing which I find rather worrying is that the bulk of opinion makers only encounter animals in the form of pets, pony club ponies, and neat pink and white packages in the supermarket. It makes it harder to think about the moral ambiguities of the relationship if you don’t actually ever get thrown up against it. Thanks for the comment.

Leave a Reply