Frightening the horses and peace in our time

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The Independent Culture
THE THINGS women make you do for love; and then they abandon you anyway. Do I look like a Windsor Horse Show type to you? But there I was, beneath a damp awning, watching people dressed as soldiers running up and down a wet field on cross horses towing superannuated guns. It was supposed to inspire awe and delight and a sense of our great Imperial past brought back to life, but it was just depressing, in the same way that the Lambeth Walk is depressing: sanitised, fake and jaunty.

Then the Queen turned up in a headscarf with dogs on, and stood there, while everyone carefully didn't look, and the military band played a cocky little version of "Puppet on a String", and I thought: there was a time when I might have been conscripted to die for this nonsense, and it would have been called "Defending the Queen's Peace".

There are some things about Britain worth dying for: our literature, our architecture, our autumns, our quiet decency, our sense of the absurdity of the human condition. But what men have been commanded to die for, throughout most of our history, has been the continued security of the equestrian classes; and here they were, puce and gawky in their "county" clothes, destitute of learning, culture or the imagination to be kind. It would be like dying for Cedric, Eddie and Michael Howard, under the banner of Little Weed.

So: one lot of riders went off, another lot came on, and the band struck up that anthem of flushed and baying idiocy, "The Galloping Major". The Queen smiled and tapped her foot, and, in the stands, lips chumbled in unison. This was their song, and they knew the words - "Nnh nnh-nnh, ner nnh nnh-nnh, ner nnh nnh Galloping Maaaaaaaaaay-DJUH" - while the memories washed over: hunt balls, pink coats and warm gin; spaniels, beef, a leathery grope in the boot room, and the night old Rory shot an oik.

And then, like Momus at the court of Mars, the loudspeaker came on. "The next evententent," it said, "is sponsored by Modernodern Alaramsarmsarms." A little ripple of perturbation ran through the spectators. Modern Alarms? But surely the Windsor Horse Show was all about convincing yourself that they didn't exist: modern alarms like travelling salesmen, rock music, motorways, futures analysts, suede shoes, fuzzy-wuzzies in the streets, ghastly lefties, shrinks and poofters, wogs in the corner shop, proles in the Lords, Yoof TV, cigarettes between courses and women who do it for fun? Yet here they were, the flat-eyed executives with their yellow logo and their smart business suits: interlopers, expecting to be welcomed at the drop of a corporate cheque! Modern Alarms!

It would have been nice to believe that here was a company which lived up to its name, sending out lurid emissaries in Chris Evans fright-wigs to terrify them all: the money-rats, the whifflers, the board-bums and bores; to hunt them down from Shropshire to The Wash, to burst in upon them in country house, pied-a-terre, boardroom and Rolls. Freighted with artefacts of modernity - Oakley shades, modems, nipple-rings and drugs - they would hiss alarms into their ears: "The Japanese have bought Boodle's! The monarchy has crumbled! Labour is going to reverse privatisation! The Fraud Squad have seized your books! Jack's as good as his master, Jill's become a dyke, a motorway's going through your stables, and not even Dempster can help you now!"

It would act like adrenaline on an ailing heart. A few - just a few - would be alarmed out of the dreadful not-for-the-likes-of-us complacency which is dragging this country smirking into the sea. Just a few; but enough to break the circle of back-patting, bottom-sniffing, old-boy smuggery which, scenting in Mr Major a weakling on the bridge with a crew of swine, has regrouped with astounding speed, just when we thought it was dead for ever.

The truth, alas!, is that Modern Alarms do nothing of the sort. They are just another company selling boxes with bells in which go off at the weekend or the middle of the night. These things are the curse of living in the city. They are supposed to guard our property, but who would trust such jittery custodians, as hysterical as any Victorian virgin, screaming at a blowing curtain or a creaking floorboard, shattering sleep and despoiling the peace of the city at sunrise with their screams of distress? We should re-define the ear as an orifice, and its unauthorised penetration as rape, to be prosecuted to the very limits of the law.

But now, just like rape, nobody takes the screaming seriously. We burrow under the bedclothes, blocking our ears and biting our wives. Occasionally a poor Plod will stare gloomily at some flashing, whooping box-on-the- wall, but there is nothing he can do. The perpetrators have all fled home to the suburbs and are sleeping as peacefully as their consciences will allow; who lives over the shop any more? The link between home and commerce has been severed, and we have now become so alienated that we hire machines to panic and scream on our behalf.

And there's never an intruder. Burglars will tell you that the first thing you learn at burglary school is how to neutralise an alarm. You know there's a burglar when the alarm doesn't go off at 4am.

We're all in this together, so here's the plan: next time a Modern Alarm goes off, we should get dressed quietly and wait for it to stop. Then we go round and jemmy the back door. The alarm will start squealing, of course, but everyone will think "Oh no; not again," and go back to sleep. Then we strip the place bare, whether we want the stuff or not. And after a while the insurance companies - hah! - will stop insisting on these blithering devices, and we can all get some peace. It may mean that Modern Alarms can't sponsor any more damp horse things, but at least we'll be defending the Queen's Peace, what? !