I'm not really a horsey person. Living in the Cotswolds, you'd think I might have taken up polo or hunting, but I'm more of a lying-in-front-of-the-television man. That's not to say that I can't ride. When I was young, growing up in the Lebanon, I even had my own horse, called Calamity Jane, and I spent a brief period rather fancying myself as some sort of Levantine cowboy. During the Lebanese Civil War, when petrol was very scarce, I even rode to school on a couple of occasions. This would have been very cool if my mum hadn't insisted on accompanying me, leading Calamity Jane on a rope. You wouldn't have found Billy the Kid doing that sort of thing, and my interest quickly dwindled as I became the butt of many a joke.
All this flashed through my mind as the director of the television programme I'm filming in Mexico asked me if I could ride. "I'm something of an accomplished horseman," I lied, quick as a flash.
"Good," he replied. "We're filming at a Mexican rodeo tomorrow and we need you to dress up as a Mexican cowboy and take part in the event."
I necked a couple of stiff tequilas and tried to remember which bit was the saddle. Sometimes I should just keep my mouth shut.
The next day I found myself wearing tight leather chaps, a pair of spurs and an enormous sombrero. There was no going back now. I was given a sprightly looking horse that registered a panicked look as it saw me waddle towards it. I remembered that horses smell fear, so I tried to look as nonchalant as possible - but I think that we both knew I was a chancer.
I mounted the beast and cantered into the arena slightly faster than I had anticipated. However, after a tentative few minutes, I actually felt surprisingly comfortable. The commentator informed the large local crowd that I was a guest rider from "Inglaterra" and I got a huge cheer that boosted my confidence. This was actually all right: I was starting to strut my stuff a bit and even managed to gallop the full length of the arena before pulling up sharply, right by the stands. A gorgeous Mexican woman wolf-whistled and an enormous moustachioed man proffered a bottle of tequila. I grabbed it and tried to gulp some down in a suitably macho manner. Things were going well and the crew were getting some good shots.
"How are you feeling?" asked the director.
"Great, piece of cake," I replied.
"Good," he said, "because they want you to chase a bull, grab its tail and try to flip it over."
I nodded and tried some deep breathing. I was in too deep; I couldn't back down now. I was directed to the very top of the ring where a revolving metal gate led into the bullpen. The cameraman was laughing his head off. He knew he was about to hit paydirt.
A cowboy screamed some instructions at me in Spanish. I didn't understand a word but nodded and hugged the saddle tightly with my thighs. Mexicans ride with one hand on the reins, the other one must always be in the air, unless tipping a bull. There was a crash and suddenly there was El Toro. He took one look at me, snorted in derision and shot off towards the stands. I kicked my horse hard and it bolted after the horned monster. I managed to get level with it, adrenaline pulsing in my veins. I was going to do this and become a local folk hero. El Ingles - the Hemingway man who came and conquered the bull. I steadied myself and leant down, trying to grab the bull's tail. I made two attempts and suddenly I had it. At least, I thought I did. I felt a warm sticky sensation. I'd inadvertently stuck my hand up the bull's bum instead. It shot off in some discomfort and I was left alone raising my bullshit-covered hand to my horrified face.
The crowd howled with laughter and I limped out of the corrida trying to wipe the stuff on to my leather chaps. By the time we'd finished filming, the story had spread like wildfire and every Mexican I passed waved their fingers at me in delight.
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