Thursday, 9 September 2010

An Unlikely Tail

Continuing the Cowboy-and-Indian theme. Last Saturday morning, I’m with a married woman (she'd swept me off my feet), we are having an affair; so we go to a Funfair, in the hope that nobody will recognise us there. We are in a fish and chip café; I’m reading the Guardian (Not very romantic, I know) – an article on Muybridge and his classic study, ‘The horse in Motion’ (where, in 1872, he provided photographic proof that horses, when galloping, did have all four feet off the ground at the same time.
So you can imagine my surprise when, over the top of the paper, I see a horse galloping past the window. It too had all four feet off the ground, but it’s no ordinary horse. It’s sporting a feather headdress and is being ridden by two feathered creatures: birds in the saddle, both facing the wrong way. I can live with that it is after all a fairground. 
But look at the tail. The tail, it’s all-wrong. Despite the speed it’s going, the horse’s tail’s hanging flaccid. I consult my Guardian - look at Muybridge’s horses in motion - all of his galloping-tails are horizontal. I go up to the counter and ask to see the horse’s owner: ‘I want to see a man about a horse’. The man who ran the horse (the trainer?) refused to be photographed (on or off the horse). Perhaps he was already riding a bit too close to the wind; perhaps he too was having an affair? But he let me acquaint him with Muybridge’s ‘Horse In Motion’ photographs. ‘Look at the tail’, I said. ‘Why isn’t your tail sticking out like that?’ He said it must be something to do with ‘Health and Safety’, something about ‘having a child’s eye out, or worse – impaling the public. Or that it might just stick out as too phallic. So I said, ‘here, you can keep the newspaper, it might make you change your tail; if all else fails you can use it to wrap your fish and chips’. ‘Impossible’, he replied. ‘Where have you been? We are no longer allowed to wrap fish and chips in newspaper haven’t done so for years: Health and Safety’.
It started with a Red Indian but the Red Queen has to have the last word. Lewis Carroll (a pioneering photographer in his own right) wrote ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’ in 1871 - at exactly the same time Muybridge made his famous ‘Horse in Motion’ studies. So if The Red Queen was addressing this Red Indian horse (instead of Alice), she might have said: ‘The world goes at a very strange pace, it takes all the chasing you can do to keep your tail in the wrong place’. 

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