Last year my producer
persuaded me to make a radio programme called Taking the piss out
Not only did it win an award, it was so popular that he has come up
with something even more tasteless – Flogging a dead horse
(Radio 4 xxx, yyy).
My daughter-in-law, who lives
in Paris, tells me that in smart restaurants there if you order
steak tartare you may well get a slab of raw horsemeat with a raw
egg on top, possibly garnished with raw capers and onions – ‘très
fort’, she says – very strong. Even though I enjoy experimental
eating I think I’ll give that a miss, but I have probably fed my cats
on horsemeat – I am always suspicious when the label says ‘juicy lumps
with duck and chicken’ – what are the lumps made of?
Horses have long been regarded
as noble animals, devoted to human service, and they have carried
messengers, soldiers, and hunters for centuries, if not millennia. But
our ancestors seem to have found them at least as useful dead as
alive, and turned horse-recycling into several industries. Horsehair
from mane and tail is tough and strong, and has been used not only for
stuffing furniture but also for fishing lines and emergency sutures.
Horse hide was fashioned into carriage roofs, and into riding breeches
for German cavalry officers. It has also been used to make the
business end of whips, which seems rather tough on the live animals.
The bones are immensely
versatile. Ground up dry they form bone-meal fertiliser. Boiled down
with the hoofs they can be turned into glue – I remember the pungent
smell from a glue factory I used to cycle past on the road into
Dewsbury. Some bones were carved into buttons. Whole leg bones were
apparently lashed underneath shoes and used as ice skates. Perhaps
most bizarre of all, horse skeletons and especially skulls were often
buried under the floor in churches, including St Botolph’s in Boston
(the ‘Boston Stump’) and Llandaff Cathedral. This may have been of
purely ritual significance, but there is also a theory that the skull,
placed beneath the floor of the chancel, acted as a resonator to
improve the acoustics. This sounds unlikely, but perhaps I should try
the experiment to see whether it works. I have space under my
floorboards; has anyone got a spare horse skull?