Nose Hangers and Damson Vodka

Hello and welcome. I am Ro aged about the same as the eponymous (at last I have used that word) character Don Quixote and similarly suffering from lack of sleep (though more from the hot flushes than his literary abandon into chivalric romances). I realised that a quest of my own might provide a solution to a couple of nagging worries  – namely my lack of exercise, and our donkey stood out in our paddock getting bored and fat.

Meet my pet donkey, named DonQuixote by my DH. He is quite a character, born on the forest, he spent his formative years chasing cars. At a very early age he was put in a field with two Jenny donkeys, however apart from a bit of heavy petting (it was Longdown activity farm!) nothing much came of that exercise – he was put up for sale. Whilst walking back with the twinkly elderly owner, after agreeing the price, I commented, “so he is gelded”. The man obviously wondered whether  I was an idiot or didnt speak English, as I clearly hadn’t understood about the Jenny exercise. He gently replied “no, he is a Jack”.  I said no more, just wondered how I was going to deal with that little matter and decided not to mention it to DH just yet.  A week later DonQ came flying out of the trailer dragging elderly gentleman behind him. Hmmm, I thought.

It is hard to share the essence of DonQ but during this blog (should you stick with it) you will come to admire his spirit and intelligence. He is portly, fluffy, friendly, determined and LOUD. Our first introduction to our new neighbour was “Hi welcome to the village, my name is X. Did you know your donkey is keeping the whole village awake? At a BBQ last night everyone was complaining about him, my wife has to have the window shut whilst she works, even in this heat, my children can’t sleep”. I felt enormously guilty (and unwelcome), though not so much when I saw his son arrive home one evening on his motorbike. Gradually the donkey honking subsided a little and  the neighbour moved house. Replaced I might add, by a family attuned to country living, who kept cockerels (enough said). In fact there are hundreds of donkeys wandering the New Forest, an old local name for them being “Heath Lions” because of the roar like noise they make. Feral donkeys travel in small groups, across large expanses, so are blessed with incredibly good hearing and very loud voices.

Last summer I sent DonQ to the talented Debbie Street to be trained in driving (pulling actually) a cart. This was in fact DonQ’s first taste of social media fame, take a look: . My DH’s comment with I might add a touch of scepticism was “will you actually spend any time driving DonQ after all this?” The advice provided was to long rein him over the winter and get him “put too” in the Spring. Ahem, I haven’t actually done any long reining yet. nor made a plan of what to do with him. Though I have of course checked out some youtube videos, whiling away the hours, searching very carefully amongst links returned by search terms donkey, driving, harness, size. So all in all I was left wondering whether I really have the moral fibre and oomph to get myself (and DonQ) moving.

So my challenge was not having an unfit friend willing and able to exercise with me, my children refused to get involved, and I have no willpower to do it on my own. One night, however I hit upon the solution. I will do the NHS Couch to 5K programme and DQ could do it with me. There we go – weight loss and fitness for both of us, a training plan when to walk and trot for DQ and a clear conscience. Incredibly you can download the Couch to 5K podcast without even getting out of bed. I immediately felt my moral fibre had tightened.

Having a plan is like having a shopping list, you feel positive and in control but of course you haven’t actually done anything. In fact with luck a plan does involve having a shopping list, and as luck would have it, my plan did. Let me admit to something, Don Q and I share a problem, our girth, backside and chest are not really in proportion with the items of clothing we need for this venture. Measuring DonQ wasn’t easy, his natural suspicion of a pink dangling measuring tape heading his way led to some initial hurling himself from side to side and showing the whites of his eyes. I have learned that waiting until he gets bored of that usually works – soon he pragmatically decided he might as well stand still and have a doze instead.

I found a diagram on the internet but as the printer not working I had to view it on my phone, re entering the code every few minutes. Helping was my 9 year old son, who also had his own strong ideas about how to go about this exercise. Interrupted twice by deliveries of Christmas presents to be signed for whilst hiding them from said son, all added to the fun of the occasion. The order was placed… anticipation….arrival… disapointment… the harness did not fit. Now about 3 months later we almost have a matching set – just one piece still to be swapped!

As for me, after consideration I realised that I didn’t need new trainers or some Sweaty Betty gear, possibly a new coat, maybe a new riding hat. I narrowly avoided making a costly clothing mistake in our local independent department store. A Barbour coat sale, bargains to be had! A dilemma, buy the one I liked that was too small (at the moment), or one I didn’t like but fitted. Something about the assistant’s enthusiasm reminded me of the extremely expensive purple leather jacket I bought in that shop, which looks as “unedgy” and frumpy as a leather jacket could possibly be. I bravely stated  “no, I think I will leave it”.

So although progress on the Couch to 5Kish plan had faltered at the shopping stage, I did at least have a plan, and I was feeling positive I would start my plan sometime soon. I was not to know that supper was to be the catalyst. That particular evening was spent with really delightful folks and delicious food at the other end of the village. It could have been the homemade Damson Vodka, or that our spirits were fired by the lively discussion of Donald Trump and the impact on the UK Financial Services sector, or perhaps the wearing of comedy bearded nose hangers, but I shared my Couch to 5K plan. A little laughter ensued, but then came the fabulous suggestion from Journo K that I should Blog. Hete Ahi! This would help my moral fibre stay taut, I would have to take DonQ out because people would know if I hadn’t, I would be ashamed. Soon I would be able to run 5Kish confidently (Note to self, check whether it’s OK to make DQ trot 5K).

My mind was racing through book deals, TV series, guest appearances, merchandise, retiring from work. To be brought to earth by Journo K enthusiastically stating “people would read as it would be so authentic, not just a blog set up to make money”. Ah well, I suppose I do like authentic. Ideas flew thick and fast around the table, local people, local food, local places, local pubs, our mishaps, all could be turned into blogsphere entertainment. I already have my first offer of a guest blogger…..and the first volunteer to ride the cart with me to the pub (great focus there R!) Guest bloggers how great an idea is that!

So here it is – as the literary scholar Ilan Stavans tells us in his book, Don Quixote: The Novel and the World (W.W. Norton, 2015), only the Bible has been translated into English more often. There are seven ballets based on it, an asteroid named after it, and a video game inspired by it. Now there is a donkey named after it and this blog is born. This experience is going to improve; my figure, my health, my mind, my donkey, my social life, my punctuation and grammar (sorry), my local knowledge, my recipe collection. Dear reader, rest assured this will not continue to be all about me, I am the humble Sancho Panza, squire to Don Quixote.  Its about DonQuixote and the people and places we encounter along our journey from Couch to 5Kish. What do you mean this blog is just procrastination? Not true….see you next time when I’m sure Don Quixote will have left the Couch.

If you have never read Cervantes’s Don Quixote maybe start with Wikipedia it is a lot less than the 940 pages of the actual book. More on reading the actual book will follow in future blogs.

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