Christmas Secrets

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(author’s note: there’s absolutely no reason my husband has to know about this particular column, so please keep it to yourself)

It’s that time of year again, when the holidays are upon us, and I spend a considerable amount of thought deciding: 1) what to get my horse, and 2) how to keep the hubs from finding out about it. I may have mentioned my husband’s stinginess…er, frugality…in a previous column or two (or three), but in case you’ve only just started reading my articles, my dear husband is famously cheap. Mind you, there is one exception to that rule: when it comes to his ciggies, the hubs is more than happy to shell out whatever they’re charging these days for a pack of lung-burners. Indeed, the next time he complains about my spending, I plan to tell him just how much of his money I’m saving him by not smoking. That should shut him up for a minute or two. But I digress.

A couple of years ago, I gave my beloved horse Bit an apple flavored lick for Christmas. Upon inspection (which involved, I confess, a small taste test), I found to my dismay that it tasted nothing like an apple. I gave it to him anyway, even though he, too, knows full well what apples do and don’t taste like. I hung it in his stall, although I can’t confirm whether he actually spent any time licking it. It could just have easily been that paint mare in the next stall.

Last year, because I noticed that The Harmony Barn’s supply of horse rugs was looking rather shabby indeed, I went online and found a smashing rug fit for a king. In the past, I was content to use one of the barn’s rugs for Bit, but he deserved better than second-best, so I ordered the nice thick heavyweight version, and, to conceal my duplicity in the matter, I had the rug shipped directly to the barn. The hubs had no idea.

I should mention, because I can sense that you’re wondering about this very thing, that Bit also gives me a gift at Christmastime. Usually, it’s a framed photo of himself that barn-owner Wendy – via her opposable thumbs – takes when I’m not around. Last year, though, he/she/they gave me the perfect gift: a giant (and I do mean “giant”) blue ribbon with streamers that are intended to fasten around a horse’s neck, whilst the legend in the middle of the rosette reads Best Horse Ever. It was a great gift! Indeed, Bit is wearing it on the cover of my new book, Sorry Honey, But The Critters Come First (available on Amazon). Unfortunately, I had a number of things to juggle during the photo shoot for that cover – not the least of which was the duck poop all over my arm – so you can’t actually  see much of the ribbon unless you squint and look under my right (your left) arm.

In any case, I spent several months thinking about what to get for Bit this year, and the question answered itself when I availed myself of a local woman who does embroidery. I had taken her several shirts with a view to having her embroider (not by hand, of course, but on an expensive-looking machine) the hub’s business logo on them. It’s one of my Christmas gifts to him and no, I’m not concerned that he’ll read this and spoil the surprise; he hasn’t even read my new book yet!

As Kathleen sat writing up the bill for the shirts, I stood idly by, glancing at the framed fabric sample above her desk with the various available fonts embroidered on it. I knew then what I wanted for Bit: a bit of embroidery for his new-last-year rug. Not just any embroidery, though, but something special that would announce to all and sundry what he is, which is, of course, the Best Horse Ever!

So I asked Kathleen whether she’d ever embroidered on a horse rug, and to my surprise, she said she had. When I asked whether she would embroider my horse’s rug, she said yes, with one caveat: that the rug be laundered first.

“Why?” I asked, mystified.

“Because if you don’t, my whole house will smell like horse,” she replied.

“You say that as though it’s a bad thing,” I countered, at which point she reminded me that she was trying to sell her house, and didn’t think that prospective buyers would care for the smell.

“But there’s nothing better than the smell of a horse!” I remarked wistfully.

“Sure,” said Kathleen, “If you’re smelling him at the stable!”

“I take your point,” I sighed, “I’ll get it washed.” Which turned out to be easier said than done.

I knew that Wendy had a person who would take the rugs home and wash them for a few quid, and I put my order in back in August. In theory, that should have left plenty of time for the rug washer to pick up the rugs, wash them, then return them to the barn well before they were needed. In theory. In reality, what’s-her-name didn’t even pick them up until mid-October, and I started worrying about the Christmas rush that left Kathleen frantic every year.

I wanted the rug cleaned well ahead of Christmas mainly because Bit doesn’t really recognize religious holidays, and because he was sure to need the rug before then anyway. So when Holly Rugwasher came to pick up the rugs, I put the squeeze on her, letting her know how important the timely cleaning of this particular rug was. I’m not sure I succeeded.

The rug eventually came back to the barn, and it smelled sufficiently clean that I didn’t think Kathleen would have any objections. I popped round to her house, dropped off the rug, and spent a fair amount of time discussing the merits of this blue thread for the rosette versus that blue thread – there were so many color variations it made my head spin – not to mention the size of the rosette!

“Big!” I told her, “So that people on the other side of the barn can see it!”

After all the decisions were taken, she sat down at her desk to calculate the bill. I stood by, humming the sort of tuneless hum one does when one is killing time.

“Forty quid,” she announced. “I have to charge you extra, due to the size of the rug, and the large amount of thread for the rosette.”

I forced myself not to bat an eye. This had been my idea, after all. How much had I expected it to cost? Well, not forty quid, if I’m honest, but he’s my horse, and he deserves a big blue ribbon on his rug, so I agreed to her price. And, in spite of the Christmas rush, she got the job done in record time.

It should come as no surprise that Bit looks smashing in his First-Place-Blue-Ribbon-Best-Horse-Ever rug. In fact, he looks so good in it that one of the barn volunteers felt sufficiently moved to take his picture. And, in response to the question that I know is burning in your brain: Bit’s present to me this year was a gift voucher to one of the local shops that I’m very much looking forward to using!

May you all have a happy holiday season, and good health and prosperity in the new year!

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