Plans / The blog

What’s taking so long?

In London, I live in a narrowboat. One of my neighbours, Jack, who spends happy hours every summer repainting already-perfect paintwork while all of the other boat owners look on with envy from their rusty deathtraps, says, “Ah, narrowboats – the fastest way of slowing down.”

I’d say that being on the combination of Wales time and donkey time is a strong contender to narrowboating’s forced leisureliness, and I’m fighting it. Fighting the slowdown with every inch of my ambitious, urgent, busy London core. I wanted to leave on the first of May. No chance.

So what’s going on? Well, I’ve been learning about donkeys. Not just the phonecalls and Wikipedia way, but real, live donkeys. My guardian angel Tamlin has been teaching me the tricks of donkey handling, practicing on lovely constant Dolly. And with this newfound experience I went to see a last few donkeys, belonging to Dave at Stonehill Donkeys in Shropshire, who I’ve been speaking to since February but have never managed to meet yet.

Let’s pray we don’t like them

Mum, until three weeks ago not fussed about donkeys, came too, driving through the rolling, greening, daffodilly mid-Wales countryside to Shropshire where we drank coffees and ate on-sale custard slices from a village shop in the stiff wind and bright sunshine, preparing our game plan by saying we either needed to, “Fall unquestionably in love, or rule these donkeys out completely, go back to dear, calm Dolly, and be content.”


We were hoping for the second, simpler conclusion, although we’d driven two hours for it. We seemed instantly to get it – Dave brought out Jennet, the ‘sharp’ Bulgarian jenny who ‘walks on’, that he’d picked out for me as an option two months ago. Dave apologised that in getting her ready that morning she hadn’t seemed as ‘sharp’ as she usually was. Jennet, in her stable, had had a good old roll in her own poo in preparation for our arrival. She followed this up by, two minutes into a practice walk up the road, getting alarmed by a motorbike and dragging me on the end of her rope, as if I wasn’t there, round in a circle to get away from the bike.

We walked in the other direction instead for a while, down the road, through a field and back again, and she really walked – was perfectly ‘sharp’ enough. It was refreshing after ploddy, calm Dolly, but a bit terrifying. I tied a knot in the end of my lead rope, as taught by donkey trekker Carol, so that it wouldn’t pull out of my hands if she took off. The rest of the walk went fine, but when we got back she dragged me about in circles in the yard just to embarrass me in front of Dave, his wife, a helper, and the farrier too for good measure. It didn’t help that I couldn’t scratch her and rub her; her wet, mucky fur was kind of offputting. I told Dave she didn’t seem like the kind of donkey for a novice handler, handed over the rope, and exhaled for the first time in fifteen minutes. Right, we’d done what we came for.

“There is another one,” said Dave, and brought out a gelding. I took him straight off for a walk, and he seemed nervy, jumping at a passing car and some dry leaves skittering along the road. I instantly decided against him, but carried on walking. He was keen, walking up alongside me (Dolly mostly walks right behind me), at a pretty quick pace. He relaxed about the passing cars, took his lead from me about where we were going. When we got back to the yard I gave him a good brush down (with the blue ‘my first grooming kit’ I got for Christmas, still in its little plastic handbag, always a dead cert for amusing donkey owners), and a bit of carrot, and he began to relax next to me; I started winning him over.

It’s Chico time!

We chatted to Dave for a few hours, taking Chico – for that was his name, it seemed, although donkey dealers never seem all that certain, or bothered – for walks in between. Each time we turned to the road he moved readily, keen to go. Mum, on a walk on her own with him, tried breaking into a jog to see if he would trot alongside, and he did. Trotting! Dolly wouldn’t trot for love nor carrots!

People told me I would ‘just know’ when I found the donkey for me. Chico is much younger than I would like – only five, just a year older than old original Mali – his hooves are lighter-coloured (therefore softer), and thinner-walled than Dolly’s, he’s quick but that’s no indication of how he’ll walk all day long, hour after hour, whereas Dolly has an all-day constancy to her mellow stroll. He’s skinnier and not necessarily even fully grown, but reader, I fell for him. And so did mum.


That was Monday and already it’s Saturday. We wanted to fold Chico into the back of the car and drive him back to mum’s terrace. Instead the week has gone, with nervous London impatience and regular fretting, into sounding out my guardian angels (they said it sounded like he’d chosen me, but that I would need to do some serious and well-handled getting-to-know-you time), finding a vet to visit him and listen to his heart and lungs, finding a field to put him in in Aberystwyth, getting Dave to take measurements for his night rug and pack saddle, and reading about how to move a donkey. The sun is out, the birds are singing, I’m thinking departure will be the 13th of May, earliest, and I’m beginning, just beginning, to relax into Wales/donkey time. A little bit, some of the time…

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One Comment

  1. :) I knew this was going to happen to you! Time to figure out where you will keep your Chico after you have bonded beyond all hope on your journey!

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