Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The ice bucket challenge.

I did the ice bucket challenge this morning.

Since it went viral, there has been the inevitable backlash. Oh, say the doubters, surely giving to charity should be a quiet, private thing. It should not involve show-offs prancing about on the internet. A very thoughtful and rather charming Australian news anchor politely declined to nominate any individuals, and instead challenged everyone to make the world a slightly better place. He added that the whole shooting match could be seen as a waste of water, and that one might be better donating to Water Aid instead.

I absolutely see the intellectual point of these arguments. They are all true. Besides, I did not much fancy a bucket of water over my head. So I kept quiet, and vaguely hoped the thing would pass me by.

Then my friend Jay Hare nominated me. He is a Royal Marine, and as I remarked in my video, you don’t say no to the Marines. The intellectual arguments went out of the window, and the instinctive took over. I could of course just donate, and skip the whole look at me with my bucket aspect. But I had the strong and immediate feeling that it would be curmudgeonly to refuse. Part of the whole experience is the element of fun and idiocy and sharing with the group. I don’t think it is showing off; I think it is being stitched in to the collective, and that is one of the great strengths of this internet age. I was galvanised, even if there would be cross people who tutted at one more damn bucket video.

Someone I loved very much died from Motor Neurone Disease. It is a brutal thing, and if a nutty viral trend is getting it more money and more awareness, that surely can only be for the good.

I was also suddenly excited about the possibility of involving the red mare. This was fairly high risk. I pride myself on the desensitising work I’ve done with her, but what if she freaked out, for all to see? She is a thoroughbred, after all. Still, there was no question that I should do it without her. She would be the Debbie McGee to my Paul Daniels. (Very lucky that the red duchess does not read English; I’m not sure how pleased she would be with that comparison. She almost certainly sees herself more as a cross between the Duchess of Devonshire and Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey. If she had eyebrows, she would raise them.)

I had only twenty-four hours to organise the thing, and I had no video equipment. A faint sense of panic nipped in.

All the stars aligned. My sweet family was available, at the shortest notice. The Younger Niece and The Sister swung into action. My sister does not go on the internet much, and had not heard of the challenge. ‘You want me to pour a bucket of water over your head?’ she said, at first, entirely baffled.

‘That is correct,’ I said.

‘Oh well,’ she said, with equanimity. ‘I suppose I can do that.’

The red mare was more than ready for her close-up, even though she was slightly surprised to find that instead of slow work and breakfast she was being made into an internet queen.

My mother, when told of the thing, looked at the grubby coat I wear to do the horses and said, in a very dry voice, ‘Well, that jacket does need a wash.’

The water was a blinding shock, but afterwards I felt wildly energised. My sister ran me a nice bath so that I could warm up, and we reminisced about our old dad, who used to turn the water in his early morning shower from boiling to freezing before he went out to ride first lot. He would bellow as the cold hit him, but it set him up for the rest of the day. We wondered whether we should follow his example.

The whole thing was enchanting, from the brilliance of my clever horse, to the sweetness of my dear sister, to the lovely laughter of my niece, who was holding the video camera. It was one of my beloved Small Things. Of such small things is the good life made.

And it taught me something else. I shall never, ever again carp at television presenters. Speaking to camera is really difficult. I wanted to say a few words before the water hit, and my arms appeared to have a life of their own, waving about as if they were channelling Sir Patrick Moore. I also seemed to have developed an odd swaying motion. I wished for a moment afterwards that I had not waved the arms about so much, and that I was not having such a rotten hair day, but then I realised that this is not about me at all. It really was not the time for vanity. The mad waving and the bad hair made it all the better, in a way. I was not some polished public person, but a very ordinary woman, in a field, with a horse.

The horse, of course, was not ordinary at all. If she does not get a television gig after this, I shall eat my hat.

There was no camera on hand, so here is a screenshot from the video. The amazing mare did not MOVE A HOOF:

27 Aug 1.bmp

It’s a hopeless picture, but it gives you the sense of the brilliance of that red girl.

As I finish writing this, my video has finally gone up on Facebook. The absurd thing was that the planning and filming took about fifteen minutes, whilst managing to download the video clip, locate it on my computer, make it compatible with Facebook, and get it up there has taken three hours. Every avenue I tried contained a furious error message. It was the wrong type of file; Facebook would not recognise it; it downloaded from the niece’s camera to the most obscure part of my computer which refused to share it with anything else. At one point it disappeared altogether and I had to spend ages ransacking my entire hard disk. When I finally worked out that I could share it from Microsoft Movie Maker, that horrid application would only allow me to post it with an advertisement for itself, rather than the words I wanted to write. When I tried to edit the words, it simply deleted the entire video, which had already taken forty minutes to load. I had to start ALL OVER AGAIN.

I went into gritted-teeth tech rage. Only the most bloody-minded refusal to be beaten got me through. Somehow, this feels quite appropriate. The thing itself was quite easy. Getting wet is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. Donating money was easy; the lovely MND Association make it as straightforward as falling off a log. Getting the video out nearly made my ears fall off. But there should have been some element of sacrifice, even if it was only time and a bit of fury.

All the arguments against this kind of thing are perfectly logical. But, my darlings, it was a riot. It felt like an unalloyed Good Thing, on so many levels. If you are nominated, go for it. If you can find a red mare to star in your challenge, all the better.


  1. I have a feeling I am about to be challenged as a good friend has just been nominated. I shall accept as I really don't mind getting wet - I swim in the Irish Sea off the coast of Wales first chance I get every year and that takes my breath away as I plunge in. My sister is going to the funeral of an old Oxford friend this week (they were at LMH together, took their Finals in 1968) who has just died of MND within a year of going public about the diagnosis. It is a hideous disease. More money for research and terminal care will be a boon.

  2. Well done to both of you! its huge here as well.

  3. Well done - loved the video. Can't believe Red stood still ? It was cold right, even for her? You are both stars, Rachel

  4. Well done you! Who says you can't have a bit of fun when raising funds for charity? Hx

  5. Well done both of you! Completely brilliant :) xx

    This be the start of a whole new career for Red… swimsuit model, maybe?


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