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Houmout Ostrich Polo team transport

In the early phase of planning Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway the management thought that 'kit bashing' would be easier than scratchbuilding. As a result several laser-cut rolling stock kits were acquired, with the intention of subverting them to something more Emett-esque.

And so there is an I P Engineering cattle wagon kit lurking among the 'things to do next' pile. The initial intention was always to make this into a horse box, with a stable clock on the roof. In all honesty the Emett illustration which inspired this was taking the mickey out of cattle wagons. But what the heck.

But a horse box, even one with a clock on the roof (and it would be working… ), seemed altogether too mundane for a railway inspired by Rowland Emett. One of his illustrations shows three carriages 'themed' with stereotypes of Scotland, Wales and Stratford-upon-Avon (more details here). There were already plans for Scottish and Welsh coaches, to be pulled by an Irish loco, and the management had already prepared a Northumbrian-themed wagon. One of the regions conspicuous by its absence from that list was Cornwall.

For reasons that have already been lost in the proverbial mists, the management decided that the 'cattle wagon' would become the team transport for an ostrich racing team. Not that the management approves of ostrich racing. But it did seem a soft target for parodying. But what's Cornish about ostrich racing? An idle moment over a mug of coffee (we have many – but not as many as you might think… ) and the words 'Cornish ostrich' were typed into a well-known search engine. Lo and behold! The supporters of the coat of arms of the Duchy of Cornwall are a pair of choughs – holding large ostrich feathers in their beaks.

The mere thought of HRH the Duke of Cornwall (alternative titles also apply) brought to mind polo. And yet more lo and beholding, the search engine revealed that ostrich polo is (or maybe just was) a 'thing', at least down under. It was mostly played by ladies riding side saddle, known as 'ostriquestriennes'. You couldn't make it up!

Famed ostriquestrienne Fadile Bendaresith with her ostrich 'Ginger'

The motto for the Duketh Kernow is 'Houmout', maybe a typo scribal error for 'houmont'. It is said to mean 'courage' but the whys and wherefores of this strange word seem to go back to Edward I when he was Black Prince (ostrich feathers also to the fore back then) so wonky etymologies abound but hard facts elude. Whatever, the management of Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway decided that this wagon, when it is assembled, with be signed up so folk are fully aware it is 'Houmout Ostrich Polo team transport'.


The I P Engineering cattle wagon kit is still lurking among the 'things to do next' pile.

Two suitable chronometers have been sourced for the stable clock. Yes, the management is well aware that in the real world there would be one timepiece and two clock faces. You try doing that at 1/20 scale…

Two ostriches have also been acquired. Allegedly. One has two toes on each foot and the body shape of an ostrich – but has been painted to look like an emu. The other one, sold as an ostrich, has three toes and in every respect looks like an emu. These things can be sorted… Two much more ostrich-like ostriches will be shipped once the eggs have hatched.

Seemingly Walt Disney knew all about ostrich polo back in 1936
– was it because Harpo Marx told him?
view the complete cartoon here

Once again thanks to Nigel for his historical acumen

Ostriches should not to be confused with emus or rheas. Though many people do. And, no Nigel, ostrich polo is not played on grass trimmed with a lawn moa – that's just a flightless fancy.

Just to avoid any confusion or ill-will, Houmout Ostrich Polo team has no connections with real-world Cornish ostriches.

The more astute reader will be aware that 'emmet' is a well-known word in Cornwall. It is not Cornish (as often stated) but from the Cornish dialect of English. The literal meaning is 'ants'. However when used by someone in Cornwall it usually refers to tourists, although the meaning has extended to anyone who is not Cornish. The connotations are pejorative. Whether Rowland Emett was aware of the usage of 'emmet' to refer to tourists is unknown – it may have arisen quite late in his life.

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Text and previously unpublished images copyright Bob Trubshaw 2018–2019