We're all a little bit to blame for the tragedy of Barry Rogerson.
If Buzzfeed ever wanted to put together a list of horses looking melancholy, they could do worse than start with the day-after photos of Bud, the police horse punched at the Sunderland-Newcastle derby on Sunday. Bud looks like he has peered into his own soul and seen something that he cannot now un-see. The world is harsh, his fixed gaze says. The world is unremittingly bleak. We are all just differently-arranged carbon atoms clinging to a revolving rock. There is no heaven and no hell. And sometimes you get punched in the neck for no reason whatsoever. He should never be allowed to watch the Grand National.
This melancholy horse was quickly joined in his melancholy, post-fight remorse by his assailant, Barry Rogerson – a man with a name that sounds like it was made up by a child novelist. Forty-five-year-old Rogerson was last seen posing full-melancholy in the Daily Mail with his dog. A dog that was meant to inform us all that he really did like animals after all. He fed foxes, he said. He even had some goldfish, for crying out loud, and he gave them whatever they wanted. Also – he was under the influence of a lot of medication. And maybe some lager, too. Yes. And that lager had interacted with his medication.
And the reason he'd been wearing a bandana to cover his face was that he "had a toothache and wanted to keep the cold off of it". An analgesic strategy last seen deployed in the 1978 Whizzer & Chips comic annual. Barry, I'm no anaesthesiologist, but I find the first 17 pints tend to deal with most niggling pains, no? We learned, in fact, that he hadn't meant to punch this horse at all. The reason he'd swedged at it in the first place was that it had, in the immortal words of South Park, been "coming straight for him". So he'd blocked with the left and swung with the right, accidentally on-purpose, and warded it off before it could get at him. It had a knife. Possibly. Curiously, having sucked up his story with a butter-wouldn't-melt credulity, the Mail then assured us he had been on sickness benefits since 2005, and it was thus still OK to dislike him.
Barry Rogerson in action.
No one is blaming Rogerson for punching a horse in the face. Well, maybe some people are. But the broader point at issue is his failure to own up to it. Alright, pal, you punched a horse in the face, you'll never have to buy a drink in a Toon pub ever again. Just go with it. But he won't. Rogerson can't deal with who he is. He has joined the select group of people who know what it's like to feel wet snout and downy warm hair crunch beneath your knuckles. Yet all he wants to talk about is how he has been misrepresented by reels and reels of photographic evidence. This is the saddest thing. That he is the kind of man who would claim that black is white and night is day, then repeat his unbelievable truth to a national newspaper with the biggest online news audience on the planet and blithely expect to get away with it.
Unfortunately, Rogerson is dedicating himself to repairing a reputation that doesn't need defending. If the past week has taught us one thing, it is that he is not to blame. An ex-factory worker on the sick, here was someone personally affected by the deindustrialisation of Britain's North East. Endlessly falling real wages, increasingly harsh production conditions, his hometown presented to the watching world as a place full of luminous "reality" TV idiots. The pallid, wizened, homophobic stoics who manned the pickets in Billy Elliott seem very distant now.
Clearly, somewhere in the middle of the capitalist cyclone, the human bit snapped. After eight years of mouldering between the local park and his living room, he had become detached from his environment. In the atomistic view of the universe Thatcherism had instilled in him, horses were simply soulless machines used by police. He could no longer view the horse as a valid member of society, because he had disavowed the whole notion of society. That is what he should have told the reporters clustered on his doorstep. Then he would have been carried aloft through the streets of Newcastle, instead of sneered at and meme-ified.
The truth is that Rogerson's tragedy belongs to all of us. We are all horse punchers now – you, me, the local greengrocer, the board of HBOS, the used car salesman at the lot just behind the station in Swanley. We may not have physically punched a horse. We may not have even given a cat a Chinese burn. We would probably be too squeamish to gouge out the eye of a buck. But make no mistake, we are not innocent. Every time you buy a latte and an aspirational magazine, you are supporting the horse punching trade. Every time you watch Geordie Shore or boast about your new Nissan, you might as well have kicked a sheep in the kidneys. No wonder that horse looks so melancholy; he has become a giant metaphor for all of us, and giant metaphors are seldom cheerful.
Follow Gavin on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynes
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