The last time the horse seriously rivalled man-made transport for speed was 1830, when a stagecoach won a race against America’s first domestically manufactured steam locomotive. Now, however, horsekind has had a final hurrah with a victory over what is in theory a far more formidable opponent — the broadband Internet connection.
The contest over the gently rolling hills of the Sauerland, a pretty district in western Germany, started as a joke. Klaus-Peter Kappest, a photographer from Oberkirchen, had been frustrated for years by the sluggish pace of his uploads. At 1.5 megabits per second — roughly a tenth of what now counts as high-speed broadband — it sometimes takes him several hours to send a batch of high-resolution images to his clients. “Often it’s simply cheaper to send someone to drive 62 miles in a car and deliver the pictures to the editors or the advertising agency, because it’s just not possible to do it over the Internet,” he said.
One day Mr Kappest, 52, was chatting to his colleagues at Woll, a local magazine, about life under lockdown. He suggested in jest that he would be better off dispatching his photographs by horse. “That was the most reliable communications technology in the Middle Ages,” he said. “And my editor said, ‘Well let’s do it then, let’s see which is truly faster.’”
Mr Kappest enlisted the help of Jakob Schütte, a rider who lives in the same village, and Favo, his horse. The photographer burned 4.2GB of images on to a DVD, packed it into a satchel and sent it off with Favo and Mr Schütte on the six-mile ride to the printer’s office in Schmallenberg. At the same time he uploaded the data through WeTransfer, a popular file-sharing service. The computer had a 20-minute head start while Mr Schütte saddled up and trotted off down the road past Almert and the Wilzenberg mountain.
Favo made the journey in 104 minutes. The file transfer, on the other hand, was not finished until the horse had returned to Oberkirchen more than two hours later. In total it took five hours.
“It turned out that the messenger on horseback had not only delivered the data faster, but the horse was already back in its stable, groomed, fed and released on to the pasture before the data were finally uploaded,” Mr Kappest said.
There was a serious point behind the stunt. Germany has long been notorious for its poor broadband and mobile Internet coverage, particularly in the countryside. Two years ago a report by the federal network regulator found that 29 per cent of Internet users received less than half the speed to which they were contractually entitled.
While things have improved since then, a global survey carried out last year by Cable.co.uk, the British price comparison website, found that it took on average 16 minutes and eight seconds to download a 5GB film through a German Internet connection — a little better than the UK, but worse than Puerto Rico, Bulgaria and Barbados. In the Sauerland, Mr Kappest’s area, millions of euros have been spent on a new fibre-optic network but the connections have yet to be switched on in dozens of towns and villages, including Oberkirchen.
The horse race protest did its job: Mr Kappest has since been reassured that his broadband will be up and running this month. Yet he is still annoyed by the delay. “I could certainly understand if they said they needed to put the cables in the ground first, but the cables are there, it’s all been built, it just has to be switched on,” he said.
“And we Sauerlanders are not the kind of people to take this lying down — we just say: ‘Guys, this really is not good, what you’re doing here.’”
For most nine-year-olds the pinnacle of literary achievement might be full marks in a spelling test. But Ellah Louise Ramsey, from Grangetown in North Yorkshire, has become one of the youngest published authors in Britain.
Her book, The Magic Whistle and the Tiny Bag of Wishes, was co-authored with the children’s writer Frank English. The story is about a bullied schoolboy who enters a vibrant new world. About 500 copies have been sold even though the official launch has been delayed because of the pandemic. Ellah met Frank English, who worked as a teacher before starting his writing career, in 2017 when he visited her school. Their collaboration began when she sent him the first chapters of her own book in May.
“I like writing because I kind of go on an adventure in my own mind,” Ellah said. She wants to be an author when she grows up and hopes to continue writing children’s books because “you can write about anything”.
Her mother, Vicki Ramsey, 33, recalled that Ellah would read her school-aged brother’s books when she was still in nursery. “She’s always loved books, right from being really young,” Mrs Ramsey said. “She had written some really good short stories and poems but since she met Frank English when she was seven, she kept saying ‘I want to be an author’. We heard Frank English’s name a lot.”
English had remembered Ellah from his assembly when she had asked some “very sensible” questions. “She is nine years old and her ideas are literally phenomenal,” he said. “She’s now started putting ideas together on a sequel — she’s only nine.” English said he had “no doubt” that Ella would be a bestselling author one day.
The youngest published author is thought to be Dorothy Straight, an American who wrote and illustrated a book in 1962 at the age of four. It was published two years later. The youngest published author in Britain is thought to be Heath Grace, from Cornwall, who aged six wrote My Mummy Is Autistic.
The Magic Whistle and the Tiny Bag of Wishes by Frank English and Ellah Louise Ramsey, published by 2QT, is available to buy now.