Since the last post I’ve visited Jeremy, the boss at Salisbury, to talk about pictures that might go in the book.  We also resolved a few queries I had about points of detail and I’ve now sent him the draft text for him to read.  He’s got a few other things on the to-do list.  I must admit I’ve left the book alone for a week after that, due to domestic business, work on the weekly articles I do for regional papers, and some other ad hoc racing statistics that proved deceptively time-consuming.

One very welcome development in the last few days was the discovery of several historic photos of the course, whose existence I didn’t know about before.  This makes the process of selecting images for the book even more difficult.  In a good way, that is, as too much choice is better than too little.  We’d have to pay for them but I think we’ll find they’re good enough to justify the expenditure.

I’ve also been able to confirm that it’s all right for me to quote extensively from somebody else’s detailed research on a particular aspect of Salisbury’s history.  That’s very generous of them.  Generally I’d like to rewrite others’ input so that the overall style is consistent, but in this case I believe it would be better to leave the imported prose intact.

I’ve resumed contact with one of my other helpers who’d provided some family history information that shines extra light on certain parts of the story over 200 years ago.  I’d written to him – a letter, that is – because emails had gone unanswered.  It transpired that he had changed his broadband supplier and this had caused a lot of trouble for him.


Cross the Ts

Last week I compiled a list of images I could use for the Salisbury book.  It’s on a spreadsheet that evolved during the production of my earlier books.  There’s a line for each image and about 15 columns to help describe, and eventually prioritise them all.  I was pleased to find I have over 70 to play with.  One of the most important columns is headed “Cost”.  Entries underneath it labelled “Free” are highly desirable.  Those that say “High” are those we’d need to pay press agencies.  Inevitably we’ll want to use some from those sources, and it’s a matter of balancing the cost versus the desire to have them in the book.

I went to the last Brighton meeting of the season last week.  Warm sunshine and a cool breeze made a welcome change from some other years’ last meetings, when sea frets or Arctic winds made going outdoors a health hazard.  There was a decent crowd, about 50% higher than their last midweek meeting by my estimate, which shows how much the weather on the day can affect the “walk-ups”, ie the unbooked cash-paying racegoers who come through the turnstiles.

It’s just as well I haven’t needed to look at the Salisbury text much in the last fortnight.  My laptop keyboard’s letter T gave up the ghost.  While waiting for it to be repaired a lot of very tedious pasting via the Clipboard has been necessary whenever using this machine.  I can well believe T is the second most common letter in the English language.  We have a spare laptop at home, which I resorted to at times, but that has its own quirks.

I have a new keyboard now and T works fine.  Unfortunately the down arrow key sticks sometimes and I can find myself 20 lines below where I should be.  Back to the repair shop….



George Baker’s autobiography Taking My Time is a splendidly honest account of his riding career, the devastating fall that ended it and his gradual, painful recovery.

A farrier’s son, George was anything but an overnight success as a jockey, and the majority of the book describes his stop-start progress through the ranks.  In that sense it begins as a fairly typical story, with juvenile escapades, boozy nights out and mistakes when riding or dealing with people.  However, these decrease as maturity and ability begin to assert, and he is sought by more and more leading trainers.

His height and weight limited his opportunities, yet he amply compensated for that with his thoughtful approach to race-riding.  The chapter titled “Secrets of Success” contains some interesting insights, such as the section about getting horses to lead on a particular leg.

Passing the hundred winners a season mark, getting married and riding his first classic winner in the 2016 St Leger showed George’s life was very much on an upward trajectory.  That is, until the brutal fall in a race on the ice at St Moritz in February 2017, which left him at death’s door.  At this point in the book his wife Nicola takes up the story, as Baker’s horrific head injuries were so bad that some periods are blanks in his memory.  Unaware of what he was doing, his erratic behaviour meant that recovery was far from certain.

The latter part of the book takes us into territory beyond that of the normal racing autobiography and gives the reader a frank account of the medical, logistical and emotional struggles to bring the old George back.  The result can be guessed from the title of the final chapter, “A Slightly Changed Man”.

Taking My Time costs £20 and is available from the Racing Post and Rupert Mackeson’s bookstall at various racecourses.

Hats all right

Good progress has been made with the Salisbury text-reviewing, and I’m now up to page 60 of 91.  I still have a feeling it’s too long, but I have one or two people who I can ask to read it.  I’ve got an appointment to visit the racecourse in a month’s time to discuss pictures – a subject I haven’t contemplated for a long time.  That’s easily remedied, as once I start looking through my collection of images and contact a few press agencies it will all come together.  In the past it’s been very helpful to borrow photos from private individuals, but with Salisbury there hasn’t been much in that line.  Still, we do have some old pictures in the racecourse’s files, and I always think the older ones are the most interesting.

I see there’s a Salisbury Literary Festival soon.  Maybe I’ll be there next year (irony).  Though I wonder why it’s a Literary, not Literature festival.

Sales of my other books have perked up for no obvious reason in the last month and some Croydons and Brightons have gone to eager readers.

A recent book-buyer with whom I had some correspondence was keen to identify a mystery man in a photo.  This was a stable lad leading up Sea Pigeon in the parade before the Derby.  You could see little of this chap apart from his hat!

Sea Pigeon was a good, but somewhat wayward horse on the flat before his long and highly successful hurdling career.  Fortunately I know someone who used to ride him out and he was able to name the chap in the photo simply by recognising his titfer.

Lofty issues

More health problems have interfered with Salisbury book work these last two weeks.  I have, however, isolated all those “must check” items so that they can be researched methodically – eg with Racing Calendar queries I can deal with them by ferreting around the loft, where all the old issues are kept in big plastic storage boxes.  Invariably the loft is too hot or too cold, but I can be certain the light will be too dim, I’ll take the wrong glasses and it will be uncomfortable.  The criss-cross layers of diagonal wooden beams means that getting about up there is like playing Twister.  One cannot stand up straight. Two surveyors have looked at it and frowned.  They agreed it would be difficult (ie expensive) to do a loft conversion, especially as the roofline cannot be raised and it would be suitable only for people under six feet tall, which I am not.

I have started re-reading the text from page 1 to look for ambiguities and my recurring fear of the same word or phrase being repeated too often or too close to each other.  While Edit Find is great for seeing how often a selected word or phrase comes up, and a Word Frequency Counter website does what it says, I wish I could find something that can identify the most-repeated words and shows you where they are.

I felt that I did several hours on the re-read yesterday, yet progress is very slow.  I seemed to do no more than ten pages of the 95 in the Word document, getting me up to page 17.  I don’t know why, but I am optimistic that this will speed up.  I would like to finish this by the date of the last Salisbury meeting so that I have a fairly good version to hand then. We’ll have to discuss pictures for the book soon after.


I remember once hearing someone quoting his favourite “most pretentious remark” he’d heard was by another person saying “as I was re-reading Moby Dick….”  A highly regarded but (according to the only person I know who has read it) a highly turgid book.  Well, I am re-reading Paul Mathieu’s Beckhampton, the 200-year story of the racing stables and the trainers, owners and horses connected with them.  It’s not all that long since I first read it, but it is the absolute opposite of turgid.  I don’t know how Paul manages to find out so many interesting stories and pack them so adroitly into his narrative.

That book and mine have certain people and subjects in common and I feel mine would be so much more amusing if I copied many more of Paul’s stories.  I won’t, of course, but it’s difficult and counter-productive not to use some of his insights.   I will use them sparingly, for I feel guilty that it wasn’t me that did the hard work unearthing them in the first place.  I console myself by ensuring I will acknowledge him unhesitatingly and with gratitude.

I’ve now re-read the whole of the Salisbury text.  It’s amazing how quickly the time goes when messing about with it.  Lately I’ve had to think about how to begin the story – ideally with a bang – and how to deal with discrete subjects that don’t easily fit into the main chronological narrative.  Wedge them in anyhow at the most suitable point?   Smuggle them into the final chapter?  Condemn them to being appendices?  If so, in what order?

Next I should search for every time I’ve left the word “check” in the text, and steel myself to sort out what to do to resolve those incidences.  It’s bound to involve scrabbling around in the loft peering at old Racing Calendars.

90% done

Back from a week’s holiday, which included some useful time when not out sightseeing devoted to checking the Salisbury draft.  90% is done, so some time this week I should finish it.  I’ll then go through every time the word “check” appears in the text and review my sources.  Once that’s done I will prepare to read it all over again!  I feel as if I haven’t cut much out so far, so during the second run-through I’ll have to have foremost in my mind “do I really need to include this?”

I’ve been given a useful tip-off about some newspaper reports that will amplify one of the episodes in the book.  It’ll require a visit to the British Library to read them.  I am grateful to a fellow author whose name I drop three times in the Salisbury narrative.  I’ve told him he won’t get rich on referrals from the small (but very select) audience that reads my books.

That holiday and, regrettably, illness mean this entry is going to be a short one.