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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.

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Beckhampton

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.

Good progress with Salisbury.  I’m halfway through revising the first draft now.

I made welcome contact with a fellow researcher who bought three of my books.  His passion is Sea Pigeon, who was good enough to run in the Derby but is best known as a Champion Hurdler with a fine turn of foot.  He won it twice, latterly at the age of eleven under the most confident ride imaginable from John Francome.  He was the last in a glorious golden age of hurdlers from 1971-81 including Bula, Comedy Of Errors, Lanzarote, Night Nurse and Monksfield.

Fellow Researcher has 15 lever arch files about Sea Pigeon and I am now on a mission to help him identify some people in a photo of the horse on Derby Day 1973.   There’s somebody I know who might recognise them, who I hope to visit next month.  This is of academic interest, to say the least, but sometimes We Just Have To Find These Things Out.

Sandown on Thursday was very hot, but relative coolness and comfort was found by darting between various shady places, such as the trees by the pre-parade ring (NB: very few horses pre-paraded) and the breezy upper level of the grandstand overlooking the paddock.  At one stage of the afternoon when I was at the latter vantage point, the commentator for the day, Mike Cattermole, came and stood not far from me to familarise himself with the horses who were walking round the paddock.  It wasn’t long before he was approached by a lady asking to be photographed with him, clearly a fan of his from his Channel 4 days.  Then her friends joined in, seeking autographs and more photos.  A jolly conversation between them all ensued.  Mike couldn’t have been nicer.  I fear he will never escape being labelled as charming, suave and debonair.  I wish I had his problem.

 

Editing begins

I’ve done enough with the Salisbury text to refer to it as a first draft, even if it has some loose ends and rough edges.  I’ve gone back to the beginning to read it through, correcting, checking and (I hope) improving as I go.  It spans 90 pages of a Word document and though I felt as if I’d spent a whole day on editing, by the end of it I had only reached page 7.  Another half day got me to page 11.  This seems very slow progress, but if I am honest it is very easy to find myself checking a detail that I have probably studied (but not recorded) before.  I tell myself that it will speed up as I go along.  Also, I think this exercise will be easier to do for an odd hour or two than original composition, which I always felt I had to set aside half a day at least.

Nearly everyone I’ve come into contact with researching and going racing has been polite and helpful.  There was a stark contrast in the reaction of a racing pundit I saw on a station platform a long way from home last week.  It was obvious we were both en route to the same racecourse.  I have seen him many times at the races and I thought he might have half-recognised me, as he was walking steadily in my general direction.  I thought I’d be friendly and piped up and said, “It is X, isn’t it?”  “Yes,” he said, and I began to say something innocuous about often seeing him about, but he just carried on past me, mooching along the platform.  I was staggered at his crusty attitude.  It was a lovely day out otherwise.

Planning to pop in to the British Library the other day to do an odd bit of research, I looked at my Reader Pass (yes, that capital R is correct) to find it expired in three weeks’ time.  It doesn’t seem long ago since I last renewed it, but it must be three years.  I took proof of ID along to renew my pass for a further three.

I recall my original application for a Reader Pass in 1990, when I first set out to study defunct racecourses.  With that pass you could go along to the British Library and order any book that had ever been written in this country.  In those days you had to justify your need to use it.  Nowadays it seems much less stringent.  I applied in writing, explaining that I was working on a subject that nobody else had.  (I was not to know that somebody else was in the process of doing so, but that’s another story.)

I can still see in my mind’s eye the letter I received from Charlotte something saying that my application had been granted.  How pleased I was!  The British Library was still in the Reading Room of the British Museum then.  It was wonderfully atmospheric – albeit a little archaic.  You could imagine Dickens and Marx and any number of eminent Victorian authors sitting in the same seats, poring over the books they’d ordered.  I can still hear the rumble of the wooden barrows that were used to deliver books to people.  Nowadays you have to go up to a desk to collect them.

While renewing my pass I asked, facetiously, if I could have a silver card or maybe even a gold one for having over 25 years service, so to speak.  The chap processing my renewal was sorry to refuse, but he said that if I’d come on the following Monday I could get a special purple card.  This was a one-day-only arrangement, celebrating 20 years in their new premises.  I’m not sure why purple is a suitable colour for a 20th anniversary.  I said I was unable to attend on that particular day, so he kindly gave me a nice sharp British Library pencil as consolation.

 

I was pleased to get one of those occasional, random enquiries about something really obscure the other day.  It concerned a stud groom employed in the late 1880s at the Heather Stud near Bath racecourse.  The initial enquiry came in to Bath, and they passed him on to me, mentioning my book.  I had never come across it, but I dug out some information from the excellent British Newspaper Archive, which I think added a little bit to the enquirer’s knowledge.  Unfortunately for a someone who was a mere employee there’s usually a limited amount of information out there once you’ve gone beyond births, deaths, marriages and censuses.

I continue to be near the end of the full first draft of Salisbury.   Yesterday I settled down to make inroads into two discrete subjects.  Instead, I started on a third, found an old photograph that created a new mystery; solved another one that I wasn’t sure was a mystery; and found a ten-years-later epilogue to a story I thought had finished.   On balance, though, quite productive.  Yet I remain near the end, and feel just about the same distance from it as I did yesterday morning.

I made my first visit of the year to Salisbury races this week.  The first of what may be very few, as nearly all of their other meetings are weekends, evenings or days when I have other things lined up.  Something will have to give.

They have a fine new information panel on the wall of the rubbing house, explaining what it is and that it’s at least 300 years old.  As for the racing, I received a good tip.  “If Lady Rothschild is present, back her horses.” I was told this moments after she arrived in the winner’s enclosure to greet one of her horses, which had just scored at odds of 10/1.