La Cumparsita

The Salisbury printing problem has been solved, with a lot of give and take all round.  In fact, it was sorted by last Friday week.  That left two full weeks for copies to be printed and delivered to the racecourse.  I expect I won’t see any until that fateful Sunday the 28th, the launch date.  There will be one (I hope) last moment of trepidation when I handle a copy for the first time, wondering if it has been printed upside down or inside out.

Ffos Las is still on ice as my proof-reader has found faults with it, but not told me what.  We do at least know what the pictures are going to be inside the book, and we have a firm of printers lined up. Welsh, of course.  The front and back covers are, I think, undecided, although I have my own preferred template in mind, which can easily be explained to the printers.

I was at Stratford last Sunday to see a horse I have a share in run.  He was down the field that day, but there will be better times ahead.  He was bought for a modest amount two years ago and has won three times for us since then, so we certainly can’t complain.   Then to Newmarket on Thursday where some rather more expensive animals were racing.  One of the faces in the crowd was the indefatigable Derek Thompson.  He was commentating and presenting at Chelmsford when I was there a few weeks ago.  The old Tommo style was undimmed.  A jockey called Philip Prince won one race.  “I always call him Prince Philip.”

Later a horse called La Cumparsita won.  Tommo took the trouble to google the name, and told the crowd it was a tango composed in Uruguay in 1916.  (You may not know the name, but the tune will be familiar.)  He used his smartphone to play a recording of part of it over the public address.  Who else would do that?


We should be entering the home straight with the Salisbury book.  However, there is an eleventh-hour problem, of the sort I have never encountered before.  There are two or three approaches to tackling it but we have to decide which one very soon.  A meeting at the racecourse on Tuesday will, I hope, determine the right path.

Ffos Las is a little behind schedule.  The nearly-final text is with one proof-reader who’s abroad at the moment and may not think it’s suitable for holiday reading.  I was at the races there today and was pleased to meet one of Wales’s leading racehorse owners, who helped me get some insights into the place.  I am being interviewed there tomorrow by a PR firm that’s helping to plug its 10th anniversary.   We still have to sort out photographs but I have a preferred list that won’t cost too much and I expect to get approaval for it very soon.  As the whole thing is going to be much smaller than the majority of my books we still ought to have it ready by 6 June.

I took time out to visit Britain’s other new course last week, Chelmsford City.  It was a replacement for an Ayr meeting that had to be abandoned.  Quite what Scottish trainers thought about the choice of substitute I don’t know.  Anyway, I was enticed by free entry, to make my first visit there since it was Great Leighs.  The viewing areas – it’s hard to call them stands – are fine for small crowds, but as you can only directly see a quarter of the course at any vantage point it’s only really necessary to get a position in front of the big screen or one of the indoor TVs.  Everything was neat, clean, new and comfortable.  The only drawback was the utter lack of road signs coming, as I did, from Chelmsford itself.  I gather the local authority wants an exorbitant sum to update the existing signs.  I only knew I was near when I saw the array of giant floodlights.  The Dartford Crossing was queue-free both ways, both my bets won, so the day could hardly be improved upon.


To my surprise Vice magazine has been added to the list of places where my name is quoted in connection with racing history.  I was approached by David Hillier, a journalist who had been commissioned to write an article about violence at the races, in view of trouble at Haydock in February, and at Ascot and other tracks last summer.  He was interested to know whether this was a new problem, and found me by searching online for “racing historian”.  Hooray for Google.  I was able to tell him the answer was definitely no.  Just think of Brighton Rock – and see the chapters in many of my books where 1920s gang warfare affected meetings such as genteel Bath, or 19th century chicanery with con-men, find-the-lady tables and welshing bookies.

I gave David quite a bit of material to consider.  I didn’t expect the whole lot to be quoted, but enough was used to justify me getting a name-check and an unexpected addition to my portfolio.

Vice is not as insalubrious as its name suggests, and the content is serious, quirky, and from my quick look at it, well-written.  But it’s not for the proverbial maiden aunt to read.  It can be read online here.


Meanwhile a revised proof of the Salisbury book from the printers should be with me in a few days, and I’m hopeful there won’t be many more versions before we can say “print”.  The last photo to be included, a group shot of staff and directors, has been received (necessitating a re-jig of the colour section, as it was of Cinemascope width rather than an ordinary landscape shape).  The front and back covers are 99% done.

Now I am concentrating on getting the Ffos Las text close to completion, while waiting to find out what we can spend on photos.  (Smaller book, smaller budget)


Getting there

We’re back on course with the Salisbury book.  The first pdf from the printers looked very good, but glancing through it I saw a few minor errors on their part and a proof-read by Mrs Racinghistorian revealed a whole lot more typos and errors that I had missed.  I sent a list of about 50 amendments to the printers, and though I feared ructions, they took it in good part.  They’ve had them a week now and I hope to get the next version soon.  I already have a few fresh changes that will need to be incorporated, primarily a statement by the racecourse chairman that needs to go in.  More important from the time perspective, the next pdf needs to have page numbers, so that I can update the index (a lengthy job in itself).

We’d also had to wait for a day when all the staff and directors could get together to have a group picture taken of them.  That was done last week.  A half-page space had been left in the colour section of the book for it, but the photo itself is of Cinemascope shape, ie a stretched landscape; so a certain amount of re-ordering will be necessary.  We are still finalising the images to go on the front and back covers.

The racecourse tweeted an announcement about the book’s impending publication a few days ago, so it’s getting more and more official.  The aim is still to be on sale at their first meeting of the season on Sunday 28 April.  There’s still a fair bit to do before then!

I haven’t been idle with Ffos Las.  We’ve got pictures from a number of different sources and will soon have to choose what we want, but I need to know what the budget is for them.  I also need to get the racecourse people to get some idea of the cost of printing. This book will be different to my others in that we don’t need to have any black and white pictures, but how will that affect the cost?

My last post’s Option C has come true.  The printers of the Salisbury book have gone very quiet.  I know of no response to Jeremy’s email last Friday week, which pressed them for an updated quote for the job.  Perhaps they have replied and he hasn’t told me, but in that case I need to chase him.  Getting nowhere fast – behind schedule now – maybe we won’t make our launch date.

Domestic business means I haven’t done much on Ffos Las in the last few weeks.  I need only say the words “house selling” and “solicitors” to explain why.   Not that there is a huge amount to do on “the birth of a racecourse”.  There isn’t a lot more I can add to the text, although “text” is dignifying it somewhat.  It has a lot of rough edges.

The books are also compromised by the other work – writing articles and compiling statistics – that I am doing for various racecourses, which is subject to a series of deadlines every week.  It cannot, therefore, be put off.

It’s ironic that my interest in the past is now on the verge of being overtaken by my work on the present.  The latter, the more urgent, requires keeping up to date with current racing news, yet it has a short shelf-life (shades of the old cliché about yesterday’s newspapers being today’s chip wrappers).  Nevertheless the former will, I hope, have a rather longer existence, and I like to think my books will be of use to the next person who decides to write a history of Salisbury, or Fontwell or any of “my” other racecourses in 50 years’ time.  Or to the university student of the 23rd century, researching this remote period of ancient history, who may regard the very idea of a sport involving animals as positively medieval.

Lots of fun and games with images for the Salisbury book.

Happily, Jeremy is not quite as constricted as regards the budget for pictures and he found about 40 for the period since he became the manager in 2001.  He was most assiduous in identifying copyright holders, and he even negotiated deals with those that needed paying for.  I don’t think I’ve ever had the luxury of having this done for me before, or if I have, not on this scale.

He eliminated some of his selections to arrive at a final 26, but as soon as I started working out how to arrange them in the 32-page colour section the printers recommended, Jeremy found four or five more.  They had to go in too.  Re-arrangement of the colour section duly occurred.  Then he thought of three more we had to have.  Two of them have gone into another chapter and one of them is a photo that’s yet to be taken, for which a blank space is being left in the colour section.  (Until the last moment, I fear; if not later.)

This was all after the normal finalisation of the pictures-in-book process; he’d authorised my choice of older pictures for the pre-21st century chapters, and was happy with the prices I’d arranged with the copyright holders.

All the images (bar that one) are now with the printers, as is the text, so for the next few weeks I will be either a) breathing a sigh of relief and enjoying a quiet spell where I can’t do much on Salisbury, or b) going through the text again and finding numerous things that could be changed, or c) fretting about whether the printers are indeed getting on with it and understanding all my instructions about which picture goes where.

Time now to get back to Ffos Las and incorporate the new material gleaned from my mid-January visit into the draft text.


The Salisbury text is now formatted – as far as I can do it – in Word, and apart from some more checking is ready to go to the printers.  There will always be more checking that could be done, but eventually one just has to “let go”.

With the exception of the modern colour photos and one more image that needs some creative input, all of the pictures have been chosen.  They now need captions and to be paid for.  Calls to the relevant press agencies will be made very soon.  I know which chapters each picture will go in, but I need to specify where in each chapter I’d like them and work out whether they’re half page or full page and so on.

We have an abundance of modern pictures we can use, and it seems that many of them will make their way into the book.  As a consequence of its 400+ year history, the wordcount is 59,000 – the same as my other wordiest book, Bath – and there is a faint chance we might depart from the normal A5 softback format.  We can make a decision on that when we’re further into the printing process.

I spent slightly less time than I’d wished for at Ffos Las last weekend.  I’d wanted to either walk the course, or the local footpaths around it, or both, but the incessant rain deterred me.  Another time, I hope.  What went very well was my second meeting with some of the people who were involved with its creation.  The first was 18 months ago and by now I had some follow-up questions.  They kindly came to the course and gave me lots more information.  I was also given a disc containing 200 photos taken over the course of a year by a lady who’d walked the local paths with her dog each day.  The variety of wildlife she’d snapped as the seasons changed was marvellous.  Flicking through those photos is as good as a nice walk, but without leaving the comfort of one’s fireside.

I also had a nice chat with the former head groundsman, and then I was off to the local library.  That also worked out well; I’d ordered 50 or 60 press cuttings in advance and they were all ready and waiting for me when I arrived.  A few hours was sufficient to absorb their contents, and that filled in some more gaps in the story.

Once Salisbury is with the printers I can devote myself to completing Ffos Las.