Archive for October, 2012

I simply must start preparing for a talk about Bath I was asked to give to a local history group.  It’s not until March, but preparing for a talk of 45 minutes plus I have to get the structure of it right and time myself speaking it out loud.  Otherwise I could be saying “Any questions?” after a quarter of an hour, which wouldn’t do.

I came away from Bath races last week adequately re-stocked with copies of my book.  I need to put them and Alfred Day on Amazon.  It won’t take long, but like preparing for the talk,  it’s the sort of job that I find easy to say, “I’ll do it tomorrow”.   But tomorrow never comes.

Which leads me onto James Bond race day at Uttoxeter on Friday, where I shall be.  I wonder what unusual attractions this will bring to Staffordshire.  Bond girls?  Big explosions?  Car chases?  I will settle for steeplechases.

I’m very near the bottom of the big box of Uttoxeter press cuttings.  A huge amount of effort was put into maintaining these in the early to mid 1990s.  I must be careful not to include stories from there just because they are easy to use, though one which I will use was about what was thought at the time to be the first couple to be married on a racecourse on a race day.  Cue lots of corny headlines that I will be unable to resist quoting.

For the moment I will put that to one side while I prioritise what I want from my visits to libraries there later in the week.

Realising there is an auction coming up with a couple of hundred racing lots, I learn, in correspondence with other researchers that there are two other sales at about the same time, which I didn’t know about.  Watch out chequebook, you could be pressed into service.

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At Fontwell last weekend I didn’t only have a mild sunny day to enjoy; I was fortunate to get a place at a charity lunch with an interesting assortment at my table – a couple running a local charity who plan to be future race sponsors, an ex-journalist, an entrepreneuress and a local chap from a family of bookies who were going to the Arc the next day, senior racecourse managers and former National-winning jockey and cancer-survivor Bob Champion.  He told me one famous horse he rode at Uttoxeter that I didn’t know about – that’s a story I can put in the book!

I came away with Fontwell’s remaining copies of Alfred Day and that leaves me with about a dozen, which I ought to put on Amazon.

Next weekend I go to Bath for their final meeting of the year, and top up my stock of books, which recently ran down to zero.  It doesn’t feel that long since I was there for their first meeting of 2012.  I hope they’ll still remember me.

Before then I go to Brighton for their final meeting of the year.  On occasion that’s been held even later (in November in some years) and it used to be said that winter arrived as the last horse passed the post in the last race.  That’s probably a story attributed to every flat racecourse.

Uttoxeter writing-up continues, helped by the arrival of various photocopies sent by one of the records offices and slowed down by some independent statistical analysis I’ve been asked to do.  The next trip there is already planned and I would like to arrange the next but one.  Cold logic says that three midweek days would be desirable to maximise the time I could spend in records offices, but that would run down my remaining annual leave to an unprecedented low.  It would leave me with about seven days over four months, which isn’t enough for ordinary racing (by my standards), let alone research jaunts.

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It would be unfair to say it rained throughout my latest visit to Uttoxeter from Sunday to Tuesday a week ago.  I know other parts of the country had it worse but I doubt if it stopped for more than one hour out of my last 48 there.

I began with a race meeting, my first there since 2005.  The purpose was mainly to get a feel for simply watching the racing, although bumping into some of my contacts from visit number 1 was an aspiration.  It seemed like a fair sized crowd to me – the boss thought 5,000 – but there was plenty of room to move.  I was pleased to see how litter-free the place stayed as the day went on.  I fancied two stables’ runners here and at Plumpton and both had decent priced winners, unbacked by me.  I thought it might be one of those days until I found the 6/1 winner of the last, which was a great fillip.  My contacts appeared or phoned and were very helpful, either with more reminiscences, hospitality (food, drink and a 1938 Uttoxeter Racecourse pencil) or introductions (one of whom entertained us with yet more food and drink).  The business of researching continues to give physical and spiritual sustenance; it’s heartening to find how helpful people will be for no reason other than to do good.

Most of Monday and Tuesday were spent drying out in records offices, peering at documents with small print, copperplate handwriting, legalistic jargon or all of those.  Why must legal papers have one sentence thousands of words long punctuated only by “whereas”?  Especially as we know the importance of punctuation from that book “Eats Shoots and Leaves”.  Commas and full stops in wills and Abstracts of Titles and conveyances would make life a lot easier.

Four hours looking at one item in one records office was not enough, but I’d run out of time in the car park.  Before starting in there I had confounded the locals by doing a U-turn in an unexpected place as I peered through the murk wondering if that was the records office over there.  Then I spent fifteen minutes traipsing round streets close to the town centre trying to find a shop that was open and where I could reasonably buy something that would give me change for a five pound note (all the local car parks deal in coins only) without clearing out their cash registers.   Sellotape in Wilkinson’s for 70p, if you’re interested.

Anyway, I have lots more to write up, about ten new people to ring (“you should try old so-and-so”) and a quarter of the boxful of cuttings I brought home from my first visit.

I go to Fontwell next Saturday to pick up unsold copies they had of The Days of Fontwell, which has gone down very well with locals, though I say it myself.  If only I can find a few more people interested in Alfred Day.  There aren’t that many copies left, and they’re still a snip at £5 plus £1.50 p&p!

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