Archive for November, 2012

From bog to banquet

To recap, I had lost my glasses case, containing glasses and memory stick, possibly in the muddy field I had unwisely attempted to cross for research purposes.  I rang my chief guide at Uttoxeter, David, who kindly agreed to lend me some wellingtons the next day.  The map suggested that I could drive down some sort of track to a farmhouse quite close to the scene of the debacle, but whether it would be suitable for an ordinary car I couldn’t be sure.

The next day I collected the boots and asked for a rake as well, in case the glasses case was visible but out of reach.  The track was driveable, with care, and I parked near a farmhouse.  As I was pulling on my boots a man emerged from the farm buildings.  Hoping he wasn’t going to say, “you can’t park there”, I explained my situation.  He sympathised, saying he had lost his mobile phone yesterday and was trying to track it down.  His situation was worse than mine because he might have lost it fifty miles away.

With his good wishes to comfort me, I scaled the first stile en route to the quagmire and promptly met two walkers coming the other way.  I told them my story.  No, they hadn’t seen a glasses case, but of course they hadn’t been looking.  One had struggled to get through the mud even with wellingtons on, and they advised sticking to one edge of the field and clinging on to the metal fence to get to grassy terra firma.

I went up to the second stile, which led on to the corner of the large field that was my bete noire.  After a few seconds I saw my glasses case lying almost jauntily on top of the mud, some way into the field but not too far from firm grass on the far side.  I went to the right, scouting along the fence immediately facing me (barbed wire) but it looked like there was no way through for a long way, if at all.  I returned to the stile, crossed over it, and tried the walkers’ suggestion of sticking to the metal fence on the left edge of the field.  This was traversable with care, with the rake unexpectedly useful as a support and as a means for testing the firmness of the ground I proposed to step on next.  I eventually reached the safety of the grass, circled around the worst of the mud, and raked in my glasses case.  It was still shut tight and only had a little mud on the outside.

I retraced my steps and went back to the farm, waving my trophy.  The farmer and his wife were pleased, and I then had a long conversation with him explaining my interest in the racecourse.  He had done a lot of work on his family history and I showed him a 19th century map of the area I’d got from the library the day before and we discussed where its field boundaries and place names corresponded with present-day equivalents.  I asked him if he would mark up a copy of the map with his interpretation of past versus present, which I sent him once I got home.  An ancestor of his featured in the research I had done the day before.

Not only was it satisfying having worked out where my glasses were and how to retrieve them, it was also heartening to come across people who willingly helped me and then to find one of them had an overlapping interest.  I drove back to David’s house to return the boots and rake, and before very long he and his wife served up the most marvellous, sumptuous Sunday lunch you could ever wish for.  My visit to Uttoxeter ended on a high that hadn’t looked very likely 24 hours ago.  I can’t wait to go back, although I won’t be doing that particular walk again just yet.

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The approach of the main auction of racing memorabilia last week led me to consult with a couple of other potential racing historian-bidders.  We gradually settled on one item that one of us would bid for on our collective behalf.  Come the day, the bidding started at our maximum, so that was that.  In another auction a few days later I noticed what appeared to be a bargain if the range of guide prices was anything to go by, but the 24% markup on the hammer price plus VAT took the edge off my enthusiasm.  In the end it sold for less than the bottom guide price, and even with the addons it looks like a great bargain now that I haven’t got it.

It was a memorable trip to Uttoxeter last week, with the happy discovery of material in the local town library.   I had assumed that any worthwhile local history was centralised in the county library, but I was wrong.  I took advantage of its late closing after Friday’s races by doing a couple of hours there, with a return in mind possibly the next afternoon.  James Bond day at the races featured a lookalike competition for the chaps, half a dozen of whom turned up in dinner jackets.  The prize was presented by a giant Jaws lookalike.

Saturday saw me making use of the Stafford Records Office’s morning opening.  I discovered the location of one of the previous Uttoxeter tracks, which according to local writers hadn’t ever been pinned down conclusively.  Pleased with that, I decided to have a walk in that very area in the afternoon rather than return to the Uttoxeter library.

Half a mile from the start of the walk I came to a stile with a very muddy patch in the corner of the next field.  I hesitated.  Seeing a few stones poking up making a bit of a trail away from the stile, I clambered over it and moved gently forward across the stepping stones.  After the last one, my next footstep had to land on mud, but with solid grassland only about fifteen or twenty feet away I thought I’d risk going on.  The mud was soft.  I carried on; the next step landed in softer, cloying mud.  The next was even softer and deeper.  It was an effort to lift my foot out.  Doing so, my other foot pushed down deeper in its own mud.  Before long I was stuck.

After a few anxious minutes that included scooping mud away from my boots with my hands and reflecting on my abrupt change of status,from astute researcher to wally, I was able to lift my back leg up while retaining my boot I moved on a step.  This continued for three or four more arduous paces, and that got me to the grassy bit.  Mud was caked on me up to shin level and boots covered with muck and full of water.   There was no going back, so I trudged on across a giant field that seemed to have been sprayed with manure.  Eventually I found some long clean grass to wipe the worst muck off my hands.  I carried on with my walk, fortunately meeting only one other pedestrian.  I won’t go into detail about how I smuggled my muddy self back into my hotel room without anyone noticing, despite the barcoded door key not working.

That evening I realised my glasses case, containing my reading glasses and a memory stick with all my recent computer files, was missing.  I looked for them in the hotel and where I’d had dinner, but to no avail.  They were in an inside pocket of my coat when out walking and it occurred to me that I might have lost them when I was struggling to escape from the muddy field.

To be continued.



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