Archive for March, 2013

Snow good again

Since my last blog I’ve had a few more days researching at snowy Uttoxeter.  The Town Clerk recognised the fact that whenever I go there it snows.  I realised the day before I went that I hadn’t booked a hotel for one of my nights away from home.  I wound up at a terrifically badly signposted Premier Inn 20 miles away.  The snow was bad enough for me to consider the route to and from Uttoxeter carefully, knowing that one part of the straightest-line A road had been closed during a previous spell of bad weather.   All OK this time, fortunately.

I made good progress at the Town Hall and at the library.  Vast amounts of notes, including those from the day trip three weeks ago, are in the process of being typed up.  I’m afraid that not only do I feel happier scribbling on notepads than typing on a keyboard, but these places don’t always have power sockets near where I sit, or enough space to rest the laptop.

Domestic and work commitments mean it looks like it’ll be June before I next stay at Uttoxeter.  I looked at the Travelodge prices there earlier in the week, but didn’t book anything.  Now I see it’s unavailable and I have a nasty feeling it’s closing down.  It has a Little Chef next door and I fear that will get the chop too.  I like Little Chefs, but I get the impression that not enough other people do.

The latest obscure question to come my way concerning one of my old books was an enquiry from South Africa about the winner of the 1868 Brighton Cup.   This chap’s great grandmother was supposedly going to be named after the winner, but as the horse in question was called Speculum it’s just as well the lady was named Jessica instead.

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Talking the talk

A day trip to Uttoxeter to work in the library on Saturday was followed by a drive to Bath on Monday to give the long-heralded talk to the History of Bath Research Group.

I think the library staff were impressed by my straight six and a half hours on the microfilm reader intently going through old newspaper reports and making notes.  Not a very healthy occupation, but at least the journey by rail familiarised me with the layout of Stoke station, where I had to change trains, and that of Uttoxeter station.  Stupidly I contrived for myself a twenty minute wait there on the return journey, and its limited attractions palled in the chill breeze, even with the compensation of a good view of the racecourse’s empty car parks.

HoBRG officials were very welcoming and very kind afterwards about my talk.  I was very pleased to see Michael, who helped me with my research a few years ago and not only let me quote the fruits of his research, but took me on an expedition round a golf course to try and find the scene of a famous duel in 1778 and gave me lunch.  (There’s more about the duel in my book.)

The church hall was where I was led to believe it was, and everything was set up with maximum efficiency.  Despite agreeing to give this talk a year ago I changed my introduction completely with a day or two to spare.  Petrified of running out of things to say, or simply drying up, I carried a wodge of papers that would have taken two and a half hours to read out in full.  But with relatively little cribbing from my notes, I realised time was racing by.  After cantering through the 18th and 19th centuries had taken three quarters of an hour, nearly all of my allotted span, I wrapped up the 20th at the gallop so as not to outstay my welcome.  Half the Powerpoint images I had ready never had a chance to be shown, but at least I managed to mention the local landowner Captain Forester, who owned the estate that includes the church where we were gathered, and I squeezed in a corny Jane Austen joke.

Nobody walked out, fell asleep or threw rotten tomatoes, so I count it as a success.  Questions were asked afterwards and books were sold.  Cold bloodedly it sounds crazy to have taken time off work and driven a total of 270 miles to give a talk, but I’m glad I did it.

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I’m thinking (or do I mean agonising) more about the talk about 200 years of racing in Bath, which is just over a week away.   I need to produce an abstract of it for the organisers’ records.  I prefer to do that after the event, when I’ll know what I ultimately talked about, rather than what I anticipate talking about.   http://historyofbath.org.uk/Meetings.aspx

I ended my ancestry.co.uk subscription a few days before my first month was up.  I’d found some more information about Binda and the Days, but I’ll leave it there for now and will probably resubscribe on an ad hoc basis when I have more time to search for the elusive family tree connection between them.

A friend has kindly helped me describe in technical terms the condition of the 200 year old book I secured as part of a lot I won at the January auction.  The next step is getting it valued, with the possibility of submitting it into a future auction of sporting books.

I’ve now got a target for publishing the Uttoxeter book, which is winter 2014.  Simplistically, that gives me this year to research and next year to write it.

The discussion with the social media man has led me to start a Facebook page, with his guidance.  I never thought I’d see the day.  Only a few bare details have been set up on it so far.  That’s been nerve-wracking in a minor way, as stern instructions on Facebook said you couldn’t change your username – yet I did.  I shall need the guru’s advice and that of one or two other Facebookers.  I can’t see myself communicating to a host of followers that, “I’m in the library!” or, “I’ve got up to 1875!” but I need to learn more about how it works.  It could be a marketing tool for me as well as the racecourses I’ve written about.  More to follow when I’m a bit more comfortable with it.

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