Archive for June, 2013

I enjoyed an excellent four days at Uttoxeter, aided by the staff at the variety of places I went to research, who took time and trouble to help me find material on the subjects I was interested in.  Maybe it’s because the subject is a little offbeat, but all the people I’ve met in town halls, libraries, records offices and museums are supportive and keen to know what I find out.

I am also very grateful to David and Christina, who organised a slap-up Sunday lunch for me and invited other people who were knowledgeable about Uttoxeter – all of whom made it very entertaining.  Too entertaining, actually, for me to interrogate each of them with all my questions, so they are being saved up for later phone calls or correspondence with each individual.

I was pleased to help Kathy, one of the lunch guests, by taking a consignment of meat and honey produced in her own beehives to give to her daughter on my way home.  The handover of two bulging bags in the racecourse car park must have looked quite peculiar to any casual observers.

During my stay I found the footpath parallel to the north side of the racecourse that I had missed in November, when I decided to walk in another direction and wound up getting stuck in the mud.  Some of this walk was through waist-high wild flowers, and I suspect it would be similarly boggy in the winter, but conditions were much drier.  I turned back after about a mile, concerned at the darkening clouds, humidity and the weather forecast that had threatened storms.  Getting struck by lightning would have spoiled things.  As it turned out there was no storm, but my trousers gathered a lot of strange yellow dust, presumably from the monster buttercups that I’d waded through when following a path that turned out not to be the official footpath.  Fortunately they were light-coloured trousers and the worst of the dust could be rubbed off with a bit of effort.

On the way to Uttoxeter I’d gone to Bath races for the first time this year, where my bafflement at the presence of a large crowd in front of the Members’ Stand was explained by finding the other stand closed because of structural problems.  Happily the rain held off, and by wearing my winter coat and scarf I had adequate protection against the strong wind that so often blows on the Lansdown plateau.

I was very sorry to hear a few days earlier about the sudden death of Ron Hogston, the former head groundsman.  When I first went to Bath he was one of the people that had been lined up for me to meet.  A torrent of anecdotes poured forth, many of which I used in the book.  He gave me a flying start with my research.  He’d retired from his main job, but on race days he drove the doctor around the inside of the course during the races so that there would be minimum delay if a jockey took a fall.  Visiting Bath on later occasions I would normally find him outside the main gate, where he waited between races, and have a chat. Now I wish I’d gone to an earlier meeting this year.


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I went to Brighton races on Thursday, a fine sunny day albeit with a fair breeze. Everyone would like their days at the races to be blessed with fine weather, but it really should be compulsory for racing at Brighton of all places. It made for a very enjoyable afternoon. I must try and get back there as soon as I can when the forecast is good.

Lots of work and domestic business has been interfering with Uttoxeter research, but today I meant to prepare for my next trip there, with four different research-related appointments lined up, spread over four days.  What with having booked two different hotels for the duration of my visit, I need to be on the ball as regards knowing where I should be going next.  I’ve found that when I go there I get so immersed in the subject that I forget all those normal everyday issues, so it has great therapeutic value. 

On one hand I hope the weather will be miserable, so that I don’t regret being indoors for my studies, but on the other I’d like some time to do some walking, preferably avoiding muddy fields.   

All my handwritten notes have been typed up but seventy-odd pages remain to be printed out. I am wrestling with the conundrum of whether to combine some Word documents.  Three based on sources A, B and C are set out in chronological order but should I combine them by copying and pasting?  Probably, but then I’ll have to annotate each entry to show it’s A or B or C.

The preparations I alluded to above were supposed to be marshalling questions for each of my four appointments, but somehow two hours have passed with me doing other things, such as writing this!  Time to stop this and start preparing.

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