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Archive for March, 2014

Needs and likes

I went to Uttoxeter last week to show the racecourse people the pictures which I’d collected so far. I preceded that by giving them an outline of the story of racing there. I feel more than hopeful that they are going to be able to promote it to townspeople just as much as to racegoers, given the work they’ve put in to foster good relations with the locals. It was interesting to hear how they feel they have improved the course and enhanced the local economy since the death ten years ago of Sir Stanley Clarke, Uttoxeter’s rescuer from probable closure in 1988.

They have given me a fairly free hand regarding the pictures to go into the book, subject to reasonable expense. I was surprised that they had found two more boxes of photos that I hadn’t seen when I went through their archives eighteen months ago. I spent a couple of hours going through them (there were hundreds) and selected quite a few more possibles for the book.

I am working to a deadline of mid-May to get a reasonable draft of the text ready to send to the racecourse manager and one of his predecessors who has been my principal source on the recent history of the course. I’ve been reading through my long first draft for what seems like two or three weeks, yet I am only a quarter of the way through it. I must hurry up. Ideally I’d finish it in a few weeks and repeat the exercise at least once more before that deadline. As usual the day job, which is desk and computer based, is a hindrance in more ways than one. It’s not always an enticing prospect to come home to spend yet more time concentrating on the computer screen. Weekends are more productive for book work than evenings and Easter will give me a good opportunity to put the hours in.

I’m not sure when I will next visit Uttoxeter – from now on, with most research complete, there is not much need to do anything there. What I would like is to go back and see the friends I’ve made there and enjoy a few more pub lunches with them! Perhaps going to see my readers after they have finished scrutinising the text to get their thoughts would be a good excuse.

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My attention in the last few days has concentrated on the pictures that might make it into the Uttoxeter book.  My normal practice is to make a list of them, including references as to whether they are free or copyrighted, and their shape.  The latter is relevant because the majority of images are in landscape style, but books are of course generally published in a portrait shape.  Therefore a landscape picture, to be nice and big, has to be rotated ninety degrees.  It’s my belief that a potential buyer flicking through the book would regard a number of seemingly random pictures on their side as off-putting.  However, I feel it’s acceptable if they are made into a series of consecutive picture-only pages rotated that way. 

The alternative is to keep the landscape pictures the right way up and fill half a page with them.  Obviously they’re smaller, and some subjects won’t suffer from being reduced in size.  And it depends on the size of the book itself.  I’m afraid that other than Croydon and The Days of Fontwell my books have been different shapes.  The decision is largely made by the racecourses, as I’m not too fussed.  We haven’t reached the stage of choosing a shape for the Uttoxeter book yet, but I will be going there soon to discuss pictures with the racecourse management.  We should agree some definites, probables and possibles, and get an inkling of how much we want to spend on copyrighted ones.

Yesterday Uttoxeter had their biggest day of the year, the Midlands Grand National meeting.  This was enlivened by the offer of a free ticket for a future meeting to each racegoer who completed an application form in that day’s racecard – provided trainer David Pipe won the big race; his horses had been successful in the last three runnings.

Pipe’s horse Goulanes was a well supported second favourite at 13/2, and won, so the offer takes effect.  If each of the 15,000 or so present yesterday bought a racecard and submitted a form, then they could issue potentially £250,000 worth of free tickets.   

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Most northerly

Another out-of-the-blue enquiry came a week ago from someone seeking information on racing in Aberdeen. He showed me pictures of racing there in the 1920s, but that was purely informal, not officially-licensed Jockey Club racing. A comment about the most northerly racecourse led me to find two at higher latitudes than the Granite City. Inverness had racing and so did another meeting with three places in the name, two of which were Elgin and Nairn. Places in the UK that, for those of us in the southeast, are more remote and unfamiliar than Paris.

When last at Uttoxeter I was told that there was a possibility that one of the central protagonists, X, in a key episode in the course’s history might be contactable. A said B who used to work at another course might know him, and C might know how to get hold of B.

I don’t know C, but I got D to ask him. C didn’t know, but D suggested trying E. I rang E and explained my quest for B, or, better still, X. E was helpful and gave me F’s phone number. I rang F, who was tremendously supportive, and he gave me X’s email address and alerted X that I would like to talk to him.

I emailed X, who responded promptly, referring me also to Y and Z. I emailed them and Y rang me a day or two later, talking for half an hour about that episode. I haven’t heard from Z yet and X, who is abroad, asked me to return to him when he wasn’t quite so busy.

I relate this algebraic story to illustrate how convoluted the research trail can be sometimes, as well as to repeat my astonishment and delight at how willing people are to help a complete stranger. Plus I have new information on the Uttoxeter story, with the prospect of more to come.

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