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Archive for the ‘Brighton’ Category

Cross the Ts

Last week I compiled a list of images I could use for the Salisbury book.  It’s on a spreadsheet that evolved during the production of my earlier books.  There’s a line for each image and about 15 columns to help describe, and eventually prioritise them all.  I was pleased to find I have over 70 to play with.  One of the most important columns is headed “Cost”.  Entries underneath it labelled “Free” are highly desirable.  Those that say “High” are those we’d need to pay press agencies.  Inevitably we’ll want to use some from those sources, and it’s a matter of balancing the cost versus the desire to have them in the book.

I went to the last Brighton meeting of the season last week.  Warm sunshine and a cool breeze made a welcome change from some other years’ last meetings, when sea frets or Arctic winds made going outdoors a health hazard.  There was a decent crowd, about 50% higher than their last midweek meeting by my estimate, which shows how much the weather on the day can affect the “walk-ups”, ie the unbooked cash-paying racegoers who come through the turnstiles.

It’s just as well I haven’t needed to look at the Salisbury text much in the last fortnight.  My laptop keyboard’s letter T gave up the ghost.  While waiting for it to be repaired a lot of very tedious pasting via the Clipboard has been necessary whenever using this machine.  I can well believe T is the second most common letter in the English language.  We have a spare laptop at home, which I resorted to at times, but that has its own quirks.

I have a new keyboard now and T works fine.  Unfortunately the down arrow key sticks sometimes and I can find myself 20 lines below where I should be.  Back to the repair shop….

 

 

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Hats all right

Good progress has been made with the Salisbury text-reviewing, and I’m now up to page 60 of 91.  I still have a feeling it’s too long, but I have one or two people who I can ask to read it.  I’ve got an appointment to visit the racecourse in a month’s time to discuss pictures – a subject I haven’t contemplated for a long time.  That’s easily remedied, as once I start looking through my collection of images and contact a few press agencies it will all come together.  In the past it’s been very helpful to borrow photos from private individuals, but with Salisbury there hasn’t been much in that line.  Still, we do have some old pictures in the racecourse’s files, and I always think the older ones are the most interesting.

I see there’s a Salisbury Literary Festival soon.  Maybe I’ll be there next year (irony).  Though I wonder why it’s a Literary, not Literature festival.

Sales of my other books have perked up for no obvious reason in the last month and some Croydons and Brightons have gone to eager readers.

A recent book-buyer with whom I had some correspondence was keen to identify a mystery man in a photo.  This was a stable lad leading up Sea Pigeon in the parade before the Derby.  You could see little of this chap apart from his hat!

Sea Pigeon was a good, but somewhat wayward horse on the flat before his long and highly successful hurdling career.  Fortunately I know someone who used to ride him out and he was able to name the chap in the photo simply by recognising his titfer.

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I did a Radio Stoke interview last week to tie in with a Uttoxeter race meeting marking its 110th anniversary on the present site.  As a result of that I’ve had one or two enquiries about the book – it’s still only on sale from me and the racecourse, as they haven’t said they want to put it on Amazon yet.

With Salisbury I’m on the verge of starting to write about one of the key episodes in its history. There’s a lot of material to play with from several sources, but quite a few of them feed off each other or come from the same minority of earlier writers.

After coming to a standstill with my scrutiny of the four boxes of Sporting Lifes I took on almost a year ago – getting stuck two thirds of the way through the third one – a blitz in the last fortnight has left me with just one box to go through. These are newspapers from the 1980s and 90s which I’m trawling for information about Salisbury and the courses I’ve written about before.  I still continue to collect stories about them just in case there’s ever a need for a revised edition.

I made my usual last-meeting-of-the-season pilgrimage to Brighton, where conditions were decidedly autumnal and pretty dark mid-afternoon. Earlier in the week I’d been to Windsor for the first time this season.  The day was supposed to be warm but under strangely grey-yellow skies, it wasn’t.  I was sorry to see that the old Jamstick bar had been renamed The Princes Head, and had a sign outside depicting the Prince Regent.  All very incongruous, as he died 36 years before racing started there.  Whoever decided to make that change hadn’t read my book!

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I’ve had a few more ad hoc enquiries from people doing their family or local history reserarch this month. One of them to do with Brighton was particularly satisfying.  The question was about a picture of a horse called Suspicion, ridden by Gordon Richards, after winning a race there.  They were trying to establish the date; was it the 1950s, perhaps?

A quick search indicated a definitive answer wasn’t going to be easily obtained, and I spent longer on it than I’d anticipated, having found this horse running at Brighton in 1936 aged eleven. Form books were then scrutinised in reverse order to reveal this mare had run about a dozen times every year over ten seasons, winning 25 races altogether.  Five of them were at Brighton with Richards on board, between 1931 and 1935.  I wound up sending details of all her wins to the enquirer, with my surmise that her owner was related to a family well-known in racing today.  They were very pleased to have so much information.

It made me wonder how many other forgotten favourites like Suspicion there must be; not top class horses, but popular for winning more than their share during their careers, their names now languishing undiscovered in the pages of dusty old books of racing results. My research helps me come across some relatively conspicuous course specialists like St Athans Lad and Certain Justice at Fontwell whose exploits were noticed in newspaper articles, but what about those old-timers whose victories were spread across a number of tracks, or who weren’t big names?  Suspicion won nine times at Brighton in all, but I never came across her when researching my book.

Over the last few years I’ve occasionally supplied a regional newspaper column with weekly racing articles, providing holiday cover for their normal author. Now I’ve been asked to supply them on a regular basis, which is very nice.  It was great when retirement meant I no longer had a string of day-to-day work deadlines to worry about any more, so is it perverse that I welcome having a new bit of routine like this?

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It’s more than 25 years since I first started researching. My target then was defunct racecourses.  I planned to list them all and maybe write a book on what was, surely, a unique subject in which nobody else had done any work.  As I dug further into it, and spent increasing amounts of time in libraries all round the country – and going racing at hitherto-distant courses and gradually ticking them all off, collecting the set in 2001 – it became apparent there were hundreds and hundreds of places were racing used to take place.  After three or four years word reached me that somebody else was writing a book on the same subject, and he was well ahead of me.  This turned out to be Chris Pitt, whose A Long Time Gone has become the definitive work on racecourses closed in the 20th century, a very sensible sub-group on which to concentrate.

Thwarted in my quest, but still keen to find out more about old courses, I turned my attention to a local defunct track, Croydon, which closed in 1890 and was therefore outside the scope of Chris’s opus.  Encouraged by a kind reception to the little book I wrote about that course, I transferred my attention to Brighton and then to other “live” courses.  However, I know of two other researchers with more stamina than me who have worked assiduously for many years on the theme of all defunct courses.  One of them, John Slusar, developed a website with information about these old tracks; its name, greyhoundderby.com, suggests horses weren’t his initial interest.  He has now created four publications from the material he has accumulated.  The courses are grouped geographically – England south of Hatfield, England north of it, Scotland & Wales, and Ireland – in order to make four manageable-sized books under the general title Racecourses: Here Today and Gone Tomorrow.  Read more about the 1,600 courses he has discovered and order the books via  http://greyhoundderby.com/Racecourses%20Here%20Today%20and%20Gone%20Tomorrow.html

I’ve ordered them as a birthday present from my wife to me, which means I’m not allowed to look at them until the fateful day in a few months time.

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Only having signed up to Twitter a few weeks ago, I don’t suppose I’m the first to observe its ability to become a great time-waster.  I can’t help scrolling down looking at stuff that may only be of tangential interest – but there’s always the compulsion to look at the next tweet, or see what’s going on with other tweetsters.  I wasted a lot of time wondering why I couldn’t send someone a message before realising they had to follow me as well as vice versa.

Nevertheless credit to fellow researcher @charliepoteen for suggesting I tweet my blog, if that’s a legitimate phrase.  I do so partly to find out what I’m missing, and also to help increase the potential audience for my books.  Early indications are that the number of blog views has increased.

One of my first tweets was a blurry photo of four heavy, large cardboard boxes full of old copies of The Sporting Life cluttering up my hallway as an example of Research.  They were kindly donated by Simon Holt, top man, top commentator and top provider of Foreword to my Brighton book.  A few racegoers leaving Fontwell the other day will have seen the transfer between his car boot and mine of these rare yet probably unsellable documents, most of which date from the mid-1990s.  I’m going through each newspaper to see if I can spot anything interesting about Salisbury or all the old courses I’ve written about – or indeed any other subject that takes my fancy.  You might think it pointless to look for material about the courses I’ve already written about, but I cannot stop myself from wanting to discover more about their history.

It is incredibly laborious, though. Each newspaper is folded in half and it takes roughly an hour to reduce the thickness of the pile by an inch.

The feature of last week was a visit to the best racing library in the country, if not the world, where the fruits of others’ research about early racing at Salisbury were generously made available to me.  More digging, closer to home, next time.

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I’ve completed project number 2 in the last fortnight and I’m now waiting and hoping it will appear in print, but that might be any time between next weekend and Christmas.

I enjoyed the hospitality of the Windsor management last week in their Castle Restaurant overlooking the racecourse. It was a kind thank you gesture for writing the book.  The food was amazing, although I could not identify all of the ingredients in the rather exotic dishes I consumed.  So was the weather, with warmth and blue skies more appropriate to midsummer.  Naff though it may be, I took a picture of the dessert as a memento.  No, it’s not going on this blog or any other social media.  Another favourable review of the book has appeared in the Oct-Nov edition of Horse & Countryside.

I made the long trek by rail to Hereford on Thursday to be present for the much-appreciated reopening of the course after four years in mothballs.  (A course with a very long history and no book about it)  I and other rail travellers were disconcerted to come out of the station forty minutes before the first race to find no taxis.  One or two came along, but they had been pre-booked by other people.  After ten minutes a free one appeared, which four of us piled into.  It soon became apparent that many of the roads around the course were gridlocked through sheer volume of people trying to get there.  Our taxi driver took us a back way that avoided the mayhem in the car park.

We got to the main entrance with a quarter of an hour to go, where there were about a hundred people milling round waiting to get in. Brandishing my Brighton member’s badge, which entitles me to free entry to other tracks in the same ownership such as Hereford, I sailed through another gate and instantly bumped into David, my great helper from Uttoxeter, who with his wife was a guest of the management.  Though he was particularly associated with the Staffordshire track, he had also been clerk of the course at Hereford in his time.  It was a wonderful bonus to see them.  With his help I was able to enjoy the comfort of the hospitality marquee and catch up with news from Staffordshire while outside the rest of the unexpectedly huge crowd watched a series of favourites win.

Let’s hope the locals turn out in sufficient numbers for its other fixtures to justify its renaissance.

Post-race plus rush hour traffic meant I missed my homeward train and my connection at Birmingham, and in the end I didn’t get in till after midnight. Fortunately I had a good book with me (not one of mine).  It all made for a memorable day.

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