Archive for the ‘Salisbury’ Category

90% done

Back from a week’s holiday, which included some useful time when not out sightseeing devoted to checking the Salisbury draft.  90% is done, so some time this week I should finish it.  I’ll then go through every time the word “check” appears in the text and review my sources.  Once that’s done I will prepare to read it all over again!  I feel as if I haven’t cut much out so far, so during the second run-through I’ll have to have foremost in my mind “do I really need to include this?”

I’ve been given a useful tip-off about some newspaper reports that will amplify one of the episodes in the book.  It’ll require a visit to the British Library to read them.  I am grateful to a fellow author whose name I drop three times in the Salisbury narrative.  I’ve told him he won’t get rich on referrals from the small (but very select) audience that reads my books.

That holiday and, regrettably, illness mean this entry is going to be a short one.


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Good progress with Salisbury.  I’m halfway through revising the first draft now.

I made welcome contact with a fellow researcher who bought three of my books.  His passion is Sea Pigeon, who was good enough to run in the Derby but is best known as a Champion Hurdler with a fine turn of foot.  He won it twice, latterly at the age of eleven under the most confident ride imaginable from John Francome.  He was the last in a glorious golden age of hurdlers from 1971-81 including Bula, Comedy Of Errors, Lanzarote, Night Nurse and Monksfield.

Fellow Researcher has 15 lever arch files about Sea Pigeon and I am now on a mission to help him identify some people in a photo of the horse on Derby Day 1973.   There’s somebody I know who might recognise them, who I hope to visit next month.  This is of academic interest, to say the least, but sometimes We Just Have To Find These Things Out.

Sandown on Thursday was very hot, but relative coolness and comfort was found by darting between various shady places, such as the trees by the pre-parade ring (NB: very few horses pre-paraded) and the breezy upper level of the grandstand overlooking the paddock.  At one stage of the afternoon when I was at the latter vantage point, the commentator for the day, Mike Cattermole, came and stood not far from me to familarise himself with the horses who were walking round the paddock.  It wasn’t long before he was approached by a lady asking to be photographed with him, clearly a fan of his from his Channel 4 days.  Then her friends joined in, seeking autographs and more photos.  A jolly conversation between them all ensued.  Mike couldn’t have been nicer.  I fear he will never escape being labelled as charming, suave and debonair.  I wish I had his problem.


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Editing begins

I’ve done enough with the Salisbury text to refer to it as a first draft, even if it has some loose ends and rough edges.  I’ve gone back to the beginning to read it through, correcting, checking and (I hope) improving as I go.  It spans 90 pages of a Word document and though I felt as if I’d spent a whole day on editing, by the end of it I had only reached page 7.  Another half day got me to page 11.  This seems very slow progress, but if I am honest it is very easy to find myself checking a detail that I have probably studied (but not recorded) before.  I tell myself that it will speed up as I go along.  Also, I think this exercise will be easier to do for an odd hour or two than original composition, which I always felt I had to set aside half a day at least.

Nearly everyone I’ve come into contact with researching and going racing has been polite and helpful.  There was a stark contrast in the reaction of a racing pundit I saw on a station platform a long way from home last week.  It was obvious we were both en route to the same racecourse.  I have seen him many times at the races and I thought he might have half-recognised me, as he was walking steadily in my general direction.  I thought I’d be friendly and piped up and said, “It is X, isn’t it?”  “Yes,” he said, and I began to say something innocuous about often seeing him about, but he just carried on past me, mooching along the platform.  I was staggered at his crusty attitude.  It was a lovely day out otherwise.

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I was pleased to get one of those occasional, random enquiries about something really obscure the other day.  It concerned a stud groom employed in the late 1880s at the Heather Stud near Bath racecourse.  The initial enquiry came in to Bath, and they passed him on to me, mentioning my book.  I had never come across it, but I dug out some information from the excellent British Newspaper Archive, which I think added a little bit to the enquirer’s knowledge.  Unfortunately for a someone who was a mere employee there’s usually a limited amount of information out there once you’ve gone beyond births, deaths, marriages and censuses.

I continue to be near the end of the full first draft of Salisbury.   Yesterday I settled down to make inroads into two discrete subjects.  Instead, I started on a third, found an old photograph that created a new mystery; solved another one that I wasn’t sure was a mystery; and found a ten-years-later epilogue to a story I thought had finished.   On balance, though, quite productive.  Yet I remain near the end, and feel just about the same distance from it as I did yesterday morning.

I made my first visit of the year to Salisbury races this week.  The first of what may be very few, as nearly all of their other meetings are weekends, evenings or days when I have other things lined up.  Something will have to give.

They have a fine new information panel on the wall of the rubbing house, explaining what it is and that it’s at least 300 years old.  As for the racing, I received a good tip.  “If Lady Rothschild is present, back her horses.” I was told this moments after she arrived in the winner’s enclosure to greet one of her horses, which had just scored at odds of 10/1.

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Bad behaviour

Despite domestic issues consuming a lot of time recently I have now finished the first rough draft of Salisbury, with the exception of a couple of self-contained chapters.  And I’ve made a good start on one of those.  If I keep up the momentum the whole thing should be done by the end of the month and I can then get on with polishing it.

I was sorry to hear of an altercation there the other day between a trainer and some yobs.  It’s a symptom of a racing-wide problem.  Undesirables always come out in greater numbers at the end of the football season and make summer Saturdays a no-go day for the genuine racing fans.  It’ll be interesting to see if using sniffer dogs at the entrance, which some tracks have used lately to detect drugs, becomes common.  Deterring the drug carriers will help.  Which course will be first to introduce a system that will limit the number of drinks each racegoer can have?  A method of rationing, by giving each person three tokens when they enter, might be worth a try.  Racecourses should be duty bound to put safety and a pleasant environment ahead of profits – otherwise they will suffer in the long run.

A small comfort is the fact there has always been bad behaviour in and outside the racecourse.  Three card tricksters, race gangs, protection rackets, pickpockets, welshers – they all feature in my books!  The old race gangs tended to confine their most violent crimes between themselves as the vied for supremacy.  The recent racecourse brawls also appear to blow up between groups of like-minded drunken idiots.   Not that you’d want to be a bystander when they came to blows.

On a cheerier note, I hope to increase my own racegoing soon.  Nine trips so far in 2018 is pathetic and I’m going to finish a long way short of my record for a year, which is 54.

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I completed the review of the Worcester book and I imagine (but don’t know) that it will be published next Sunday.  I’ll be interested to see how much of my prose will remain.

I’ve reached a mini-landmark with Salisbury, by writing something up to the present – more or less – and now I have to go back through each of my other sources chronologically to add fresh stories from them, and fill in a few gaps.  I can see the time will come quite soon that I find anecdotes that I’d forgotten I had.  After all, I have been researching it for 18 months.

I have another assignment to find 20 iconic events about another racecourse.  With the correct definition of “iconic” in mind, this is of course impossible.  It would be almost as hard to find 20 fantastic events.  I’m hopeful of coming up with 10 interesting incidents, but the next 10 will probably be no more than quite interesting.

Last weekend I was in Frankfurt, the venue for a memorable trip to the races in 2014.  The course was being threatened with closure, which seemed a great shame.  The track was a regular oval, on which you could see the horses all the way round.  The grandstand wasn’t new, but it was fine.  There were lots of seats upstairs, which is where my party were sitting when before one race abseilers descended from the roof with a “save our racecourse” banner.Frankfurt rennbahn protest.jpg

A local referendum voted in favour of keeping the racecourse, but the turnout wasn’t big enough for the result to count.  It was such a shame that it closed a year later, to be turned into some football training academy.  As if Germany is short of footballing talent!


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Salisbury writing has continued, and I’m now touching on the 21st century.  Which is not to say it’s nearly finished; I’m referring to one source to make an outline of events, and I will go to others in due course to fill in the gaps.  And then I’ll go back to the very beginning and feel very dissatisfied with what I’ve done and make lots of changes.

One of the discoveries I made when researching the book is, I hope, going to be announced – I might say unveiled – before the first meeting of their season on 29 April.   More about that next time.

By going to Fontwell a fortnight ago I was breaking a seven-week racing-free drought.  That’s an almost unprecedented period for me to be absent from a racecourse in the last 20 years.  I blame winter.  The cool breeze that looked like it would mitigate the effect of the sunshine wore off during the afternoon and it became almost warm.  Not as warm as in the last three or four days, though.  One of the highlight’s was Simon Holt’s commentary of the last circuit of a three mile chase.  The duel between the two leaders was wonderfully conveyed – have a listen to it on the Attheraces website.

The last of the boxes of old Sporting Lifes that Simon gave me over a year ago remains in our conservatory.  Not only have no further inroads been made for the last three months or so, but it has been surrounded by a dozen or so other cardboard boxes of non-racing archives that I’ve had to look after on behalf of a charity I’m involved with.  Some of their contents will go to a proper archive, some will be put up for sale, some will be taken to the dump.   None of it as quickly as my wife would like!

I’ve been given a new book about the history of Worcester racecourse to review.  It’s by Chris Pitt, the author of A Long Time Gone, the definitive work on defunct courses of the 20th century, and Go Down To The Beaten, a collection of offbeat stories about horses that didn’t win the Grand National.  I fancy I could write the review without reading the book, but I will do the decent thing.  It (the review, that is) should with any luck be in print in the Racing Post on the Sunday after Worcester’s first meeting of the season, which is on 10 May.

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