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Archive for the ‘Uttoxeter’ Category

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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Four weeks on …. goodness knows what happened to the post I scheduled a fortnight ago.

I see a new book about the history of Wincanton races is being launched at the start of their new season on 20 October.  I wish them good luck with it but if, as their website says, it consists of only 60 pages then charging £25 for it is, in my view, ambitious.

The book about Chelmsford races I referred to a while ago deals much more with the old racecourse, paradoxically much nearer the city than the modern incarnation called “Chelmsford City” – which to many of us is still “Great Leighs”, as it was called when it first opened in 2008.  There is much, much more to be told about its origins, oft-delayed inauguration, its closure less than a year later and the behind-the-scenes planning in the intervening years that led to its revival.

I was sorry to see that one of “my” courses, Bath, has been hit by an infestation of a type of beetle that eats grass roots, thereby causing the ground to become dangerously uneven.  They’ve lost a couple of meetings and with their season now over I feel I have neglected them by not going racing there at all this year.  Similarly, I haven’t visited Windsor races this year either.  I hope I can put that right this month.

Congratulations to the boss at Uttoxeter, David MacDonald, who has been elected on to his local council in a neighbouring county.  It’s strangely appropriate, considering the extensive part played by local authorities in the history of his racecourse.   If you’ve read the book you will get my drift.

After a fairly quiet period with regard to Salisbury, due to domestic reasons, I’d allowed myself to think that most of the data-gathering was done, and that I should start reviewing it with a view to starting to actually composing something.  I started reading one of my Word files of Salisbury notes.  I had only got about six lines down page one when I realised there could be untapped material in one of my online sources.  Lo and behold, a search there using different criteria brought up some very useful new material.  And more has emerged since then.  While browsing through my files has allowed me to start on a chronology of the most important dates, to misquote the voiceover at the end of each episode of The Apprentice, “The (re)search goes on.”

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A few days in Uttoxeter the week before last gave me a welcome opportunity to revisit the friends I made there, who were so wonderfully helpful to me with my research. It’s five years since I started work on that book and, looking back on it now, it was such fun, and there was an interesting story to tell.  Well, I found it interesting.

Not for the first time, I stayed in Rugeley (the hotels in Uttoxeter are often much more expensive).  Although its greatest fan wouldn’t call it a number one tourist destination, and its four giant cooling towers are visible for miles around, its residents are very close to proper countryside and one of its pluses for me is the drive from there to Uttoxeter.  The twisting and undulating B road, with its views of rural Staffordshire is always very pleasant.

I planned this trip to coincide with a race meeting on a relatively quiet day, which suits me.  The big music nights and festivals they have there continue to pack in the crowds.  They’re not sitting on their laurels, either, and they are formulating plans for more improvements to the facilities.

My two weekly racing columns have become great time-stealers. What effort I can get away with putting into them, versus the time I actually spend thinking about and writing them to try and make them that bit better, are two very different amounts.  Another time drain has been my acquisition three or four months ago of a small share of a horse, particularly in the last fortnight when I have been to see him run twice at far-flung Midlands race tracks.

These are my excuses for not doing too much work on Salisbury in the last two weeks. However, a couple of regular weekly appointments have just come to an end and though they’ll resume in about three months, until then I have extra time to devote to it.  I feel that I am at least halfway through the information-gathering, and as I had mentally set aside 2017 for the research that means I am on target.

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Achievements

I had a very enjoyable break in Uttoxeter a couple of weekends ago.  It hardly seems possible that a year had passed since that book was launched.  It was good to renew contact with some old friends on and off the course.  I remember the book-signing day there last December, when most of the copies I was asked to sign had already been purchased by the annual members.  On this recent trip I was very pleased that the first member of staff I met on the racecourse had a colleague with her who was carrying a copy of the book, which is proving useful for the behind-the-scenes tours on which racegoers can enlist.

While there I was asked to sign more copies to top up their stock.  They’re not resting on their laurels, which is good as it’s the time of year when people buy more books.  Furthermore, I was reassured by David, the top man there, that he really does read this blog.  In response I signed up with Twitter in order to Follow him and congratulate him on his ten years in charge there.  Nowadays ten years in any senior job is a real achievement.

It’s easy to follow someone on Twitter, but quite what I can usefully lead on is another matter.  I’ve never taken the plunge and invested in a smart phone, so I can only tweet from the laptop at home.

I’ve finished the ad hoc work I mentioned last time, a series of articles about the Top 10 Welsh Grand National winners.  I drew a great deal from a book about the race’s history by the south Wales journalist-author-historian Brian Lee.  He’s written around 25 books – that’s some achievement too – mostly about Cardiff or racing, and still turns out regular newspaper columns at the age of 80.  His most recent publication Racing Rogues has a subtitle “The Scams, Scandals and Gambles of Horse Racing in Wales” which explains it perfectly!  Read more about it at http://www.gwales.com/goto/biblio/en/9781902719313/?session_timeout=1

My backlog of handwritten Bromley notes has been typed up, and though I’d like to complete my scrutiny of one particular source of material before putting that course on the back burner, it would require about 10-12 hours of work when I should be concentrating on Salisbury research.  Can I do both for a while?  I have started on the latter, and I expect the pace to pick up in the next few weeks.

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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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Relieved

The Windsor book is out and it looks fine.  Phew!  People at the racecourse are pleased with it.  We are, however, well behind on the marketing front compared with previous books.  I had expected to be interviewed by the compere there on Monday evening but seeing as the poor weather for most of that day kept the crowd well below expectations, I suggested we defer it until a day with a bigger attendance.  He can’t interview me at every meeting.  The new plan is to do it next Saturday, Gentlemen’s Day.  How many of the gents are prospective book buyers, I wonder?  I hope there can be a second on-course interview later in the summer, ideally to coincide with a book signing – the signer being someone rather better known than me.

The compere is a top man. I will refrain from naming him in order to spare his blushes.  He has contributed to the content and the promotion of my previous books and he is always very supportive.  He’s one of those people who you invariably feel better for having talked to him.

My own marketing duties include contacting people on my mailing list to alert them to the existence and availability of the Windsor book. I also need to send complementary copies to some of my prime helpers who gave me their time, life stories, family histories or photographs from their private collections.

A trip to Uttoxeter last week yielded very welcome news about the number of sales of their book. They’re higher than I dared hope after only seven months.  It’s quickly leapt into second place (behind Fontwell) in terms of total sales.  They have covered their costs, so they’re happy.  By naming their recently-refurbished restaurant “1907”, the year the course started, they have reinforced the heritage aspect of racing there.  They have other plans to extract value from the books, notably by including them in some of the special admission packages for race days.  And then they can push it again on the approach to Christmas (“the ideal gift”).  So there’s no need to put it on Amazon (and therefore drop the price) yet.

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All the Windsor words and pictures are with the printers.  There’s nothing I can do for now, it’s too soon for me to get a first draft pdf back from them.  I’ll wait a week and if I haven’t heard from them by then I’ll ask about progress.  Once that pdf arrives, I’ll be checking to see that the words, the layout and the pictures look like they should, and I’ll have to renumber the index; seventy-odd pages of my Word document equal about double that number of pages on a pdf.  The printers and I will swap drafts, whittling away the typos, errors and anomalies and with luck reach an agreed final version before the end of the month.  Earlier would be better!  The book needs to be on sale on 6 June.

While Windsor is temporarily quiet I am doing a few bits and pieces on some of my future research projects.

Last year I was commissioned to write an article about Bath races in the Jane Austen era.  The timing was slightly awkward due to working on Uttoxeter and Windsor at the time, but it was nice to be asked and the job has been done.  I am glad to see it in print in the May/June issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World.  Regardless of the quality of my writing, the whole article looks very good and it is well supported with colourful illustrations.  You can’t see it online, but you can find out more here….

http://janeaustenmagazine.co.uk/2016/04/mayjun-issue-now-on-sale/

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