Archive for the ‘Windsor’ Category

It makes so much difference to be able to walk the courses that I write about, in order to get a proper feel for them.  I regret only having walked Windsor, and that was unaccompanied.  I went round my other courses several times; I never tired of them.  On Thursday I donned the wellies and stomped round Salisbury with Jeremy, the executive director and clerk of the course, and one of the stewards.  Its undulations and turns are now much more real to me.  I knew the mile-long straight course is not actually straight, and bears gently to the right; I could see that on TV.  Yet in situ I found the last three furlongs were straight.  I’d heard of a dip somewhere in the straight, and now I’ve seen it – or I should say I’ve seen a little rise, but the descent into it I thought was hardly perceptible.

I also now appreciate their problem with golf balls.  The golf course is alongside much of the track and within a loop at the far end.  During our walk we found seven or eight balls lying on the racecourse.  The length of the grass is such that you can’t see them until you’re almost on top of them.  They are potential hazards, if one should be kicked up by a galloping horse into the face of a horse or rider following.  Jeremy recalled an occasion seeing golfers playing shots from the racetrack back onto the golf course and was indignant and the notion of them churning up his beloved turf. In any case they were were technically “out of bounds” and should not have been playing a shot from there.

More contacts have been made who I hope can provide me information about Salisbury’s past, and there’s been one particularly thought-provoking email from a lady seeking historical information from me.

That major statistical exercise I mentioned before is finished, and now the stats only need regular maintenance.  “Only” implies there’s not too much effort, but judging by the first week’s updates it’s amazing how much time rushes past when doing it.  That second newspaper column is also now part of what has quickly become a weekly routine of racing work alongside the Salisbury research.

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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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Most of my old book-buyers have now bought Windsor. While I was packing one to fulfil my most recent order a bookshop rang, asking me to supply a copy. Oh good, that’s another one, I thought.   Five minutes later they called back to say their customer had decided to order it direct from the racecourse.  Well, at least that shows there is some awareness that they are selling it.  They haven’t asked me to do any active promoting of it and as there’s been no need for me to be there, I’ve not been to the races for two months.  I expect to return for their next Monday afternoon meeting.  I know the usual race day presenter and some of the commentators have been plugging it, for which I am very grateful.

Meanwhile “light relief research” is being directed toward Bromley, a fairly short-lived Victorian suburban course close to where I live. Unlike Croydon, the subject of my first book, it never had any great status and nobody has written much about it before.  At least my work helps keep library user statistics up at a time when so many are under threat of closure due to austerity measures.  One of the readers of this blog is fighting to keep his local library going.

I am running low on Fontwell books and the other day I asked the racecourse if they could spare some. It sounds like the answer may be no; they could only lay their hands on a few.  It’s not 100% confirmed, but if they are also close to running out that’s quite an achievement.  For some years I believe they’ve been giving them out as mementos to winning owners, so even if they’re not selling many they are still getting value from them.  I never expected that the thousand we printed would all be used.  Do I dare to dream of a second edition?

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I’ve more or less completed the fifth and last of my local newspaper articles.  I’ll polish it off tomorrow.  And a good job too, as inspiration has become increasingly difficult!

My trip to Eastbourne to sign a Windsor book was very enjoyable apart from heaps of traffic on the way from Brighton, and even more on the return journey via another route. (At least I was crawling along on a fine warm day in pleasant countryside.)  My hosts were very welcoming and I was surprised to find that, despite actively contributing to reminiscences of Windsor on the local history forum they had moved away from there over 50 years ago.  It was further confirmation of the impression I have that as time goes by, memories of one’s youth become clearer.

Brighton races were enjoyable and one bet resulted in one winner.  That was also the case at Salisbury a few days ago, where the “Jim Beavis Signing” sign given to me at the Epsom book signing a fortnight earlier was back in use, advertising a variety of my books on display.  It was another sunny day and the good crowd included some buyers.  Strangely no Windsors were sold, but two Bath books were quickly snapped up and I had to go back to the car for reinforcements. We also sold some Brightons, Fontwells and The Days.

In the last couple of months I’ve been to Salisbury as much as I had in the previous ten years.  It really is a very pleasant place when the weather is good, though when departing the road from the course to the A36 is slow going.

Earlier in the week I met a fellow author of much greater esteem than me.  Amongst other things he told me about readability statistics in Microsoft Word, of which I was unaware.  He also told me the advice he’d been given about never starting a sentence with “It” or “I”.

I venture to suggest that last one is difficult when blogging.

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The Windsor Observer local history correspondent kindly sent me a copy of his review and I am relieved to see it is accurate and encouraging. Though it didn’t mention the price, it directed readers to obtain the book from the racecourse, a very necessary consideration that some book reviewers in the past have overlooked!  I wish he could have said more, but I suspect pressure of space was a limiting factor.  I am grateful for all publicity, especially free and complimentary.  Nothing in the Racing Post yet….

I am very grateful to one of my supporters who arranged a book signing for me at a recent Epsom evening meeting, with a table for Windsor and some of my old books and several announcements about it on the public address. It was a great surprise to me.  There wasn’t a huge crowd and clearly not many of them were readers, but money changed hands and there will be more selling opportunities – maybe at Salisbury races in the next few weeks.

I neglected to sign a book I sent to one correspondent as she requested, and the upshot is I am going to see her in Eastbourne to remedy that. I can do that en route (in an admittedly roundabout way) to Brighton races one day in the week ahead.  They’re having their big three-day festival this week.  Brighton is a place where fine weather makes a tremendous difference to the racing experience so let’s hope the sun shines, or it’s warm, or preferably both.

In the next few weeks I’ve got five racing articles to ghost-write for a couple of local newspapers. They have weekly racing-oriented columns using material supplied by their local racecourse normally, but for the next fortnight I am providing holiday cover.  I’ve done it before.  Having to come up with and write articles for different audiences, and to a strict deadline, is a nice change.

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I am grateful to my old customers for continuing to support me by sending in their cheques for the Windsor book.

I understand the Windsor Observer published a review of the book in their local history section on Friday, but not being able to see it I can’t say any more.  They don’t put that column on their website.  Let’s hope it’s the catalyst for many more purchases.

One evening recently I went on a guided tour of Clerkenwell described as a Peaky Blinders walk. The TV series is named after teenage Birmingham gangs in the early 20th century, whereas I am interested in the race gangs operating round London that were prevalent then and particularly after World War I, when they caused mayhem on a number of racecourses and for railway travellers to and from the races.  The Shelby family central to the TV series is fictitious, although some real-life characters are portrayed in it too.  Fortunately our guide concentrated on the London race gangs rather than the Peakys.  Clerkenwell was one of their battlegrounds, the Italian Sabini gang being based there.  Our guide took us round the pubs, back alleys and courtyards where they’d met or fought.  Being summer (supposedly) our walk took place in daylight but one could imagine that some of the narrow streets and alleys, with tall grim buildings dominating them, would still today feel quite spooky when it was dark.  Apparently some of the Sabinis have been on the Peaky Blinders walk when it was run on earlier occasions.

Our guide had certainly done his homework, using a book I knew from my research – Gangs of London, by Brian McDonald, a descendant of one of the gang leaders, which has an extensive section on race gangs. This walk is repeated from time to time – check out  http://footprintsoflondon.com/

I see that in the Midlands various other Peaky Tours are run by the eminent historian Carl Chinn, who wrote one of the definitive histories of betting, Better Betting With A Decent Feller. These tours can include a typical Victorian dinner of faggots, mash and peas.  Hmmm.  http://www.peakytours.com/

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…. is proving more problematic than with my other books. A heavy shower before the start of racing at Windsor last Saturday week didn’t bode well for signing the book in the obvious place (the outdoor Information Kiosk near the turnstiles), but the skies cleared and I was interviewed by the compere after the first race.  Unfortunately most of the large crowd was much more interested in the beer than racing history, and the only person to come up to me to buy a book and get it signed was one of the annual members I’d met during my research!

In the past a course’s annual members were generally the primary source of book buyers, but I begin to think this isn’t the case with Windsor. I get the impression that a higher proportion of members are likely to be business people who may pop along a few evenings a year to network or entertain, but for whom racing itself is not a particular interest.  If that’s so, then selling is going to be more uphill work than usual.

I still hope there’ll be a book-signing with a racing celebrity, and that’s one of a number of suggestions I’ve made to the management to get the book in the public eye.

I am grateful to a follower and former colleague for offering to advertise the book in his local pub, which is in a racing area.

One bonus regarding that on-course interview was that the Racing Post reporter who was present buttonholed me, with the result that a few paragraphs about me and the book appeared in Monday’s newspaper. By coincidence my name was in the Post the day before, in a feature titled “Ten things you might not know about Brighton”, which drew to some extent on the information in my book about that course.  One thing I do not know is how to print the article, a link to which was sent to me by a friend who subscribes to the electronic version of the Post.  I can see the article but, not being a subscriber, I am prevented from printing it.  My IT skills will be tested to the limit to overcome this obstacle.

The last fortnight has been busy with writing to people on my mailing list and sending books as gifts to those who have helped me most – and there have been a few proper sales too, as word gradually gets about.

One of my chums has suggested another topic for a book, but we’ll have to see whether he can put in a good word for me with the subjects and if it appeals to them. Whatever the outcome, I am determined to have some quiet time studying a few obscure topics for my own amusement with no deadline.

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