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Archive for the ‘Windsor’ 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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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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