Saturday, 30 June 2012

Mission drift

It’s been too long since I wrote a proper post about proper racing. There’s enough mission drift going on here to make the Leveson Inquiry look focused.     Ascot has been and gone and all I managed was a passing reference. No hackneyed previews, no flawed betting strategies, no idle analysis. Symptomatic of a rammed, crammed and topsy-turver few weeks, I guess.

I did catch a few chunks of the BBC’s Royal Ascot coverage. At least enough to despair at the normally dependable Clare Balding’s dewy-eyed reminiscences of her employers’ Ascot coverage over the years. I won’t be missing the Beeb’s fawning, time-warp coverage when its shift comes to an end later this year. The Derby build-up was excruciating in its focus on Balding’s emotions as her brother’s horse Bonfire lined up – barely registering the Camelot story until after the event - with Willie Carson struggling to articulate a single coherent thought. Mind you. I may regret those words. The thought of more Thommo buffoonery and Big Mac offensiveness on Channel 4 makes me slightly trepiditious.

It was great to see Black Caviar win the Diamond Jubilee Stakes. I’m massively in favour of good quality international racing at the top fixtures, something that Royal Ascot has really grasped in the last few years. Huge respect to connections of this big, talented mare for putting her unbeaten record right on the line in front of media and public interest switched up to full beam. That she won in such dramatic fashion merely adds to the story, whether it be jockey error, punishing trip or a dip in form.

This weekend’s fixtures are a notch or two down from that rarefied level.  Today, I’m looking at the Tattersalls Millions (Newmarket, 2pm). Roger Varian, a trainer who has generally impressed me since he debut last season, runs Cameron Highland. He may be one to take on the short-odds favourite, Michelangelo with. Cameron was good on a sound surface when winning his maiden at Redcar (yes, God-forbid, I’m putting up a Redcar winner. What next, a Catterick tip?), before a good effort on bad ground at Epsom. Mind you, the form of Michelangelo does leap out of the book. Maybe exacta territory as well? Mug it up, that’s what I say.

Hoof It is on my season list, but that doesn’t mean he’s an automatic bet in the Criterion Stakes (Newmarket, 3.35) today. This is very much a prep for the July Cup after a disappointing reappearance in the Duke of York in May. The ground will be fine today, but the trip won’t. He’s never won over 7f whereas most of his rivals have. I like Firebeam, Libranno and Majestic Myles. This will be absolutely a price play. At 5-2 I’ll be involved. Anything lurching towards 2-1 and I’ll try my very hardest to avoid clicking the Betfair ‘confirm bet’ button.  

I’ve noted the gradual return to form of John Gosden’s Unex El Greco this season. I backed him in a handicap at the Derby meeting when he was slowly away and ran into mountains of trouble. The Fee Club Handicap  (Newmarket, 4.40) on ground that will suit and over a trip that should be well in-scope looks like a nice opportunity.

On first glance, nothing can win the Nortumberland Plate (3.20, Newcastle) on that ground and with those weights. On second glance, that impression still persists. But this is the Pitmen’s Derby, so I’d better have a bet. At each-way prices, Fahey’s Lexington Lad is taken to continue his upward profile at this trip and also show that his apparent liking for soft translates to heavy. Small stakes.

The Irish Derby (The Curragh, 7.40) has a disappointing turnout, Camelot having frightened many away again. He’s one of three O’Brien runners in a benefit for this stable. Oxx runs two of the remaining four. One of whom is my list horse, Born To Sea. But even at 40-1 I’m not getting involved on the wrong ground and with only two places on offer. The trip might be OK in time, but it’s only 11 days since his Royal Ascot appearance. It’s a shame that Imperial Monarch has turned up here. I’ve liked him since his incredible solo extra-distance effort at Sandown on soft when nicking the race from Thought Worthy (a reasonable bench mark) who had taken the short route round the inside of the bend with the rest of the field. I think Monarch he has a good win or two in him. Whether he can beat Camelot today, I don’t know. Depending on the price, I’ll anticipate a small win bet. The place shout doesn’t appeal in a seven-runner race unless he drifts markedly.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Get hip

I haven’t had a proper day's punting since The Derby over a fortnight ago. Decent opportunities have been scarcer than rainstorms in a drought. So not that rare. I just haven’t taken advantage of them.

Today, there's a decent card up at York. And indeed I'm York bound. But it's to see my Dad who had his hip replaced yesterday. He’s been immobile for too long. The operation is long overdue. Mis-diagnoses. Lost referrals. Don't get me started.

So what are the chances of squeezing in a half-dozen races at the Knavesmire either side of a visiting time double header at the hozzie?

It's an early morning start to catch the 9am out of King's Cross. I'm sat on train hoping no one gets in to the vacant but reserved window seat next to me. I’ve just got settled with bacon butty (had to ask twice for brown sauce) and frothy cappuccino when the inevitable happens. She was a talker too. I am bombarded with a series of nervous-energy questions before the doors are locked.

"I'm going to Darlington. That's almost Scotland. Haha. Well it feels like it. Why does it take so long after the fast bit to York?"

"I think it's to do with the ..."

"I've left my husband and two children tucked up in bed. Don’t think they know I’d left. Chortle. Did you have far to come to the station?.

"Just from..."

"I came from Fulham. It’s easy really. Hop on the yellow one. I’m coming back toady too. Flying visit. Celebration."

And so it goes on.

I plead for help on Facebook. “Smile at her and pat your lap” posts Cookie. “Works every time”. Love it. That boy is a genius.  

As a diversion I try to dump rubbish in the bin behind my seat. I receive a glancing blow to my forehead from the bag of a Geordie girl wearing bright red trousers, of which I am getting a jolly good view. She peers down at me and hissed loud enough for several heads to turn, “Is this the quiet coach, like". I nodded and she plonked down her offending, cavernous, studded leather handbag on the seat across the aisle. She inquired of the bloke next to it "Is this one taken?" He shook his head and then rolled his eyes in my direction.  In some ways I was glad of the interruption. The bin behind my seat that I was fumbling for was actually a hard shell suitcase.

In fact it was chatty lady next to me that fell foul of the quiet coach regulations, not Geordie girl. Chatty lady takes a break from the chatter when her phone rings and she makes arrangements with her father. "It’s the Edinburgh train, Dad. Edinburgh. No, Edinburgh.” A young woman in the seat in front is clearly riled by this. After the call has been completed she leans over and says, reasonably pleasantly, "Could you turn your phone to silent please? This is the quiet coach." Hmm. It's more the deaf father than the volume of the ringer that seems to be the issue. But point made I suppose. During the rest of the journey I keep wanting to lean between the seats in front and whisper, "Could you chew your quavers more quietly please?" or, "Would you mind turning the squeak in your flip-down table to vibrate?" But that would be churlish. And it is not even my beef.  It's easy to see how world wars start...

I meet my brother Paul at the station. A problem in my ingenious York races plan becomes immediately apparent. Although Dad had been fine last night after the op and had even called Paul afterwards, he has this morning been shipped over to A&E at the District Hospital, after being ‘difficult to rouse’ this morning.

So now we are in A&E. I didn't expect that.

Paul is in with Dad. Only one visitor is allowed at a time in here. There are some interesting scenes in the triage waiting area. There’s a young man in a wheelchair with cuts all over his face and head, a big bandage on his right leg and plasters on the left. He got up and hobbled through to the nurses station. He had a big number 188 pinned to his back. So much for fun-running. I talk to him later. In fact he is a cyclist and was on a charity ride when losing control down hill, colliding with a wall and coming to rest at the bottom of ditch. The only thing he moans about are his wet clothes.

Paul emerges from the cubicles. He looks at me with red-rimmed eyes. Dad’s had a stroke. I’m stunned. My turn to go in. I work my way round the nurses station and in to Bay 2a with trepidation. Stroke? There’s a massive range of implications stored up in those six letters. Dad is hunched up on the bed, head seemingly fixed to one side. He’s pale and waxy and weak, hooked up to oxygen, vital signs monitor and drip. But he opens his eyes and manages a word or two. I think he can understand my questions, but he doesn’t know me.

After a while, Paul goes back in. Back outside I’m numb and feeling queasy. I blankly watch a telly in the corner playing out The Trooping of the Colour. I even pick up a well-thumbed copy of Practical Caravanning. Note to self. Bring in interesting magazines next time I’m in A&E. A selfless act that hundreds of charity cyclists may give silent thanks for.

The rest of the day is about trying to piece together what has happened; letting family and friends know; anxious watching and waiting; and snatched conversations with doctors and nurses. Dad’s brother, Roland and sister-in-law Christine arrive. It’s good to see them.

This morning I was on the train thinking I was hospital visiting for all the right reasons: a new hip for Dad to get him moving and mobile again. Now I’m left feeling like he’s been denied an even break.

…I’m back on the train heading to London. It’s Coronation Stakes Day at Royal Ascot. I’ve seen a few of the races from the festival. Frankel’s imperious demolition job, So You Think digging deep to repel Carlton House, Colour Vision’s rugged effort in the mud. But the racing has had to take a back seat. This has been my second trip up the East Coast main line after returning home during the week to keep some appointments and pick up family life. Mrs A has been fantastically supportive and the girls have been worried about their Grandad. This time it has been a better trip. We’ve seen some welcome improvement in Dad. Whilst there’s some way to go, it has been such a relief to observe speech and recognition and movement slowly returning. He still can’t grasp what has happened to him. We’ve explained, but some things he can’t retain yet. “Bah, it does takes some effort recovering from this hip operation”, he wonders. But he’s on the right track. And the sense of humour is intact. He nearly split his catheter laughing at our story about the bloke farting uncontrollably in the family room.

The doctors think a blood clot somewhere in his body triggered lots of small strokes all over his brain. There may have been a little heart attack too. It is likely to have been caused by the stresses of the hip replacement operation. Now the physio is underway, as is the blood thinning treatment. We can start to think about rehabilitation. Paul has been absolutely brilliant and he’s up for the aftercare, a good chunk of which will fall to him.

We’re both looking forward now. Dangerous to think too long term. But it would be nice to think there’s a day at the races for all of us somewhere further down the line.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Looking Back At Me

Wilko Johnson. What a legend. I’ve been a fan since a mate introduced me to the spiky, high velocity r’n’b of Dr Feelgood when I was revising for ‘O’ levels. I’d missed the high water mark of the Canvey Island influence, of course, when the Feelgoods, Eddie & The Hot Rods and others signposted the emergence of punk.

 But that didn’t stop me making up for lost time. I’ve caught Wilko’s raw, electric, manic show as often as possible over the last 20 years, taking in many infamous venues on London’s well-trodden, sticky-floored pub rock route. I nearly made it out to Canvey Island, too. But not quite. There’s an annual Dr Feelgood Weekender which would be such a blast if only it didn’t run slap bang into the Cheltenham Festival.  Despite this, I was due to go on a site visit to the Essex Riviera. I’d been doing a case study of the Canvey Island Parish Council for a local government contract. (Bet you’re envious of the day job now?) I had visions of a little trip out there, taking in the sights, recreating iconic Feelgood’s images: here’s me Down By The Jetty; and me Down At The Doctors; not forgetting me, er, next to the parish council office… It didn’t happen. Bad weather and bad luck. But I’ll make it to the Oysterfleet Hotel one day soon and pay my respects to Wolfman Lee Brilleaux and the guys.

The last few years have seen a decent resurgence in Wilko’s popular appeal, peaking with Julien Temple’s superb biopic Oil City Confidential recently. So the time was right for the autobiography. The book launch for Looking Back At Me was held the other week at Rough Trade East. I knew this was happening. I’d seen it on his very active Facebook page. But I knew I couldn’t go. I had an evening meeting in Westminster that cut right across Wilko’s appearance.

And then on the day of the launch, my evening meeting got cancelled. I was already in town, having had a morning appointment (see how professional I can sound when I try…).  So in theory I was free to go. But that meant killing another six hours in the big city. Not normally a problem, but I had my steam-driven, iron-clad laptop stowed in the backpack, insulated by a wad of meeting papers thick enough to pass off as an EU funding application. Carting that lot around all day wasn’t too appealing.

Light bulb! I rang Nick. “Do you fancy a swifty, mate? The earlier the better”. He was obliging. So that would easily take care of a couple of late afternoon hours.

In the meantime I pottered over to the Blackfriars café for a spot of lunch. It’s a pucker greasy spoon straight out of the all-human-life drawer, and one that would take very high order in the canon of Berko caffs

 The time passed pretty swiftly, actually. I heaved a shovel full of coal into the laptop’s firebox and did a bit of work whilst ploughing through the monster fry up. I caught some action from Ayr races in a friendly bookies round the corner. But without any joy. The first three races were landed by favourites, though my 15-2 shot got within screaming distance of the winner in a half decent sprint. Then, on wandering over to the pub, I fired off a couple of snaps whilst impersonating your average tourist.

By the time Nick pitched up in the Barlow Mow, I was tucking into a pint of Doom Bar and pretending to work again. It had been a while since I’d caught up with Nick. We had plenty to talk about and set the world to rights with high powered discourse: the best barbecue marinades we’d ever made, how to paint over water stained ceilings and what sort of compact camera to buy for the holidays. Rock’n’ Roll. One pint became two and three very quickly. I was only dimly aware of the ticking of the clock. Nick nodded at the drinks and said, “Looks like you’re settling in to those”. Suddenly it had become 8.15. Best laid plans sabotaged by a bad thirst and the flow of bullshit.

I blinked into the evening mizzle. Was it still worth going to the launch? Wilko would have long finished the book signing and the following q&a, but there was to be a short live set with his band as well. I reckoned I might just about catch the end of it  if I was extremely lucky.

I wasn’t. First the Circle Line let me down. And then I forgot which way to get to Brick Lane from Liverpool Street. Was it right past Dirty Dick’s, or straight on and then right? So by the time I pitched up at the shop, after shuffling through al fresco diners sampling new bohemian curries, the place was pretty empty. I could see a few people milling about at the back of the shop, loitering by ‘U’ in the CD racks. And there was a bouncer on the door, barring the way. So. A wasted journey then.

But I thought I’d chance my arm. “Sorry mate. Closed.” A podgy, tattooed fist held the door open about 18 inches. 

“What time did it finish?” I asked. A bit forlornly.

“What did you want?”

“I was hoping to get Wilko to sign a book. I’m a big fan.”

I was blabbing.

“Go on then”.

I knew I was slurring a bit, but clearly he could see that I was no regular, run of the mill punter looking for a bargain CD on my way home. I was a knowledgeable music buff, unfashionably cool and fashionably late. And a bit delusional.

So it all turned out well in the end. Wilko was signing off the last few books. It was all very low key at this end of the evening. I bought my copy and stood in line. And when it was my turn, we had a good old chat about the changing live scene, dead gigs and closed venues. “Yeah, whatever happened to The Cricketers, hargh hargh”, he drawled in Estuarian. Wilko is only marginally less scary up close than in his stage persona. But proper friendly. I noticed how his eyebrows, bushy and malevolent, moved around his brow as if battery powered, unrelated to anything he said that would have demanded such expression. A marvelous thing to behold. “You are a legend, Sir”, and I signed off with a firm and respectful handshake. I was as pleased as punch. I also managed to catch Norman Watt-Roy, inspirational bassist in the Blockheads and Wilko’s band, for a word and an autograph. Together they present a formidable aspect. Craggy features and lived in faces that betray 40 years hard labour on the road. Heroes, the pair of them.

Walking out of the shop, I felt ten feet tall. I’d absolutely loved those genuine little conversations. I was grinning, holding open the flyleaf of my book until Wilko’s scrawl in thick marker pen dried properly. I didn’t want any of “To Dave & The Cricketers. Best wishes. Wilko” to be smudged in the morning.

I was still feeling exultant and treated myself to a decent pint of Timmy Taylor’s Landlord in The Princess Alice on Wentworth Street and allowed myself to be seduced by the soaring jazz emanating from the Old English Restaurant next door.

The train home was busy. There was a drunk wedged in the doorway, legs curled up beneath him, burping uncontrollably. Classic signs of discomfort. Then, sure enough, although quite discreetly, he vomited on his trousers. The bloke stood nearest to him didn't spot it straight away. When he did he glanced round at me and others with a helpless expression and tried to edge away. I just looked down and thought “Don’t you dare be sick on my book”.

The train emptied out a bit at Watford Junction and I got a seat. I was horror struck to see sick-bloke stagger over and spill into the seat next to me. I passed a very tense few minutes with him losing his balance from his sitting position and grabbing my leg instead of the arm rest. He was burping again and mumbling and twisting and looking at his watch in that way that means he really, really wants to journey to end. I know. I’ve been there too many times.

At Berko, with a giant effort, he hauled himself up and out. I lost him on the stairs, but then spotted him again on the edge of the car park tucked into the back door of the chippy. Bent double. Shoulders heaving. Not pretty.

At least my book was safe.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Eurolee Jubivision

Those Milner women have been at it again. Surprise inter-continental visits, parties conjured out of nowhere, competitive belated birthday treats… my head is spinning.

Mrs A called the first shots. At least I think she did. She had a fantastic time visiting her ‘Sis, Sue in Tenerife a couple of weeks back. As if temperatures nudging the high 30’s, ruby Rioja on draft and smelly cheese by the trowel-full were insufficient, Sue had also treated them to a splendid birthday stay in a top resort hotel by the coast. Everything on tap apparently. The only thing missing was Tony Blackburn hosting an edition of Seaside Special.

Returning the favour, Sue popped over the UK for a similar long weekend, barely a week later. And to continue this theme of belated birthdays, Mrs A whisked Sue off to London for a posh meal in a bijou restaurant and thence to an incident-packed wine-tasting education at Vinopolis. And I thought my slurping technique was poor. Sue’s tasting notes were testament to the fact she had struggled with that precise sharp in-take of breath required to provide the ideal taste explosion at the back of the palette. But not because she had explained this in her otherwise comprehensive notes. No. It was because the wine was splattered all over the pages. I suspect a bout of giggle-induced dribbling, but Sue denies this…

I didn’t escape the gift-receiving entirely unscathed. I have documented the two-decade long tack-war that exists between me and my lovely sister-in-law elsewhere in these pages. On this occasion, Sue casually said, “Oh, here’s the last part of your Christmas present..” I wasn’t obviously worried, as the first part had been vegetable seeds and other useful equipment for the allotment. This wind-up gift war is a tricky thing. You are never sure when you might get outflanked. Here, I was presented with the New Scientists’ ‘How to Fossilise Your Hamster’, containing a range of DIY experiments including ‘make eggs go green’ and ‘measure the speed of light with chocolate and a microwave’. On the wider continuum of our present-giving, this sits somewhere in the middle. On the one hand I could easily see myself getting to grips with many of these intriguing tests. On the other hand, when Sue was sadly burgled last year, mysteriously, this book was not stolen…

The surprise bit of this visit was aimed at Granny, who had no idea Sue was popping over for a bit of a knees up. The Milners are good at these things. Although I sometimes struggle to remember who is surprising whom, and in whose presence I should be keeping my gob shut.  However, Sharon, my other sister-in-law (yes I’m lucky enough to have two…) is worse. When Sue came home to surprise her brother Chris on his 50th birthday by suddenly, dramatically emerged from under the restaurant table (think ‘cake’ and ‘girl’), Chris took it nonchalantly in his stride. “Yeah, Sharon let it slip in the taxi over”, he explained. “‘Sue likes that restaurant’ she said. I looked at her and she went, ‘Sue? Did I say Sue? I meant Helen’. But it was too late”

But this time it worked perfectly. Granny was ambushed half way down the High Street. Our daughters were the advance, diversionary party. Granny greeted them effusively and then looked up and stared blankly at her émigré daughter for a good few seconds. And then came the scream of recognition. Closely followed by an open-palm thigh–spanking manoeuvre that has since become the template for a brand new Bavarian lederhosen stomp.

The timing of Sue’s visit was party driven by the Eurovision Song Contest, which fell on a convenient weekend between holiday weekends and thus provided an excuse for a party. Much in the same way that, for this lot, returning a library book on time might. Eurovision’s tortured televisual marathon is a marmite test. You love it or loathe it. Half measures don’t work. But it’s tough love. In the way that screaming filthy abuse at the toothy, airbrushed mannequin from Latvia when they give another 12 points to Estonia is love. Or at least passion. Especially when the volley comes from Granny, over there on the settee, aged 80-and-three-quarters. 

The French and the Spaniards win the icing count

The five girls were in charge of thematic party preparations, but ultimately led from the front by Sue. At the off, we had cheese from the UK, wine from France, tapas from Spain, cold meats from Germany, pickled fish from Sweden, pasta from Italy, salad from Russia, taramasalata from Greece, tsatziki from Turkey, and er, maltesers from Malta! We had buns iced with nationalistic emblems, home made flags on cocktail sticks and highly dubious slogans like “Get Behind The Hump” splattered over pictures of the big man. Could a house be more thoroughly prepared?

Dink makes a stink. Possibly. 
Sharon & Chris came down – more surprises – or had someone led this particular cat out of the bag already? And Callum & Julie arrived. We ate. We drank. We scored…the songs (obviously). We hissed at the Greeks for the debt crisis, roared at the Russian Grannies for their comic farce and booed the French for being French. And we winced at The Dink. Admittedly, he didn’t have the strongest of material to work with, but those missed notes and that lumbering delivery can’t have helped. Not that a heavenly tune composed in Elysium and borne on the very breaths of angels would have made a blind bit of difference to that Anglophobe jury. We won’t be winning this anytime soon. "Ah", said Granny. 

But at least we had the sweepstake to keep us edgy. Never let a betting opportunity go unexploited. That’s what I say. 26 finalists meant two blind picks each with enough spares to be allocated, virtually, to absent friends and family. And indeed that is who won. My niece Robyn swooped in with Sweden from distant Milton Keynes. Not that she knew too much about it. “Robyn, you’ve got Sweden, you’ve won!” explained Sharon down the Blackberry to her bemused daughter. “Oh, great. Is it a good song?” I know... hard to believe she wasn’t glued to the coverage.

Chris and Sharon left on the last train home, but we still had a full house and three kids ended up sleeping in my lovely office on blow up beds. So that just left the four women: Mrs A, Granny, Sue and Julie. And me. They were grouped menacingly round the dining room table, brandishing with intent a clutch of ‘70’s party classic CDs. I knew I was beaten. I was surrounded and there was only one escape route. Within minutes I hit the sack, lulled into a dreamy sleep on the melodious waves of “Take-a-chance, take-a-chance, take-a chance-chance”; and “Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and fillet gumbo”. Although it’s always possible that I may have missed the odd lyrical twist. My head, as it was, being buried under a couple of fat pillows…

"Will someone come in this photo with me...?"
Sue had managed to bring that lovely Tenerife-an weather with her and on Sunday we barbecued, basking in the mid-20’s. Sue’s been vegetarian for a long time and she was delighted to know that Daughter No 2 had just returned from a school trip to France and Belgium as a pescatarian. Last year, a friend of ours observed that her son came back from the same trip a fully-fledged bling-boy after meeting some likely lads on the ferry over. The school has always said this is a life-changing trip. I wonder if these are the sorts of changes they had in mind…

Bex and GC joined us for the barbie and we had a revelrous afternoon. The highlight of which was undoubtedly Granny trying her hand at the now-infamous Vinopolis-inspired wine tasting slurp. Her take on this technique involved a dipping head action, pursed lips and the imparting of a low-pitched hum. We looked at each other, but yes, the melodious rumble was absolutely coming from Granny. Her pale blue eyes staring at some imprecise point in the middle distance. Unshakeable concentration. Humming may not necessarily be a skill advocated in the Sommelier’s Handbook, but could it have been working? Oh no, there went the riotous laughter. Finca Labarca everywhere.

All too soon, Sue’s short week was over. We’d had a blast. Her departure seemed to herald the build up to the next leg of a festival double header: the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Just as the pictures of Englebert came down (did anyone check to see if he was OK on the Sunday morning?), so the bunting went up.

Bunting anyone? 
I’m not sure where I sit on the monarchy debate. I’m no hardened Royalist by a long stretch and I’m not about to justify fawning, jobs-for-the-boys, upper class hangers-on. But neither can I deny that the old girl has shown a fair degree of pluck and longevity in a tricky old job. And if the Rest of the World continues to come and gawp, bringing their tourist dollars with them, then I’m not about scream ‘revolution’. And I like a party too. This one did go on a bit long though: Derby procession, pageant, procession, gig, procession, church service, procession, dinner. Nice to see the Beeb got some hammer for their coverage. The bits I saw were indeed simpering, inane and shallow.

The Derby was a proper procession, though. Odds-on shot, Camelot, fittingly in the presence of the nation’s premier castle owner, smashed up a small field. The O’Brien’s are the first father and son combination to train and ride the Derby winner. The Triple Crown, in Jubilee Year, is very much on the agenda, it seems. I watched these events fairly dispassionately, having only minimal betting interest. Unlike the previous day’s Oaks, where I was screaming “foul” at the telly in my most wronged tones. My outside fancy Coquet was simply murdered on the inside rail by the slowing horses Nayarra and Twirl. She was closing with a well-timed burst, brim full of running when she had the door slammed and bolted in her face. No surprise to me that once again O’Brien’s pacemakers changed the face of the race by interfering with other runners. Coquet was absolutely going as well as anything and I will not hear of arguments to suggest this under-rated filly would not at least have made the frame. Or those that say that half a dozen live chances suffered a similar fate. Which of course is true.

Our Jubalympic Street Party was held on the Sunday. Bad choice. It tipped it down all afternoon. Stiff upper lips and resolve in the face of adversity were on full display. The alcohol helped too.

Even in the morning, as we were setting up gazebos in the drizzle, we had remained optimistic. “If it stays like this it will be fine”, we cajoled. Funny things, gazebos. Why are they all put together differently? We had about 10 to do. Which is a lot of fun when all the instructions are all missing. Especially when my neighbour’s canopy seemed to be a different size to the framework. Never mind. It may have taken eight of us, but by God, we got it to fit. (Taking it down was like pinging a giant elastic band down the road).

Drinking through adversity...
By the time we admitted defeat in the early evening, it had indeed been a thoroughly enjoyable British affair. Chatting to neighbours whom we don’t see from one month to the next, grooving to a jazz band in the rain, wanging the wet welly, scoffing damp burgers, awarding prizes to soggy cakes and watching spluttery fireworks. We retired to the neighbours’ for red wine and warming Bolognese until we were absolutely sure we had properly celebrated every one of those 60 years.