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Friday, 18 March 2011

giddy up

The race-goers peppering the village are as recognisable to locals as plain clothes policemen appear to be to low life on TV dramas. It’s a roundness of tum, a type of tie, a slope of shoulder from slouching over the Racing Post. That and all the Bentleys.
A string of them were aimlessly wandering around the shop, flush-faced and cheery, at odds with the processed ham and gluten free biscuits which are failing to sell but still ordered in. Crowded, that corner of the shop is getting.
The owner was – his words – made up. Generally, he’s slow to smile.
“All that booze they buy!” he hissed confidentially, loud enough for all to hear. “Each night! We buy more. You wouldn’t believe. Back and forward to the Cash & Carry.”
He rolled his eyes and shook his head at the giddy commerce of it all, purse lipped at the repeat runs to the C&C, a case of wine clanking ostentatiously, so removed from the usual mere bottle of scotch rolling around in the boot. The wanton repetition, “They drink on a Tuesday. AND a Wednesday!” (Imagine.)
The thrill of the till clanging shut on twenties. Notes not coins. This is the man who’s lived a bit. Driven to Spain with ducks in the back. Not much gets him going.

Every denizen in the geographical fallout of Cheltenham Racecourse is out to fleece the racegoers. Bleak pole dancers trudge up from Bristol to hand out leaflets. School children sell cakes in the name of sponsored do-gooding trips to Peru. One-handed guitarists busk.
My friend has had 10 jolly Irishmen a night staying with them, (bed and breakfast, @ £40 a pop), camp beds lined up while the family squash in one room and count the cash. Skiing’s booked for Christmas. Another friend, with a more modest 5 a night, is half-way to Florida on the proceeds. Both are bored with sausages, but it’s a price worth paying.
Elsewhere, driveways are dusted off and called car parks, that’ll be a fiver, please; limos fill lay-bys; opening hours are rapidly extended; normal old breakfasts at cafes are dubbed Racing Breakfasts and charged double. The police milk the moment by buggering up the traffic at roundabouts. It certainly adds a buzz and, apart from being stranded this side of Cheltenham by dint of the queues, I love it but this year is the first time I have actually been. Yes. Mrs Very Rich had some chums to stay and a spare Members’ Ticket was going begging, so what do you do but dust off your frock and toddle along.

It was a glorious day. The air thick with Spring and the promise of warmth. My bag was heavy with spare cardies I didn’t end up needing, but would have done if I hadn’t brought. Out of towners tottered in in heels beneath spray tanned legs, clad in floaty layers and lace like bizarre lost brides. Sturdy locals stride head to toe in tweed. Top Hats are sold from the makeshift shops at £2,200. You read that right.

The skies meanwhile were alive with the sound of … helicopters. In Gold Cup week, the rich at play are supported in their quest to offload loadsa cash by being ferried about in the air. It’s so green you could weep.
Mrs VR’s chum Lucy commented on them. Perhaps they were aurally displeasing, perhaps the very rich marvel at the astronomically rich.
I joined in. “What does it cost to land here?” I asked, unwittingly displaying my amateur status, while trying to give the impression that I was thinking of bringing the chopper next year, giving it a run.
Lucy gave me a down-grading glance. “I think the amount they cost to get up in the air slightly outweighs that.”

We kicked off with champers and butties at Mrs VR’s, ten minutes of living the princess life which I should surely be enjoying daily. I have my own pea and everything. The traffic goddess smiled on us (no policemen around) and we pulled up ten minutes later at a prime parking spot, swooshing past the proles who had to actually, like, walk, and strolled in, our important metal pins affording pleasing status. My handbag was pawed through by the guard, but sadly nothing of interest was found.
Lucy’s husband Melkin is a pro and I betted twice on his most fine advice and won twice and felt quite sick with triumph, at a whole, free, £17 ending up in my purse. Melkin bought more champagne and we sipped it in the sun while Lucy bemoaned being a corporate slave and I nodded as if I understood and had another quick sip.

It’s always The Atmosphere people mention to offset accusations that you can see it all from the telly, that you don’t need to go to such events. As I know from cricket, the telly is great, but the atmosphere is something else. It is so genial, so optimistic, so out of the norm of the day to day. So bloody lovely.
I also sort of got horses. A bit. I loved all the parading, the beautiful silks (my fingers itched to turn them into curtains) and when the winners came in and the crowd cheered and clapped it almost brought a tear to the eye.

“You’ve started high,” Lucy and Melkin said. It had seemed wise to alert them to my racing virginity. Treat me gently. “Great weather, great results, great races.”
I wouldn’t have it any other way, I thought.

And another excitement to hang onto. E was updating the one day scores, and texted in that England, somehow, had beaten the West Indies, just as Junior romped in netting me another tenner.

“Oh, Mummy, you smell of champagne,” F12 said gathering me in a big hug from tiny arms when I got in.
“Yes,” I said, we’ve hardly drunk all year, “I’m afraid I have had some. It was lovely.”
“Good,” he said, “It’s about time you shrugged off the male oppressors in this family.”
“Indeed,” I said.
I told E, the chief male oppressor, glum on the sofa doing some work on his laptop. While I gallivanted, he'd had to leave work early in order to pick up the children. He'd got stuck in race traffic, so he snorted.
I put my pea back in the freezer.


Preseli Mags said...

Oh brilliant! I'm extremely envious. I used to love to go to Cheltenham races and not just the Gold Cup meeting but the others too. We used to go there for our Pony Club camp. Even the hairiest little pony knows a racecourse when it sees it, but we were banned from the hallowed turf itself.

Tattie Weasle said...

Have loooked at bag of peas folornly, never likely to need one for princess purposes though maybe just for testing how green I am!
Love the one handed guitarists....

Potty Mummy said...

As you know, grew up around there; you've made me quite homesick for somewhere that hasn't been home for over 25 years!

Trish @ Mum's Gone to... said...

Such a great description of a day at the races. We've been to a few but usually just in the Grandstand. Fantastic for people-watching, especially the tango women.

I remember going to a local charity ball held at our local sports centre, when one couple decided to arrive on the sports field by helicopter (crass or what!) Everyone was most amused but as it descended the dust covered all the guests having cocktails outside. The couple were sent to Coventry for the rest of the night and looked very embarrassed.

Frances said...

Milla, I had such a good time at the races with you! From start to finish, you really did deliver the Atmosphere.

Congratulations on your winnings, too. Do you think you'll be going back next year? Hope so. xo

Expat mum said...

I'm loving the pea! Don't we all have one somewhere. (Mine's in my eye though.)

Posie said...

Milla you capture it all so perfectly,it reminded me of Jilly Cooper, I did enjoy that, but the best bit had to be the hug from the tiny arms when you got in...ahh. Glad you had a good time.

Milla said...

thank you all.
Mags, being so not a horse person I hadn't factored that side in, but I HAD noticed that the horses did seem to preen and prance so I hope they enjoy it (when not being shot of course)
Tattie, something's gone seriously wrong, hasn't it? We was robbed.
PM, enough already, guess who's having the more glamorous time now?
Trish, great story. Knew there was a reason why I left the chopper at home.
Frances, a mere year of schmoozing should do it! Good old Mrs Rich and chums.
Expat, no more with the eye, that weeping, pustulent sore is quite putting me off my tea.
Posie, yes, sigh, tiny arms. Strong arms mind, nearly broke my ribs just now. Back to reality.

legend in his own lunchtime said...

Loved the post Milla. I could almost smell the horse liniment.

About Last Weekend said...

Hi nice to meet you. Jody here living in Ca (used to live in London)Love your blog and this post and look forward to reading more about your champers drinking... Reminds me when I lived in Cheltenham for a year, worked for the local newspaper and somehow must have covered the races but who knows what I wrote up. I just remember being bumped a lot by the hats and noone wanting to talk to scungy kiwi reporter Ah well!

Edward said...

Chief Male Oppressor here. Good blog, as per. Not a racing fan much, but you make me wish I'd been there too. We'll have such fun spending our unforeseen riches too.

CAMILLA said...

Great post Milla honey, well done on the winnings. I see our namesake the Royal was unable to be at races due to virus, wonder if she put a bet on..... my HL cousin lives in Glos, think he usually attends the races, couldn't go due to fracturing his vertebrae in skiing accident in Austria.

Ah, bless, your son hugging Ma, sounds as if you had a fun day at Cheltenham Milla.


Fennie said...

Another great post! So great indeed that when I saw the little picture called 'Beg' and the NOMINATE ME FOR THE COSMO BLOG AWARDS icon, I clicked on it straight away - only to be told that the page no longer existed and when I came back here I saw the icon no longer existed either; so maybe I was dreaming. Unlike my sister who can tell you every winner of the Derby since its inception and who once owned a total failure of a racehorse called Balquidder (in only one of its six races did it fail to come last!) I have never quite seen the point of horse racing, but no doubt it does have its finer points. Perfectly sane people otherwise are aficionados. Champagne can be enjoyed very much better if you are not fretting about the twenty pounds that you are about to lose because your horse has been electrocuted. Indeed, it would save everyone a great deal of time and trouble if they were to get out of bed on race days, shove fifty quid down the loo and pull the chain. The amount then saved would keep you supplied with champagne for weeks. Atmosphere, it seems, doesn't half come expensive. I should quit now that you're ahead.
Pea and £17 is definitely more enticing than just pea (frozen).

Carol said...

Ooohhh I would love to go to the races...it all sounds rather glamorous and I've not done anything glamorous for a looonnngg time!

C x

Helen@baby shoes said...

We have the same thing in Doncaster once a year for the Ledger meeting. It certainly gives an extra buzz to the town for the week.

Bluestocking Mum said...

Fabulous blog. I've never been to the races. Wouldn't that be a wonderful blog/Pc meet up - to go to the races??


Exmoorjane said...

Oh oh oh oh ......just wondrous, dear heart... SO many snippets of delight, so many upward twitchings of the mouth...
I am sitting on my tongue now, making sure I don't say what I always say when I read one of your most sublime of posts...gmadmsmenreppewnem dnr e (see, how annoying it is). :) xxx