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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.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011


“Have you heard of Nate Dogg?” T14 asked. He’d just got in and by-passed all the normal Hello stuff.

T14 has taken to adding –dog to his friends’ initials, and then talking about them as if it is a perfectly normal way to behave, “Hey, C-dog, A-dog’s got hair like J-dog, what a loser,” sort of thing. It makes conversation confusing, which I’m sure is the point, trying to decipher who all the various dogs are. Particularly when J-dog is, in this case Justin Bieber and A-dog someone we don’t even know’s brother. And when C-dog turns out to mean his own brother, F12; the C standing for Chubbs. F12 is a slip of a lad.
See what I mean?
So it goes without saying that I rarely know what he is talking about. The –dog nonsense is new and, I’m hoping, will be sent to the big kennel in the sky by the weekend.

So I said, “No,” I didn’t know who Nate Dogg was, while harbouring up my sleeve a suspicion that it might be G-dog’s sister. Something I could produce on the second round of guessing to impress and endear.
He rolled his eyes. “Nate Dogg! Like one of the biggest rap stars….”
Well, point proved. “Rap Stars,” I scoffed, “No, of course I’ve not heard of – why would I have heard of anyone called Nate Dogg.”

The whole territory is fraught. I hear Lady Bracknell’s handbag in my scorn, I hear my grandmother asking me in Edwardian air quotes if I was Shacking. Up. With. My. Boyfriend. I hear judges enquiring who are the Beatles? Then we have Brian True-May: has his sacking meant that I can no longer express within the four walls of home that rap don’t float my boat? Am I dissing their art? Could they care less? Could I? Dizzy with PC it's hard to remember how to react sometimes.

Conflated with all this is T14’s on-going, occasional assertion that he has an Afro, so big as to preclude him, say, from getting in the car when the destination doesn’t suit; huge arguments can arise because of the existence or otherwise of the Afro and what it thinks about the various activities on offer. F12 scoffs in irritable outrage, I stoutly defend. Nothing is simple. This boy with the smoothest of smooth hair is in mourning that he’ll never have an Afro, so he and pretend he does. And when he isn't in Afro-land, he's being a Liverpudlian, or a Glasweigian, or a Welshman. It's all very inventive, and probably not allowed anymore. It all gets so confusing. Accents in brown paper bags.
"I have got an Afro," he will say. Possibly in heavy Welsh.
"You haven't," says F12 dangerously, made furious by the whole thing. "Mum! Tell him, tell him he hasn't got an Afro."

“Sing something of his, then,” I said, ever reasonable. "I might realise I do know who he is."
“They don’t sing,” he said dismissively, “they rap. That’s the whole point of rap stars, they rap.”
“Well, rap something then, go on, mutter it in an aggressive way.” It was almost impossible not to fall over laughing. I did some very amusing middle aged woman swaggery stuff and edged my trousers down to hang ‘em low. I tugged at my invisible saucepan on sideways cap and jingled my bling.
“I can’t. But he was signed to Death Row Records. I can’t believe you’ve not heard of him. Don’t Laugh!! He’s Dead!”
“I’m not laughing at him being dead, I’m laughing at you. Nicely, of course.” God, modern parenting. I tried to show an interest. “How did he die? Shot? An overdose?”
“NO! It was a stroke. Another stroke.”

His brother walked in, dwarfed by the enormous backpack he must wear to get through a day at school. His knees buckled as he shrugged it off in small, heavy jerks.
“Hey, Chubbs, you’ve heard of Nate Dogg.”
“Yeah,” said Chubbs, F12, cautiously, not sure how this was going, whether he was going to regret such an admission. How! How has my tiny professor heard of Nate Dogg?
“Well he’s died.”
“From a stroke
“Cool,” said F12. “Like Peter Griffin. He had a stroke.”
“But he didn’t die and aaaargh! He’s a cartoon. Peter Griffin’s just someone on ‘Family Guy.’ I can’t believe this family. Nate Dogg was a real person. And you’re like laughing. You can’t laugh at someone dying! No one CARES!”

E got home. “Have you heard of Nate Dogg,” I asked.
“Yeah,” said E. E knows everything. “Sure. He’s one of Snoop Dog’s homies. Or was. He’s dead, died from a stroke.”
“Go and lurk,” I said busily shovelling him out of the way, “T14 will ask you. He needs a sensible answer. F12 and I let him down; he’s sulking.”

So E went and lurked, in a "I've heard of Nate Dogg" kind of way but T14 was onto the next stage of mourning and was busy killing zombies on screen. My mother used to look at them playing in the garden. "You weren't like .... this," she'd say. I never quite got her then. But this this, I certainly don't get. Rap. Zombies. Screens as a way of life.
E didn’t ask. Which was a shame. T14 had lost heart and hadn’t sought out the right person to ask, but still retained some sort of moral high ground in purse-lipped zapping. It seemed the wrong moment to suggest that he chill - advice he is happy to throw our way in moments of crisis - nor the time to insist on him practising the piano. Grade 6 might call from my bossy perspective, but Nate Dogg’s song still sings to him. Or raps. Whatever that is.