Magazine article The Spectator

Double Trouble

Magazine article The Spectator

Double Trouble

Article excerpt

Low life

Last bank holiday Monday we took a case of ice-cold La Piazza Bianco Tenuta Casalbaio 2001, purchased from the Spectator Wine Club, to Newton Abbot races. Simon Hoggart wasn't joking. The wine was indeed as `delectable, fragrant, fruit-- filled, mellow and silky' as he said it was. And it was quite pokey too. By the fourth race, The Summer Jumping Novices' Handicap Hurdle Championship Final Bonus Race (Class B), we were three sheets in the wind.

Our betting system, that of putting money on the largest horse in each race, was on the whole a failure. But we did slightly better than our neighbours, who claimed to know a thing or two about horse-racing and had studied the form book. I'd been to a race meeting only once before, in Zimbabwe, where they scattered raw tobacco on the racecourse to make it smell nice. No such thing is done at Newton Abbot, as far as I'm aware. But what the course might lack in the way of exotic fragrances it more than makes up for in the conviviality of the atmosphere. You could bowl up to anyone at all and say, `So what do you fancy in the next race then?' and, you know, it would be absolutely fine. The sunny stands were packed with cheering holidaymakers and it is amazing how thrilling a horse race can be if you've got your shirt on it. It came as a terrible disappointment to us when suddenly there were no more races and the crowd had evaporated, leaving us disconsolate on a bench, surrounded by litter.

Out in the carpark, however, I was hailed by a man hanging out of the door of a minibus. It was Ronnie, whom I used to work with, at night, transferring live crabs, lobsters and cray-fish from Cornish fishing boats to Spanish lorries fitted with aerated water tanks. (I've still got the scars on my fingers to prove it.) I went over to the minibus to greet him. It contained regulars from The King of Prussia on their annual beano, said Ronnie, handing me a joint. I put my head in. Not one of them, not even the driver, was upright. The driver had won 300 and they were going on to a cider bar to spend it, said Ron. Why didn't we come as well?

Ron's directions to the cider bar were a little hazy. First we drove 20 miles to the wrong village. Pulling over beside the village green I leaned out of the window and asked a lady walking her poodle whether she knew where a cider bar was. …

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