Thursday, 30 September 2010

Ennis Montana 30 September
Walking along the main street in Ennis it is not difficult to picture horses tied to the post, a card game in full swing in the saloon and a bow-legged deputy leaning on the verandah of the jailhouse, drawing gently on a cheroot. It used to be like that but virtually everything that is currently on view has been either built or renovated in the last 35 years. It is not as though there are any planning restrictions. It is more that Ennis people have ensured that their revenues from tourism are maximised. My first stop, at 4.30, was the SALOON, where Kelly and Brad, the owners, were enjoying a beer with Dennis ( from Ennis ) and his wife Terry. Although they were fully booked, they were very keen to welcome me back later, an invitation I accepted, on the condition that I was introduced to some local people.
It was a bit of a struggle to find accommodation. This was not something I thought would be an issue at this time of year. It turns out it is hunting season on top of the fact that Ennis has some of the best trout fishing in the USA, on the Madison River. So the motel car park is full of pick-up trucks which contain either fishing tackle or serious weapons. The couple who run the show are delightful and I was also made very welcome at the local library, where there is free wi-fi. So it was in fairly buoyant mood that I set out for a beer at 7.30.
Unfortunately, Brad, Kelly, Dennis and Terry had cracked on in the interim. They were still very friendly but were not making huge sense and doing so noisily. Dennis had moved on to the local whiskey. He didn’t quite say ‘bartender, pour me another red-eye’, but it was delivered to him as though he had. It made conversation difficult. Brad and Kelly were in giggly mode. Dennis turned out to be another who has been out of work ( he is an electrician ) for 18 months.  His wife, Terry, who is a sub-editor for the Madison County Gazette, a publication, incidentally, which makes the Helston Packet look like the Times of London, is now the main breadwinner. Unfortunately, having established those bare facts, there was a good deal of effing and blinding about the fact that the wealthy, having built second homes in the area, now don’t visit and don’t therefore, provide employment for local people. They were a bit more philosophical than some I have met. They seem to appreciate the vagaries of any market based on tourism and, as Terry said, they didn’t mind cashing in when the tourists were here.
It was, therefore, with some relief that I was bailed out by the arrival of another visitor. Hubert Langersberg is here to enjoy a few days fishing, courtesy of a client. Hubert is a Chartered Accountant from Spokane and by far the most educated an urbane company I have enjoyed on my solo travels. His Dad and his uncle had been forced to flee from the German occupation of The Netherlands. After the war, they decided that it was sufficiently possible for such a situation to occur again, and they took the decision to move. The uncle to Australia and Hubert’s Dad to Texas, neither able to speak a word of English. Hubert’s Dad decided to learn English and to apply for citizenship. The upside was that he was successful but the downside was that he was then drafted and sent to Fort Lewis, north of Seattle. He stayed in the region after he finished in the army, hence Hubert’s Washington roots. Hubert is one of 5 children who have all settled in other states, apart from him. I was amused by a question he asked me. I always say I come from near London, which every American knows. Most have no idea of the geography of Britain and I have had several queries as to how far this is from Liverpool/Manchester/Newcastle. Hubert asked whether I was the Dover side of London ( fine ) or the Stockbridge side. This would not be the place west of London most would select for locational purposes. It is, however, a trout fishing mecca, which Hubert visited in the 1970s.
I did make a mistake about the continental divide. It was very simply stated on a sign at the roadside somewhere east of Butte.
I think I may have a day off people tomorrow. Yellowstone is the second major geographical site of the tour and I’m going to maximise that experience.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Butte Montana 29 Sept
It was pretty awful last night. Over the road from the hotel was an Irish themed bar. I nursed a beer for 20 minutes or so, watching the baseball before I asked the bartender if there was anyone local in the bar. He pointed me in the direction of two pretty unsavoury types, Jim and Trevor. They were working in construction on the roads, for the federal government, having had their own business fold 18 months ago. They didn’t really want to talk to me. It was pretty depressing stuff. Jim lives 180 miles away in Bozeman and works on a bridge repair project 5 days a week before travelling home at the weekend. Trevor lives In Missoula and Jim says with him before going home at the weekends. You can imagine it. Deeply critical of the government, Democrat voters but disillusioned with Obama and both pretty scarred. Jim’s kids are 7 and 5 and he is not happy about being in the position of having to travel to work where the government highways agency tells him to go. Apart from a brief rundown of the basic rules of baseball, there wasn’t a lot that could be described a forthcoming about either, so I finished my beer and retired to the hotel.
I did sleep well. Having been on the road early for the last couple of mornings, I didn’t leave until after 9.00, having availed myself of breakfast, which was mostly sweet stuff, including doughnuts and syrupy tinned fruit.
I did something I have not done for 30+ years on the way out and picked up a hiker by the name of Will. His story is even more sad. He is 41 years old and living rough. He was after a lift to the next town. He smelt pretty ordinary. He is on the run from a drug offence in Washington state, having left home four months ago. His father abused him physically when he was young and also ‘beat up on his Mom’, who left home some time back and has no contact with either father nor son. There is, apparently, a huge underclass of such people, who do not receive state benefit unless they can be sectioned under the equivalent of the Mental Health Act, which Will is keen to be. He is currently not doing stuff but is shipping in some industrial quantities of alcohol, which partially explains the smell. He lived with his Dad for some years after his mother left but, and he was a bit cagey about this, seems to have finally driven his Dad to kick him out, having worked in the family welding business and, probably, spent any money he had on booze and drugs. His Dad had been withholding his wages for a couple of months, which was another contributory factor. It was not a comfortable conversation but it did get easier when we started talking heavy metal. His knowledge is gazetteer in its extent and he indentified every track on the heavy metal station he had tuned to on the car radio by hearing a few bars of introduction. His aim is to get to the east coast and then, he hopes, to Europe. I didn’t have the heart to explain that he would need a bit more than just a desire to get there. Small items like a passport and entry visa seemed to be a million miles away. Anyhow, I dropped him in Butte and left him on the exit road, a sad and very forlorn figure. The American dream in reverse.
I wanted to see Butte, pronounced as in ‘beaut’. I thought that most words ending vowel ‘t’ ‘t’ had short syllables but I suppose it is just as well Butte isn’t pronounced that way. And then I thought of Miss Bardot, cafe latte and came to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter. Butte expanded rapidly in the 1890s when copper was discovered and by 1910 it was producing 40% of the world’s ore. It has kept the facades to many of the buildings that were constructed during the boom and still has the feel of frontier about it. One of the buildings has a faded sign announcing that it offered ‘booths and ladies’.  The last mine closed about 40 years ago but the old winches and spoil have been preserved and the old mine workings dominate the town. It is not a wealthy place but, as a keen student of industrial history, it most certainly has a charm in my book. Quite what the present population do for employment, I don’t know. The girl in Starbucks says that unemployment is very high here. I suspect in the UK much more would have been made about the history of mining and museums and period costume would be established to attract visitors. Not so here. It looks rather as though the last miner walked out of the workings 40 years ago and everything has just been lefdt as it was.

The best news is that Palace got a point at Cardiff, even if it was not enough to prevent them dropping into the bottom 3. Another long season awaits.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Missoula, Montana 28/9
I drove a fair way today..probably about 350 miles. The first half was not quite the featureless drag that I had thought it might be. It was fairly tedious, even so. The second half was through more mountains. It is spectacular stuff. Deep valleys, lined with conifers, punctuated by small settlements at the river confluences and with lots of exposed rock faces. Having followed the Tieton River yesterday, it was the Coeur d’Alene today.
Two things happened at the boundary between Idaho and Montana. The first, I think, is that it marked the Pacific/Atlantic watershed. I will follow this through on a map when I get back. If it does turn out to be the case, I am completely staggered that there was no mention of it at the roadside. I know the French are ridiculous about it but it is quite a significant feature to ignore. It will probably turn out that I am completely wrong. The second thing that happened there is that we went from one time zone to another. I remained unaware of this until arrival at tonight’s hotel. The very helpful girl at the check-in also helped resolve a nagging issue. I thought there were 3 time zones, eastern, central and western. In fact, there are four because there is also mountain time between central and western. I know this will be very boring for readers but it does help me to explain how all the timings between Denver, Dallas and Portland worked themselves out.
I stopped for 20 minutes at a rest area ( remember what the Americans use ‘rest’ to mean ) between Naches and Spokane. I hadn’t stopped other than because I needed to but I was glad there was a free coffee and cookie stand. I got talking to Pam and Lonnie, who were running it. It is set up as a fund raiser for a local cat rescue charity. She does the baking and makes the coffee. He drives her out there, 15 miles from Moses Lake, because Pam hates interstate highways. I think Lonnie couldn’t give a flying ferret for stray cats but fancies Pam. I say that because only Pam seemed to talk about the poor creatures she looks after and finds homes for. There was also a pretty obvious lustful gleam in Lonnie’s eye. All I would say is that this one is clearly in the eye of the beholder. Pam told me she lived in Moses Lake. I attempted an obvious gag about gills and fins which went completely over her head. Lonnie roared with laughter and said that was the first time he’d heard anyone take that angle. He had to be joking, I thought and said so. He insisted. I guess it does mean that when I get back to Wellington and find that someone is living in my house and teaching my lessons, I can come back out here and begin a new career in stand-up. Pam has been to Portland once and hated it ‘too big’. She has been to Montana once and hated it ‘too far’. She is 68 years old and has spent 67 years and 48 weeks of it in Moses Lake – well, not in it, you understand, etc, etc. Lonnie did work on the Teamsters ( long distance trucks, in case you were wondering ) and has seen quite a bit of the states. He also has one friend in London, England. When I said it was only 25 miles from my home he asked me if I knew whoever it was. I am very glad that this has occurred because I was beginning to wonder if the Americans had suddenly wised up to the idea of a one in 12 million chance being slightly less than feasible. It will probably be like London buses and having not been asked until now, I will probably get several enquiries in the next few days.
I am in Missoula tonight. I have yet to venture out to a bar but I am not entirely enthralled with the prospect. The hotel is in one of those vast service areas just off the Interstate. You know the sort that has MacDonalds, four or five hotels, a couple of petrol stations and some brand restaurants. I drove around ‘downtown’ Missoula, which looked pretty well shut at 6.30. When I asked someone in town where there were bars, he directed me back to this same service area where there are a couple of casino-type affairs, so goodness alone knows what the clientele will be like in there. The town is faceless, flat and featureless. As in  Fakenham, Folkestone and Fontwell ( an in joke, which I will explain to the constitutionally strong on my return ). Cognoscenti will note that the joke has to be set up differently now that Ffos Las has become a racecourse.
I’m going to drive a bit less and visit more ancient monuments on the way to Yellowstone tomorrow. These are advertised on the roadside. I stopped at two today, thinking they might have been where treaties made by the early settlers with The Sioux were signed. The first was an early railroad halt and the second was an early lead and silver mine. Both were invisible behind a mass of undergrowth and I was not prepared to tread on a rattlesnake or come face to face with a bear in an attempt to force my way through.
Yesterday was really good. Today has been pretty ordinary. Such is travel.  
Naches Washington 28/9
Good people. Steve, his mother Dolly, his partner Laura ( who may have had a few ), Di, Matt and Jeff. They didn’t mind that I joined them. They are obviously proud of their country.  They like each other. They like the bar. I would be a regular there if I lived locally. Dolly owns it. Jeff has been laid off for a year but doesn’t seem downcast. Steve was full of nuggets of information about local issues and isms. Interesting that even up here, migrant labour is an issue. There is no animosity, rather a resigned awareness that if Mexicans will do a job for $15 an hour, it puts the local bloke, who charges $20 per hour out of business. They all say to avoid Yakima like the plague, which I will do. All were very anxious to suggest things to do and places to stay en route to Yellowstone. They had interesting tales to tell about May 18th 1980, too. Apparently Naches had a fine dust several feet deep and akin to talcum powder. I think Steve is a bit cleverer than he usually allows himself to be, which is a refreshing alternative to the some of the self-congratulatory folks I work with. Dolly, the matriarch, actually hails from Missouri but came out here with her folks in the early 1950s. Modernisation in agriculture meant that her Dad had to look for work, which he found in the fruit orchards near Naches. I am certain it is why there is such tolerance towards today’s migrants.
I spent the first part of the day at Mt St Helens on the ridge, named after Dave Johnston, 5km north of the mountain. When it blew, he had about 8 seconds before rather more than talcum powder fatally enveloped him. The mountain was covered with cloud when I arrived at 10.30. It was a relief to be on my own and to be able to wait around for three hours for the place to clear. I was slightly emotional when the cloud retreated. St Helens encapsulates my whole teaching career. It was the big geographical event to teach in my first year at Teddies. It remains the best documented example of an eruption and now carries additional relevance in the way that nature has responded and recovered. I don’t think there is any other example I can say I have used in all 30 years in the classroom.  Me and it go back a long way. It was just brilliant to say hello, face to face.
The drive from Toledo to Naches was spectacular. At one point it was only in my rear view mirror that I realised that the viewpoint on the roadside was of Mt Rainier. This volcano, incidentally, is 3 times the size of St Helens and, if it goes off, will probably cause major loss of life in Tacoma and Seattle. Anyhow, I turned around to go back to it and it wasn’t until I’d parked off the road that I realised I’d done the whole half mile on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately, there is hardly any traffic around at this time of year.
The other extraordinary element was the almost instantaneous change from forest to dry grassland. West of the watershed is wet and forested. East of it is much drier and grass prevails.  The change takes place in about 2 miles of driving. Naches, east of the divide, gets 350mm of rain p.a. Packwood, west of it but only 20 miles away, gets 1200 mm p.a. The Columbia River plateau, across which I am driving tomorrow towards my next goal at Yellowstone, is probably one of the flattest parts of the USA.


Monday, 27 September 2010

Portland, Oregon 27/9
What do you call someone from Oregon? If they wanted to be stylish they might go for Oregonnais. Maybe those over the age of 85 could be described as Oregonners. In fact, they settle for the more prosaic Oregonians. There is a certain sense of pride in being an Oregonian. Probably because they have a wilderness to die for they are by some distance the greenest state in the US. Greenness also requires a degree of education and my suspicion is that the constituency representing the educated is a bit larger in Oregon than in somewhere with a more industrial recent history.
My hosts are Todd, who could be mistaken for an Oregonian but actually comes from California and Clare, whose family I have known since I was a teenager. Todd is a doctor, specialising in orthopaedics. He trained first as a lawyer, having started out to be a banker and, for all I know, may have qualifications in veterinary medicine, scuba diving and gold-panning in addition. I do seem to remember him being a student well into his 30s. He is delightfully laid back, save in one respect, which is a compulsiveness to tidy. My family will be sorry to learn that this affliction is not contagious. Clare is a proper lawyer but not at the moment, being a full time Mum to the four children. She is the more mercurial antidote to Todd’s measured calmness and is the main conduit through which the children’s lives are played out. She wears her heart on her sleeve and you know that her brood mean more to her than the world. Amazing, too, that they have four such different children. Ben, who sails blissfully through life, even as a 16 year old; Alexandra ( no abbreviations, please ), who is darker than the others in complexion and in whom I detect steeliness and no little organisational ability; Oliver ( 9 ), who is just a hoot and a real monkey/livewire but will be the one who causes most lost sleep and Amelia ( 7 ) who I think is seriously clever and with a stubbornness that will precipitate some interesting moments. They have all been so friendly, warm and welcoming that I have felt hugely at home. It has been the ideal way to ease more gently into America and I feel a bit more confident about what lies ahead as a consequence.

We had a grey and drizzly day yesterday. Church in the morning ( might pastor Rick just cut some of the theatricals and let the Bible do the talking? ) followed by a quick lunch and a drive up the Columbia River valley. We then walked up a trail to some spectacular falls before coming back to observe the Sunday evening ritual of the football match on TV. Jets 31 Dolphins 23.
Pick up hire car and off to St Helens tomorrow. The tour starts.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Portland, Oregon, 26/9
I didn’t get to talk much to anyone other than my hosts yesterday. I did have a brief exchange in Starbucks, in the local shopping mall, in the morning. I had gone there to do the designer clothing run for my lot, by some distance the most important element of the entire three weeks. Anyhow, the girl who made the coffee asked if she could guess where I was from. I gave her three goes. 1. Minnesota, 2. Massachussetts,  3. France. I didn’t quite know whether to be insulted or amused.
The shopping mall was faintly ludicrous. From the outside it is just a huge cuboid object. Inside, it is done out a bit like a cross between the turbine room of the Tate Modern ( minus the filth art ) and the Hypostyle Hall of the palace at Luxor.  It isn’t difficult to make comparisons between those who come to worship modern art, those who came to worship Egyptian royalty and those who come to worship the dollar. All of whom are equally deluded.
We went to the beach in the afternoon.  It was 27° inland and hot by 1.00 when we left. The weather on the coast was very different. It was about 10 degrees colder and windy and cloudy to boot. Geographers will know all about the influence of an offshore cold current and here it was in graphic form.
Cannon Beach could just as easily have been on the west coast of Britain. Thundering surf, a line of houses on the cliff above and people on the beach making the most of the outgoing tide and the recreational space it provided.  We made a wood fire and cooked marshmallows, which we ate sandwiched between two Graham crackers ( rich tea biscuits to you and me ) and along with some blocks of chocolate. We played four on three American football. We flew a kite. We went for a lengthy walk. We ate at a local restaurant. Clam chowder and scallops.  As we left in the dusk, the beach was coming alive with the wood fires of those cooking out.
But Palace lost 5-0 at Derby.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Denver to Portland

It was a longish day in the air. One of the many fallouts of recession is a reduction in the numbers travelling by plane and my original 2 hour flight from Denver to Portland, leaving at a comfortable 2.00, was changed to an 8 hour marathon via Dallas. I near as nothing missed the flight from Dallas to Portland. At no stage was I reminded that Dallas is an hour ahead of Denver, which meant that at 2.30, when the screens called passengers for departure, I was still enjoying time on the internet. By a complete stroke of luck, I went to get a coffee from a shop near the Portland departure gate at 2.40. I noticed passengers gathering with intent to board and it was only then that I discovered there was a time difference.
I sat next to Gwynneth. She is a nurse and was returning from a conference in Savannah. You get serious points if you know which state that is in. She has much that you would expect from the archetypal matronly nurse, not least a Jacquesesque physique. There was no need for her to tell me I had a beautiful body and to request I held it against her because the laws of space and volume, combined with American Airlines’ need to maximise customer numbers on any given flight, made such an outcome inevitable. My experience of females at the larger end of the spectrum is that they either have the character and personality to match or that the very opposite is the case. There is not much in the middle. Gwynneth was very much in the former group and we had not got very far off the ground before she had given me all the details of her family ( husband, two sons and three grandsons ) and pumped me for details and photographs of mine. I asked her whether any Welsh connections lay behind her name. Her response was about 5 minutes long. There are no Welsh connections ( 10 seconds ) but neither are there with the egregious Miss Paltrow, who doesn’t seem to have done too badly on it ( 4 minutes and 50 seconds ). I detected more than a hint of irritation at her thunder having been stolen. It must be quite difficult when all your life people have said ‘what a lovely and unusual name’ when it suddenly becomes ‘oh, just like the actress’.
The other highlight was flying straight past Mt Hood, the most shapley, conical strato-volcano. It emerges from the surrounding range like a lone pustule on a teenage face. Except it is a thing of enormous beauty. Perhaps more like a nipple on a perfectly formed tit.
Todd met me at the airport and I now have a couple of days with the only people I know in this part of the USA. We are going to the coast tomorrow ( forecast warm ) and to the Columbia River gorge, which sounds to me like a glacial meltwater overflow channel, on Sunday. It is very good to be with friends and Clare, Todd and I were so conversational over supper that Oliver ( 9 ) and Amelia ( 6 ) were reduced to putting their hands up to get a word in. Alexandra ( 14 ) was off to ballroom dancing, which is something that every teenage girl does, apparently, but very rarely uses. Ben ( 16 ) was playing soccer for the school team.
I am enjoying it hugely.
Written 23/9 Denver
Travel was fine until passport control in Denver. You have to press the four fingers of each hand on to a screen. You can imagine the chaos that ensued when my right hand was scanned. They had to take a whole separate scan of the famous finger. I didn’t dare give any clever answers to the customs bloke, whose approach to the whole thing was to be critical of my deformity and to question my sanity. Fortunately nothing he said was either new, or remotely in the same class as the  bullying I receive on a daily basis at Wellington. 
There was a bar a block ( that is about 400 yards to you and me ) away from my inexpensive but adequate hotel. I was tired at 3.00 a.m. BST but set myself a task of having one beer and a maximum of an hour to talk to anyone who felt like it.
In the end , I spoke to three people.  Mike was into the final stages of an extended day in which he had enjoyed his first beer at 12.30. It was not easy to piece together the disjointed information I gathered and the combination of drawl and slur meant that what I did glean may not be totally accurate. If I am correct, he has a week to find a place to live. The fault lies totally with the federal government and he did not hold back on Barack Obama, on whose Hawaiian, immigrant shoulders he squarely laid the blame. It was not a comfortable conversation and I did not prolong it, sensing that he would want to unload more than I needed to hear and might well then attach himself to me. From what I could gather, his marriage had broken up and having worked hard for 18 years, all he had left were some clothes, a meagre welfare allowance,  a rapidly diminishing pack of Marlboro lights and a glass of Budweiser.
Charlie and Carrie were an oddly matched couple. He wore the remnants of a smart work suit and she was prettily dressed in a short khaki skirt and deck shoes. He did all the talking. He wasn’t very interesting. Something to do with IT, a guaranteed eye glazer, working ‘out of’ downtown Denver. Did he mean ‘in’ when he said ‘out of’? Another example of the evolutionary nature of our language and how two opposite ideas can come to mean the same thing. Wicked.
It wasn’t untilI got back to my hotel that I realised that Carrie was almost certainly a hooker. She was much younger than Charlie, her hem line was bordering on the indecent and her jet black hair was either dyed or Hispano-Gaelic in origin.   The make up was just too liberally applied, especially around the eyes, which always seems to me to suggest that the wearer is trying to hide something.
I didn’t stay after the one drink I had. As I left Mike was slithering off his bar stool in the direction of the restroom ( I don’t know what others do in there but I wouldn’t describe it as ‘restful’ ) and Charlie was whispering something,  either slanderous about me or suggestive about the rest of the evening ,into Carrie’s ear.
I bet Carrie isn’t her real name.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

New experiences

Written Monday afternoon 13/9/10
I have had two completely new and wildly differing experiences in the last 72 hours, neither of which would have been possible were I not enjoying my current break from school.
 The first was on Saturday morning at The Berkshire Golf Club. As you may be aware, I have been a member there for some 12 years but never before have I ever been free to show up at the most popular time of all for regulars. I had agreed to join a team of men to play a foursome against the Berkshire Ladies. For those not familiar with the format, a foursome involves each player taking alternate shots. One drives and the other plays the second shot and so on. I was drawn to play with Ross Allen, the most serene 5 handicapper and with a swing to die for.
 My normal experience is to appear on the course at about 11.30 midweek, when all tees are deserted. At 8.30 on a Saturday morning, following an extremely sociable and bibulous evening with friends, with attendant headache, I was alarmed, to say the least, that the first tee was packed.
 My demeanour was not improved when I was told that we were off second of 6 foursomes and that I was driving the odd numbered holes, i.e. including the first.
 My usual response to pressure is to make light of it but somehow, in this situation, surrounded by people I didn't know that well, it didn't seem appropriate.
 I just about managed to get the tee peg in the ground. I placed the ball on the tee with some difficulty, the combined effects of nerves and the previous evening rendering my hand-eye coordination a little less effective than is customary. I took a deep breath and played an immaculate practice swing. I addressed the ball, with my insides churning and my knees becoming weaker by the second. Then someone sneezed and I had to go through the whole process again. I swung. Appallingly quickly. I made contact. Phew. But..The ball almost hit the pro's shop,  situated 30 degrees right of the tee. The large and opinionated gallery all fell about laughing, as much at the degree of difficulty faced by Ross's next shot as at my own incompetence.
 We never quite recovered and lost 3 and 2, even though my game was a bit better thereafter. If I say 'better' it is because it could not have been any worse than at the outset, so it is a relative statement.
 Give me a high ball at Pontypool Park any day.
 The second new experience was rather different. One of the blokes I know at Finchampstead, Robin Brown, who also referees rugby matches here, is co-owner of a horse. The other half of the horse is also owned by a Finchampstead member, so they have called the horse Finch Flyer. So far it has run 6-7 times and not really lived up to its name, although it did run a vaguely promising third, in very soft ground, last time out.
 I played a veterans cricket match with Robin yesterday ( 10 poor runs, a few rather feeble overs, one catch and a direct hit run out ) who let on that the horse was running today. Not having anything else planned, when he asked me if I was available to travel to Brighton to watch it, I was only too happy to accept.
 Brighton probably hosts some of the most ordinary racing in Britain and has a clientele and number of spectators commensurate with that ranking. There is, even so, a bucolic charm about its location and its obvious attempts ( largely unsuccessful ) to attract a better quality of horse and punter.
 Finch Flyer carries rather more than just the hopes and aspirations of the owners. Finchampstead CC, several acquaintances and a few of the Wellington College Common Room are all aware of the the fact that Robin likes to take on the bookies if his horse has a chance. It is probably just as well the animal is unaware of this. 'The Flyer', as he is known to the connections, is trained by Gary Moore, an ex-jockey of weaselly countenance, given to laconic/monosyllabic/unprintable observations. The Flyer likes the ground to be soft, or, as the aficionados say, for there to be 'a bit of cut'. The official going was changed from 'Good' to 'Good to Firm' before the first race, so confidence was not high prior to the off.
 Things looked up a little after meeting with the trainer and jockey in the parade ring ( a location I enjoyed on account of how easy it is to look down on everyone else ) before the race. The trainer said something unprintable/laconic/monosyllabic about the opposition. The stable lad said that The Flyer was much more relaxed than he was on his previous appearance, having led him round. The jockey, Harry Bentley, aged 18 but looking about 12, had ridden him twice before and reckoned he knew the right tactics. He was just a bit concerned about the going. '**** the going', said Gary. using his first two syllable word in the process.
 Robin bet substantially, not 'lumping on' because of uncertainties about the going. Malcolm, the co-owner, 'had a bit on'. I had £10 at 5-2, which is a massive punt for me.
 The Flyer pissed it, taking the lead a furlong and a half out and drawing steadily clear to win by three lengths.
 So there I was, on my first ever trip to Brighton, in the winners enclosure, patting the horse, probably appearing on screens in betting shops around the country as though I owned the world. And £25 better off. To be given to the church building fund, of course.
 Two new experiences. A low and a high. And something about impostors.
 But I'll have a celebratory couple tonight