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

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