Thursday, August 31, 2006

Column, August 29, 2006

I'LL tell you one thing I absolutely hate.
And when I say hate, I mean despise with all my heart.
It's the one thing that causes an involuntary shudder of loathing whenever I hear it mentioned.
Horse racing.
I cannot stand it, and I hate everything associated with it.
What has brought on this strop with the world of the turf you might well ask. Well, sitting, no, being trapped, in the quiet coach of a train this week only to be joined by what might charitably be described a ‘punters in high spirits’, or more accurately a boozed-up horde.
The quiet coach, mind, quiet. Not the coach where you conduct your mobile phone calls at full volume while laughing raucously with your mates and drinking even more than you’ve obviously already imbibed.
Perhaps this hatred dates back to dull Saturday afternoons when BBC2 was showing the test card and so it was a choice between Mick McManus giving Mark 'Rollerball' Rocco a richly-deserved half-nelson, or racing from Kempton, Lingfield, Catterick or some other Godforsaken outpost of the racing empire on the other side, ad nauseam.
Or perhaps having worked in Chester I've seen how it brings out in those who are unwise enough to attend it, the worst traits in their personality, and then magnifies them.
Whatever it is, if some equine version of foot and mouth were to clear our racecourses forever more, I would drink to that happy, happy day in almost the same measure as those who imbibe with such gusto on what they annoyingly refer to as 'a day at the gee gees.'
Where to start, where to start.
First there are the men, some of whom are clearly not used to wearing a suit and who last pressed it into service around the time of their wedding, or court appearance, and who by the end of the day are much the worse for drink and have that hunted air of someone who has spent a lot on booze and even more on unsuccessful bets and who is now going to have to explain his demeanour and his bank balance to a disapproving spouse.
This state does not stop him from drinking even more as he makes his way home, thus rendering him belligerent, as well as broke. Not a happy combination at all.
Then there are the women. I would venture to use a cliché as cruel as mutton dressed as lamb, were it not for the injustice this does mutton.
They may have started the day looking sophisticated in their gauze creations topped by a feathered hat, but by the last race what elegance they had managed to muster has disappeared in an inebriated battle to stay aloft on heels that are probably a good two inches too high for them.
Put the two groups together and you have a rough approximation of what it must have been like to have Genghis Khan and his Mongol horde descending upon you, accompanied by the cackling camp followers.
And yet I'm sure that on any other day these people are quite respectable pillars of the community. They obviously have disposable income, because they are disposing of it with gay abandon, mostly on the basis of the fact they like the horse's name (more of those stupid names later).
These are the very people who, were a group of behooded teenagers to appear on their street corners, would be the first to summon the police to have the lot of them ASBOed lest the value of their houses be sullied by the presence of lumpen youth.
But if it's a choice between the behaviour of a hoodie, albeit sullen, and a boozed-up, boorish, racegoer, give me the Goth who wouldn't be seen dead, or should that be undead, with a copy of the Racing Post in his hand, any day of the week.
And then there are those silly little cardboard badges they give you for the races. Not a ticket, oh no, that's the sort of thing reserved for football matches.
No, if you're going to the races it has to be a badge and there are also gradations of badge available, according to which bits of the course you're allowed into, and if you've splashed out for an expensive badge then it will be big and gaudy and by God you're going to show it off by wearing it prominently displayed on your paunch. It's a sort of caste system of vulgarity, with those who aren't the pariahs in the cheap enclosure advertising the fact as openly as they can.
Of course, there is always one in any group going to the races who pretends to know more about the whole business than anyone else. He will arrive armed with a few tips, which he will divulge to a favoured few, who will then bet more than they should while describing it as a ‘little flutter.’
Then there are the bookies.
Occasionally you are invited to sympathise with these vultures when some 100-1 shot romps home (shot, romps home, give me strength, I've become infected with the language these people use as well – try 'wins')
“It's been a bad day for the bookies,” some chump newsreader will intone when informing us of the unlikely victory.
Oh really? Bad day eh?
Any of them gone out of business then?
Any of them unable to put food on the table as a result of charitable odds they gave their loyal punters even though they knew it would cost them dear?
Any of them not going to be back at the next race meeting because bookmaking, it's a mug's game that they only did for love, now they're going off to be a potter?
Licensed pirates the lot of them, only pirates had the decency to fly the skull and cross bones to warn victims of their intent.
And as for those who actually own horses, well, I might be a little more convinced of their love of the beasts were they not so quick to administer the coup de grace when a horse suffers an injury which would not end its life, but does curtail its earning potential.
And the names they give them are only excused by the fact that horses are so stupid they have no real concept of what their name is so it doesn't matter what you call them anyway. Unless you've got a carrot in your hand, or a sugarlump, the only thing that stirs what little grey matter a horse possesses is a horse of the opposite sex.
Given a choice a horse would amble about a field and eat grass all day long. When coaxed, with a whip, they will run moderately fast for short distances, but not as fast as anything equipped with an internal combustion engine.
If they were invented now how would you convince an incredulous public to take them seriously? Horses – not as fast as a 50cc scooter and more expensive to run. I can't see them troubling the execs at Honda anytime soon, can you?
Naturally there will be those out there who say that I do not understand the 'sport of kings' and they are quite right, and nor do I want to.
Sport of Kings? It is the class system writ large and reeks of snobbery. From the exile of those who cannot afford to bet yet still do to the cheap seats, to the fawning over the so-called gentry by those who have managed to get themselves into an enclosure above their station.
And Royal Ascot. About as regal as a night out on Blackpool prom with ridiculous women in ridiculous hats posing for press photographers who, year-in, year-out, will turn out the same pictures of the same 'fillies' in the same daft hats, and worse, men trying to look like they belong in a top hat..
There, got that off my chest. Next week….Showjumping.


Anonymous said...

Hi there !

Very happy to visit your blog !

Greetings from Brussels.


mancmate said...

Banksy I agree with everything you've ranted about - did you draw breath as you typed.....but please no derogatory comments about the great sport that brought us Kendo Nagasaki, Honey Boy Zimba and the the blonde,preening Adrian Street ("Not the hair, not the hair !!!")