Anniversaries are significant. They can be joyous celebrations of happiness, or mournful reminders of things lost. They can be occasions for reflection on events past, and opportunities for planning with renewed vigour. A year ago I finished my racecourse tour. I successfully completed my long-held ambition of watching racing at all of Britain’s courses in eighty days. What, if anything, is different between then and now? I look around for answers to grasp at, searching for something tangible to symbolise that evolution.
I now have eight boxes of books in my lounge. They weren’t there last summer. And not just any old book, either – this is my own book that I conceived, researched, toured, travelled, lived, wrote and published. Most people haven’t done that. In fact, there were twice as many boxes before Christmas, and their slow-motion disappearance has charted a rather sluggish time-lapse movement towards financial credibility for my ridiculous charade.
Some books were given away – as presents to people who may rather have received a pair of socks, and as a way of saying thank you to people who really deserve more than just a book for their unstinting support over that strange period of my life. Many have been sold, to real people who I have never met. Nobody has asked for their money back, yet, which is very kind, and some have even been deluded enough to write to me to say they have enjoyed it. My local Post Office now knows me as the guy who sells that weird book that he wrote. Around The Races In Eighty Days has been sold on my website, Amazon, The Racing Post, and at charity events and racecourses around the nation. It can now be found scattered from Newton Abbot to Norwich, and from Galway to the Isle of Wight.
The British Library houses a copy of my first edition. I’ve corresponded with racing journalist and previous hero Alastair Down (I sent him a nice letter with a copy of my book, and he sent them back without comment, the git – if you can have a one-sided conversation then I think that counts as one-sided correspondence) and have an ongoing dispute with the Racing Post concerning an unpaid invoice from February. My contacts list on my phone has new names like Richard Farquhar, Nicky Henderson and the Racehorse Sanctuary.
So there is concrete evidence that my ludicrous dream eventually transitioned into a harsh, wonderful, imperfect reality. But is that all? What is under the surface of the glossy book jacket? Over the months I’ve come to realise that those pages contain more than just a chronicle of my mid-life crisis. The book is a milestone, capturing a moment in my life like a page from a photo album, and it will outlast me – a permanent epitaph of an eccentric chap gently falling apart.
A couple of months ago I asked Richard, just days before he finished his own adventure of Walking The Courses, whether he had changed. He gave the most beautiful response, alluding to a fire that was going out being reinvigorated, and it is a question that I now ask myself with the retrospective prompt of an anniversary for guidance.
I used to think that people don’t change. Who I am now is just a fatter and wrinklier version of who I always was. Underneath the weathered exterior, we are essentially the same soul that we were as children, perhaps just with the rough edges rounded, and a penchant for standing in rooms not knowing why we’d gone in there. But now I think it is possible for grown-ups (and I use that term loosely in my case) to change – it just needs something big to be the catalyst for that change. Something really big, not just a three month escapade around the racecourses of Britain.
The truth is that I have indeed changed over the last 12 months, and for reasons far beyond my absurd project. Those reasons are significant, heartfelt and a whole lot more private than the extraordinarily pompous exercise of publishing a book. So the first anniversary of finishing my quest is no more relevant than a birthday. It is merely a snapshot in a continuum, but it does at least represent an opportunity to acknowledge what has gone before, and to raise a glass to the most glorious of frivolities.