I had forgotten, when I triumphantly proclaimed after Wincanton that the big driving was over, that I was actually hiring a car for the Scottish Swing. So this morning I have what turns out to be three and a half hours to get properly acquainted with my Vauxhall Tiny, which I have renamed because Miniscule sounded a bit too like Mini, which this certainly isn’t.
My trusty satnav (yes, I can’t believe I’ve just said that either) guides me smoothly down the A1 past some glorious views of the North Sea, but I’m lacking cruise control and Tiny’s accelerator pedal seems to vibrate violently above 50mph. Then at Catterick they have closed the slip road and the detour means that I have missed the first race. My Placepot plans shall have to wait another day.
Somebody had told me not to expect much of the racecourse, but what an unexpected treat! It starts with easy parking just across the road and friendly staff at the gate who initially retain my ticket but then immediately return it when I explain what I’m doing: “Fair play to you!”
You enter next to the pretty paddock where there’s a relaxed cafe and ragtime band strumming away. The paddock bar serves a decent pint of Theakstons in, wait for it, a proper pint glass – the first of my entire journey! The facilities are compact and it’s busy but you can still get a bet on easily and find a spot to watch the racing. The racecourse commentator warns the crowd to keep up their fluids on this sunny Saturday, which some of the lads seem to be taking a bit too literally, but it’s still a decent enough atmosphere.
The odds at these smaller tracks quite often seem….at odds….with the tipsters and betting forecast in the paper. I spot a fine looking animal called Arcamante parading before the fourth race, but he is friendless in the tipsters table, most of whom go for strong favourite Underwritten. However in the Catterick ring they are “flip-flopping” to use McCririck-speak. I manage to get 3/1 on Arcamante before he is backed into 2/1 favouritism and wins well.
I head to my hotel in Richmond just a few miles away. I’ve heard good things about this pretty Yorkshire village and expect to pull up in a genteel square, but am instead presented with a funfair blaring out at 5 in the afternoon just yards from my abode. Unsurprisingly, I was not alerted to this at the time of booking. I ask at reception for a room away from the noise and the cheery manager says “don’t worry, you’re down the side”, by which she means only marginally away from the noise, and steaming hot in the full glare of the sun.
I don’t want this blog to turn into a hotel review, but what’s the point of having your own website if you can’t have a rant, so here goes. The Best Western Kings Head is one of the worst hotels I’ve ever stayed in. In addition to the sweltering conditions akin to the black hole of Calcutta, there are wrinkled carpets and stains on the wall and ceiling. The kettle doesn’t work and even if it did the cups are too dirty to drink out of.
Most intriguing, though, is a small hole in the wall just by the bed. I wonder whether this is where the previous victim unfortunate enough to be incarcerated in Room 23 tried to tunnel-out a Shawshank-esque escape route? I ask at reception if there is an alternative room, but the shoddily-dressed chap peers at the computer before admitting the only other rooms are at the front, offering free fairground music piped direct into your brain until the early hours. Looks like I’m staying in the sauna then.
I FaceTime The Wife for the closing bits of Eurovision. We always watch it together and get pads of paper to write down our scores, but not tonight – another facet of family life fallen by the wayside in the wake of this ludicrous tour. Is it just me, or does the quality of the song have absolutely no bearing on the votes awarded? Graham does a good job but I still miss Terry. The spectacular in Vienna draws to a close at the same time as the Richmond funfair quietens down, and eventually I drift off into a hot and airless sleep.