Exeter

It took me until 17:46 by the station clock to finally laugh about it. And when I did, it was big, cackling, guffawing laughs that made the people next to me on the platform edge away slowly.

But let me rewind a little, I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The previous evening was simply superb. Entirely by chance, as is the best way with these things, a friend had asked where I was on that day and when I mentioned I was overnighting in Exeter he told me his nephew was playing in the Battle Of The Bands Final at a club on Queen Street.

I tell you this without one hint of nepotism or bias. Bloom really are the next big thing. To compare them to Radiohead would be unfair on them, not Radiohead (interestingly, also a product of Exeter University). Their music is a joyous, bleeding mixture of old and new, radical and melodic, and it shone brilliantly in the dark arena of the Cavern on a pissed-student-sprinkled Monday night.

I was there primarily to see Ben – drummer, 2nd year Economics student and eldest nephew of Clive, with whom I share a long and inglorious history over the poker tables of the world, and lots else besides. Suffice to say that I was probably the only person in the gig who was not asked for ID on entrance. Ben found me in the gloom. He seemed relaxed before his big moment.

When they went on they quite literally stole the show. By that I don’t mean that they created a distraction and made off with the furniture, but they were simply mesmerising. They have recorded a studio session which is out next week and you must download it. After their set I bought them a drink before I became achingly aware that I was twice the age of anyone in the place, including the staff, and made my excuses.

Bloom on the way to winning the Battle Of The Bands final

Bloom on the way to winning the Battle Of The Bands final

The next morning I had a few spare hours for a stroll down amnesia lane. I cannot begin to tell you of the amazing three years that I enjoyed in this fine city and university. If I tried, the words would seem empty compared to the glorious technicolour moments of 20-odd years ago. It has to remain a knowing glance and satisfied smile that is shared only between the people who were there.

The place has changed a bit though. When I wandered through a new building at the heart of the campus that would not seem out of place in a five star hotel, I found purposeful young things engaged in calm meditation at laptop screens. This is also markedly different to my day, as I remember it.

For the second time that visit I felt slightly out of place, so was fortunate to stumble upon an impromptu beer festival at the enormous Wetherspoons that we used to know as the Imperial Hotel. Wetherspoons comes in for a bit of stick sometimes, but it does good beer at great prices and I could have stayed there all afternoon. But I have a greater purpose to follow, sort of, so onwards and downwards.

When I got to the course, I found more space to luxuriate in. Like Taunton, Exeter carries a relaxed vibe that immediately puts you at ease. I sat at an empty big round table but was soon joined by Trevor and Mal, two localish retired guys who had the banter down to a tee so that it was neither forced nor aggressive between them, just endearingly funny. The scene where Mal had collected Trevor’s winnings couldn’t have been scripted any better.

I looked through the Racing Post and, to my astonishment saw that Black Narcissus was running in the last. Just three days on from her shameful outing at Uttoxeter, she had the temerity to turn out again. All afternoon I had conflicting thoughts whirring around. Why so soon after her truculent display? Why at all, with her dreadful form this season? Should I back her for old times sake? What about the shrewd but not-so-shrewd money in Uttoxeter that had made her odds halve?

I had a winner in the first race, a horse called Quebec who had improved dramatically from his first run after being gelded. I decided not to follow suit. Even if losing my knackers improves my hurdling, I’m quite attached to them. As I suppose Quebec was at one point.

After my initial success, the card progressed in slightly frustrating fashion. I was agonisingly close to backing easy winner Jay Are, but for some reason got put off by some frothing at the mouth in the paddock. By the horse that is, not the jockey. Or myself. It won pulling the proverbial cart.

And so to the last. Time to let the head rule the heart. Don’t let the Guinness of St Patrick’s Day get in the way of making a rational decision, Neil. The favourite has a good chance, the 25/1 shot and fickle mistress Black Narcissus doesn’t.

I don’t think I need to tell you the outcome.

I sat in stunned silence in the taxi as the driver tried unsuccessfully to make conversation on the way back to the station. I shall back her next time. And then she’ll refuse to race again.