Anglesey revisited – we hope

April 2nd, 2020 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

In certain situations, gamblers tend to view things according to the odds. Or, more correctly, they settle for an outcome which would be acceptable if hardly attractive. The roulette player, starting with a hundred pounds and working it up to, let’s say, eight hundred before rashly continuing, will reach a point where, having seen everything crumble back to a hundred and beyond, considers £400 a fair night’s work. He would stop instantly if getting there but seldom makes it and it’s only on the way home that he remembers how handy four hundred pounds can be. Or even the hundred he doubled in about ninety seconds flat moments after approaching the table.

In the current situation (and always bearing in mind that sport is indeed a triviality when set alongside the dreadful loss of life around the world), what would be an ‘acceptable’ date for things to start up again? I thought about it and looked at the remaining football fixtures and the racing calendar. I settled for the last weekend in May and the three-day Goodwood meeting, with a couple of nights in Southampton, the folk and blues in the Platform pub, La Regata Spanish restaurant on Friday night and seeing some familiar faces in the Anglesey Arms at Halnaker before racing on Thursday. 

Then news came through that the tenants, Jools Jackson and her son George, had given up the unequal financial struggle and the pub was closed. Maybe there will be new faces in a couple of months’ time but I thought that about the Windsor Castle on Crawford Place just off the Edgware Road a while back. Rounding the corner with hope in my heart I was confronted by a mini bombsite but one clearly set aside for three or four bijou apartments. The Windsor Castle, where Wendy Richard would enjoy a tipple in her Eastenders days and, long before that, Denis Compton would sip a pink gin at lunchtime and dispense wisdom at the bar. Given that the Windsor was every bit as royalist as it sounds and was popular with American tourists, there are no prizes for guessing the overall drift of any political conversations but I could live with that. Anyway, it’s gone now.

I found the news about the Anglesey hard enough to bear but then we learned that Manolo Gabbiadini, who scored the goal at Swansea to keep Southampton in the Premier League two years ago but is now with Sampdoria, had tested positive    the second player in Serie A to do so. A very fit 28-year-old, he should be all right and everyone remotely connected with St Mary’s will hope so. He never had a fair crack of the whip with us, lacking support up front, and looked increasingly disenchanted as time wore on. He was a pretty fair example of a talented player finding the demands of a relentless and unforgiving league just a shade too much but we liked him.

I’ve started thinking about Goodwood as a must, which is probably rather foolish. In the meantime I’ve been reading as much as possible and every now and then things turn up which might have appeared in a newspaper column a while back. If you know your Evelyn Waugh, you will know that Brideshead Revisited is modeled on Madresfield Court, a stately home in the Malvern Hills. The Lygon family (the Flytes in the book) have lived there for some 900 years. Waugh    Charles Ryder in Brideshead    fell in love with the building and indeed the family, most especially Hugh Lygon, with whom he’d already had an intense relationship at Oxford. 

Hugh    or Sebastian Flyte as played by Anthony Andrews in the film    was very attractive to both sexes but a hopeless alcoholic. He lost his strikingly good looks early and followed his father and head of the family, Lord Beachamp, into exile when the latter’s increasingly reckless homosexual relationships were made public by his vicious brother-in-law Lord Westminster. 

Maybe nothing would have saved Hugh, who ended his days as a raddled recluse abroad, but racing was in the process of giving it a try in 1931, when he was assistant trainer to Edgar Wallace on Salisbury Plain and sent out his first winner, Evaporate. He had a pleasant little cottage at Tilshead and the sun shone briefly but 1931 was also the year that his father was forced into exile and that was the end of it. The story is recounted in the excellent book Mad World by Paula Byrne.  

Some turf connections are well known    the future King Edward VII taking Lillie Langtry racing at Stockbridge being a good example    but others pass beneath the radar, as they say these days. Charles Dickens loved rail travel and took fellow author Wilkie Collins with him on a trip to Doncaster in 1857, where he was intent upon seeing the St Leger. We know from Peter Fiennes’ engaging and informative book Footnotes that the great author enjoyed a winning week and that he preferred watching ‘from the turn behind the brow of the hill’. Given that all the talk was of champion jockey John Scott    ‘a mysterious figure’, according to Fiennes    he almost certainly backed the winner Imperieuse before resuming his courtship of the much younger actress Ellen (Nelly) Ternan, with whom he was quite besotted. Dickens, out of love with his wife Catherine and with ten children to support, not to mention all the promotional tasks linked to his prodigious output, must have had truly extraordinary stamina.

I’d have written about this somewhere or other but the fact is that I have very little faith in people’s reading habits these days. The last time I went to London I was on a tube with twelve people in my compartment and ten of them were staring at their mobile phone as if the secret of how life began was next up on screen.

Still, you have to try. I was thinking about Steve McQueen, The Great Escape one, not today’s celebrated artist and director, and trying to recall the exact line in the rodeo picture Junior Bonner, when Steve’s businessman brother Curley, exasperated beyond measure, points out: ‘I’m working on my first million, you’re still working on eight seconds’    this being the time Junior (McQueen), a veteran by now, needs to stay on the feared Brahma bull when they set it loose.

I thought it might be a good opening for a book, because the parallels with gambling are fairly obvious. In the end, those people you know who have a passing interest in the game but have given their lives to something else will have quite a bit more stashed away than you. (By ‘you’ I mean ‘me’, of course, it’s just a way of getting my point across.)

But you couldn’t really change and you met a lot of interesting people, sometimes in the dead of night and sometimes in places not entirely safe. You always had a pretty good memory and you got your bits and pieces out of it in the end. You were never going to force a draw but the deficit wasn’t too frightening. Anyway, as Junior says: ‘Rodeo time. I gotta get it on down the road.’

I was thinking of getting to the Anglesey early on the Thursday in late May and developing this theme a bit more. It’s taking shape. We live in hope.