HALFWAY TO PARADISE – BUT LET’S SLOW DOWN A BIT
January 10th, 2023 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News
For quite a long time it was Italian restaurants but now the list has moved on to people, which it was bound to in the end.
Mama Rosa and La Paesana were opposite each other in Notting Hill Gate, the proverbial stone’s throw from the Arlecchino, which mercifully survives. But the Venice on Great Titchfield Street went many years ago, though not before hosting the farewell get-together as the Sporting Life finally went under after 139 years.
It was Musidora day at York and the big race was won by Frankie Dettori on Bahr for Saeed Bin Suroor. It’s hard to believe it all happened very nearly 25 years ago.
I added the Venice to the list with great reluctance because it was one of my favourite places. Marcel Proust maintained we think of certain places with great warmth because we remember what we were saying or doing at the time. This is not only true, it also explains why they often fail to live up to our expectations when we go back several years later. ‘Saudades’ is a Portuguese word meaning the gentle longing for something which was but is no longer. It can lead to some harmless mickey-taking, of course. ‘Oh, the Atlantic Ocean was really something in those days,’ as Burt Lancaster suggests in the film Atlantic City.
I sat outside the Venice in 1994 before going over to the Crown and Sceptre (the ‘hat and stick’ of fond memory), where one of the first giant screens showing sport had been erected. ‘The hat’ had its 15 minutes of Any Warhol-prescribed fame when the journalist John McCarthy, on his way to the airport in Beirut, was intercepted by Islamic Jihadi terrorists and imprisoned for five years. Shortly before, McCarthy had contacted his friends to say he was on his way home and to have a pint ready for him on the bar at the Crown and Sceptre.
Erhaab won the big race, with Willie Carson screaming for room from the top of Tattenham Hill onwards and somehow negotiating a miraculous passage through the field.
As I’ve grown older, the people and places surrounding race meetings have become at least as important as the event itself. For example, when I first started reporting on football matches, they played Julie Covington’s wonderfully atmospheric version of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina at Stamford Bridge before the Chelsea players stepped on to the pitch.
And if you ask me about York, well, it’s best to be honest and say the 90/1 on the exchanges about a Linda Peratt 33/1 winner would take some beating but there was also the day when, with a brass band in attendance, Alastair Down and I tried to remember all the words to the Floral Dance, made popular again by Terry Wogan. ‘Fiddle, cello, big bass drum’ presented no problem but then I wanted to continue with ‘Flute…’ etc but it’s actually ‘Bassoon, flute and euphonium’. Well, of course it is. We made the press room laugh and you wouldn’t take a short price about that. Alastair was happy in those days and the best racing stylist of his generation. I don’t really know much about it but a black cloud came down and I suppose there isn’t much any of us can do about that.
I miss places, I really do. Put on an old Foyle’s War and I miss Folkestone but the horses are never far away. The racecourse was still going strong when Crazy Horse, oh my Crazy Horse, won a selling handicap for Richmond Sturdy and Geoff Lewis. An eighteen-month wait and more coconuts than you’d see at a seaside fair before the war but Geoff in his black gloves, kicking on steadily from half-way and winning easily, solving a few problems in the process and guaranteeing H Backhouse a permanent place in this loyal punter’s affections.
I miss the Fairfax Arms at Gilling East, as well. That’s where we used to meet Ron and Judy Hinds for the Dante Meeting. The bitter is Black Sheep, which quite a few people from schooldays onwards would say suited me down to the ground. I can take it but missing Judy and Ron, who made it to his nineties but died recently, is a persistent ache.
He was a self-made man, a scouser and a true Evertonian. I think he knew everybody in Liverpool. If I mentioned Billy Fury, who was one of my favourite pop stars in the sixties, he’d just smile and murmur ‘Ah, Ronnie’ because he knew Billy was born Ronnie Wycherley and that he’d made a fine career for himself despite a weak heart which troubled him from birth and took him way too early.
I’ve lost quite a few people over the past two or three years and they weren’t all as old as Ron. The worst ones are when you didn’t even know the person was ill. Mike Barnes read the blog and was often in touch, sometimes when Southampton had played or were about to play Crystal Palace. It all went back to 1976, when Malcolm Allison and his fedora marched around the pitch before an FA Cup semi-final, holding up fingers to indicate a two-nil win. It was pure Malcolm and I was able to console Mike by reminding him that at least the great man had got the score right, it was just unfortunate that Southampton had won.
He took it very well. He was an extremely well-read and well-informed man, easily the most erudite to contact me since I started scribbling. He found half a dozen things in The Long Road From Portman Square which needed some tinkering but mentioned them in the most gentlemanly way and when I said I was thinking of a book about racing snippets in classical works (Ulysses is a good example) he said how pleased he’d be to read it through.
I didn’t know he was ill until his son contacted me with the sad news. I was writing one of these pieces at the time and Southampton have just beaten Palace again. Sorry Mike, and I never did get to ask you why your email went under the name of dickthebutcher.
‘Live each day as if ’twere thy last’ suddenly seems very sound advice. I think I’ll go to one of my favourite remaining Italian places and wait for the Floral Dance to come on. That should stretch things out a bit.