Keeping on at one pace

December 4th, 2019 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

There is no doubt that things have been a little too hectic of late. More London trips than usual, meetings with friends who have their share of problems, a ray of hope on the Southampton FC front, an HWPA lunch where the main award went, quite rightly, to Lee Mottershead and a step into the past via a very successful session at the roulette table.

It is the function of columns to inform and entertain. This humble offering will almost certainly fall short in the latter respect but I can tell you that the place to go for lunch before a match at the Emirates is La Petite Auberge, 283-284 Upper Street in Islington. The is a very friendly French place with Edith Piaf and Charles Trenet in the background and a relaxed ambience.

It was recommended by my dear friend Pat McElroy, who may not be long for this world and has politely declined a second course of chemotherapy. He is in his early seventies and talks quietly and openly about the situation. “I’ve had a good life and there are no complaints,” he says. He can manage a starter but that’s it; he has already insisted that I take his season ticket to sit with his son (they sold out almost immediately at the Southampton end and I missed out) while he watches Altior against Cyrname before wending his way home. During my darker days Pat sorted out a remortgaging for me in about 48 hours flat. Things like that stay with you.

It’s a few years since I saw the Saints open up anybody the way they opened up Arsenal, yet still we conceded a late equaliser. Their defence was so poor that Unai Emery was bound to go, which he did a few days later. We went on to beat Watford, prompting another sacking  –  Watford are quite ridiculous in that respect  –  but the overall standard was very ordinary and I still feel staying in the Premier League is a shade of odds against.

The other Thursday I had lunch with a few old friends from the wine trade days. Newport and Callaghan had the Hop Picker on Hackney Road for a while after that but it was very quiet and may have had a bit of a past. They stayed for a short time but moved on and so did the pub, which is now a discreet gentlemen’s club. I think we all know what that means and I notice there’s another one opposite La Regata Spanish restaurant in Southampton. I wonder how much you’d have to win to feel comfortable about the  bill  –  not that I’m tempted at 71 anyway. Roulette still tempts me two or three times a year, though, and when the five of us split up at around 6pm (it was a long lunch) I had that moment on the tube which invariably reminds me of Edward Fox in The Day of the Jackal, when he stops the car opposite a sign which says Paris one way and Spain, or somewhere safe anyway, the other and he really thinks about it, like the total professional he is, and finally decides that it’s Paris and the De Gaulle assassination, even though one or two things have started working against him. Obviously I can see the 7.30 from Paddington to Bristol or the Victoria Casino isn’t quite like that but it’s hellish crowded on that train and I was thinking about a small game and a half of something with maybe a J & B chaser.

J & B whisky used to win the Queen’s Award for Exports, or something like that, because the Americans prefer a lighter scotch, in colour that is, like J & B or Cutty Sark. Justerini was an impoverished Italian count who fell in love with a touring English opera singer and followed her back to this country, though apparently with little success. He had some old recipes, though, and passed them on to Alfred Brooks, who used them to considerable advantage. Then the trail goes cold but J & B diversified into fine wines and you probably know the shop in St James’s Street, close to Piccadilly.

I often receive a financial boost just before Christmas. It used to involve Bill and Emma O’Gorman winning with something on a freezing morning or early afternoon on the AW at Lingfield and I miss those days. But Edgware Road after dark has come good on occasion and, whilst I have not the slightest doubt that everything about roulette is random, a sequence  –  sometimes involving ‘the neighbours’, for example 32, 15 and zero  –  can be very lucrative. Anyway, the Christmas presents are paid for, the whole adventure took only an hour or so and the later train was much more comfortable. The trick lies in not fooling yourself that you can repeat the dose whenever you want; I shall not see another sequence like that for many a long day and have no wish to play again in the near future.

The HWPA lunch was agreeable, with Cornelius Lysaght acting as presenter. Apparently he is leaving Five Live  –  there was a sympathetic round of applause  –  and, whilst I have no idea how this came about, during my time at BBC Radio racing had to fight hard for every minute of air time. If people with an interest in the sport move on, or have other duties to perform, the powers that be will say that the commentator, in this case John Hunt, can manage the occasional interview as well and you can afford to lose an expert. When I was there, Darke, Inverdale, Stelling and Robertson were all interested in racing, while later on Mark Pougatch knew the time of day as well.

Lysaght can think on his feet, which was just as well this year because the awards clearly needed more rehearsal time. Also, whoever thought it a good idea to have ex-footballer Dean Saunders announcing the nominees in one of the categories should go and sit in a darkened room and consider his or her future. I’m not going into this in detail but a major racing function, with a mixed lunchtime audience of several hundred, is hardly the time to recall what happened on the day you were sent to jail. Even without liberal use of the f-word this would have been inadvisable but employing it at frequent intervals made the experience unbearable.

On we go. I make few if any concessions to age and there seem to be more Christmas get-togethers and longer trips this time around. I have been staying on steadily at one pace for quite some time and there is nothing quite like an HWPA lunch to underline the fact that there are younger and fitter rivals in the field.