177. Call me morbid, call me pale

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While Britvic spread its juiceless pallor of misery over me from April to July 1985, a British band named the Smiths were, aptly, peaking.

I was looking for a job, and I found a job – heaven knows I’m miserable now

The singer, Stephen Morrissey, had the most melancholy voice I had ever heard. He was “sorrow’s native son”, in his own words. Maudlin, gloomy, but with acerbic, camp wit and poetic irony bursting through like a bright spring tulip.

And when the wardrobe towers like a beast of prey 
There’s sadness in your beautiful eyes 

The guitarist Johnny Marr played his post-punk riffs in an unusual arpeggio style, mixing strummed chords and running scales. I know this only because my friend Jono told me.

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The music was almost always the background to the voice. You couldn’t look away from Morrissey. Sometimes he had a tree branch poking from his arse, on Top of the Pops. He made defeat sound almost alluring.

Cause I want the one I can’t have 
And it’s driving me mad
It’s all over, all over, all over my face

A voice that was both lugubrious and self-parodying, but also rich and gorgeous.

 Punctured bicycle 
On a hillside desolate
Will nature make a man of me yet?

With just the one album in my CD collection – ‘The Queen is Dead’ – I’m no Smiths expert. But I know that I loved them almost at first hearing, as it became clear that these songs mirrored many of my own feelings. The sheer bloody introspective heartache of being alive, as highs inevitably swung back into dark lows. A musical heir to Henry Miller’s literature.

I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour, And heaven knows I’m miserable now

One of Morrissey’s specialities was to make the return to sadness sound so reassuring. In that respect, my favourite is probably ‘There is a Light that Never Goes Out’. An almost perfect song.

Take me out tonight, O take me anywhere, I don’t care, I don’t care

And if a double-decker bus 
Crashes into us
To die by your side
Is such a heavenly way to die
And if a ten-ton truck
Kills the both of us
To die by your side
Well, the pleasure – the privilege is mine

Morrissey’s wit was all over the place. Anyone who can write a song called ‘Shoplifters of the World Unite’ has my favour. A malcontent with a purpose, who wants to castrate Prince Charles in one song.

So I broke into the Palace, With a sponge and a rusty spanner

She said: “Eh, I know you, and you cannot sing”.

I said: “That’s nothing – you should hear me play the piano.”

 

And no shortage of the guts needed to risk the opprobrium of his home town, Manchester, in his song about the Moors Murders, ‘Suffer Little Children’.

But fresh lilaced moorland fields 
Cannot hide the stolid stench of death

God help any carnivores. Morrissey was staunchly vegetarian, to the point where he struggled to be in meat-eating company

Heifer whines could be human cries
Closer comes the screaming knife
This beautiful creature must die

And the flesh you so fancifully fry
Is not succulent, tasty or kind
It’s death for no reason
And death for no reason is murder

After The Smiths’ short five years as a band, Morrissey knocked out some decent solo work. I used to enjoy him taking the piss out of Jonathan Ross now and again. He still makes music, but his political views have turned crustier, as the years pass.

In the end, for me, he was another artist who helped me to legitimise feeling sad, letting the sorrow and depression flow out, and the love, rather than the stiff upper lips advocated by my parents’ generation. We had a teacher at school, Doug Mason, who perennially advised “give it a rub boy” to address any sports field injury. That shit never leaves, is always standing guard outside my heart, trying to prevent the messy emotions escaping.

So I love Morrissey, and let his music play for hours on YouTube today.

 The boy with the thorn in his side
Behind the hatred there lies
A murderous desire for love

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176.Britvic misery

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The Britvic clock was formerly one of two landmarks announcing one’s arrival in Chelmsford, the other being the Army & Navy roundabout. Little more than a couple of weeks after our wedding, it became a too-familiar sight each morning, presaging another day of dreary gloom.

In the job interview, I had said nothing about academic qualifications, spinning a line about working for my dad, being going into betting shop management and then needing a change. One of the few amusing things I recall about Britvic is a dressing down from the interviewer, having told him that I had enjoyed “the crack and the laughs” on the night shift at Thermos. “If you get this job, we won’t want you larking about,” he warned, his face darkening. “This is a business, and you will have responsibilities.”

My critical remit turned out to be standing at various positions on a production line that transmuted dirty, recycled bottles into squeaky clean receptacles for fresh influxes of fruit juice and other drinks.

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Coming out into the fresh air at the end of the first week was pure joy. The 20 minute walk home was dizzyingly happy.

The good company of the lads and lasses at Thermos had made the work bearable. Jokes, stories and more than a few intimacies traded. Drinks outside of work, occasionally. This lot were on a different planet.

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Mick the foreman was a wiry little git who let people know that he was very good at martial arts, and not afraid to use those skills in a fight. His mate Tony was more overtly aggressive, a tall fucker from a big family. Always protected by Mick, he would let out his temper by smashing bottles, and looking around to dare any challenge. Alan was just a miserable bastard. A few set phrases to describe his loathing for the job, the bosses and life in general. Darren had a bit more joy in him. His ambition was to go in Ladbrokes one Saturday afternoon and win every last penny in the shop. Then drink himself into a celebratory stupor. I could resonate with the first part of that, but not the aggression that popped out too regularly.

Was it naïve of me to expect these poor buggers to be warm and welcoming, consigned as they were to a life sentence at the factory? The only bloke I took to was Gene. Always smiling, chatting to everyone in the building. So content in himself. He was the first person I heard say “another day, another dollar”. But his kind nature was unfortunately tucked away, at a machine on an adjacent line. Female company would have been a godsend.

I stuck it for about 11 weeks, by keeping myself to myself, albeit with unlimited conversation for anyone who wanted a thoughtful exchange of words. Then one morning all my alarm signals flashed red. I used to spend my breaks with a cup of tea and that day’s Sporting Life in a quiet little alcove where few others passed. Wish I could remember the words. Mick and Tony were chatting nearby, about me, unaware of my proximity. Was it something about my unsociability? My hair? The gist was that it was time to have some fun, winding me up. A derogatory pigeonhole, or worse, was on its way. I felt the beginnings of some of the panic that used to pour through me at school when the teasing began. These two were bullies. They could fuck right off. I had no intention of walking their gauntlet.

At lunchtime, I walked across to the building with the human resources office. “Sorry to be a real pain, but an emergency has come up. I just phoned my wife and was told that my grandmother has had a serious accident. She is in her 80s, lives alone, and has nobody to look after her. I know it will muck up your rotas here, but I need to go and see her right now. She will need me to help her for at least the next month, and maybe longer. I don’t have any choice but to leave this job immediately. Really sorry, again.”

I made it up, some of it on the spot. And the Britvic administrators were life savers. To help me cope financially, they would tell the DHSS that I had been laid off due to a mini-business slump. I could have punched the air. The mortgage would be paid.

There are unexpected advantages to being sensitive. The walk home on that warm July day was ecstatic. Better, Maureen showed empathy, having listened to me moaning ceaselessly about the job. We would survive and move on.

The Britvic factory closed in March 2014, after 60 years of drinks production. But the iconic clock tower remains, jutting up over a retail park.

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175. Non-stop

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He closed the front door. Walked across to the car, where his three big giant zip-up bags sat bulging in the back.

“So where’s this pub?” He wanted me to see it, for the view.

“Cleeve Hill. Turn right, and I’ll satnav it on the phone. We walked there a couple of weeks ago.”

The hill dominated the horizon, like it always had on the BBC and Channel 4 Racing pictures. “Yeah, we had a pint and a bit of food. Have you heard of a ploughman’s lunch, dad?”

“Yes, it was once just about the only food pubs once served. Bread and cheese, usually a pork pie, pickle, tomato, bit of lettuce, maybe some onion.”

“So my mate ordered it when we were there. I had to stop myself laughing, because he was so enthusiastic. It’s pathetic. Where’s the flavour?”

The pub was coming up on the right. The car moaned at the 1 in 3 slope. But the pub, the Rising Sun, looked great.

“It was a decent day, so we sat outside. Probably too cold today.”

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Inside, loads of tables, tons of natural light flooding in, punters young and old alike spread around its many spaces. Happy conversations humming. Britain’s pubs are its heart. And too many are going out of business.

“What do you fancy? My treat.”

“Cheers dad. Dunno, let’s grab a menu.”

The tables were spaced so that nobody was isolated nor too close to strangers. Window seat for us. Battered haloumi and chips for Rory. Asian-spiced burger for me. Soft drinks. Sunshine breaking through the clouds.

“So I’ve had a bet on the National. Tiger Roll.”

“Good luck with that. What price?”

“7/2.”

“Whoaaaa……that is so short. And 40 runners, always lots of fallers. It really will need luck in running.”

“Yeah but it won it last year. And I watched it win at Cheltenham three weeks ago. It pissed it.”

“What size bet?”

“£5”.

I neither encourage nor discourage. It’s his life, and he seems to be loving it. We do not stop talking. It is hard to remember the growing list of topics that I want to enquire about, as each exchange opens old or fresh neural pathways. His course, his housemates, his mental health, which has encompassed some long, dark periods. Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

The menu claims that you can see five counties from the pub. Probably needs a clear day. I think this is a south-west view.

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Back in the car. Football talk is inevitable.

“I’ve never seen a title race like this one.”

“Who do you think will win it dad?”

“Head says City, led by Roman general Pep Guardiola. Heart doesn’t mind. Guts scream Liverpool. They are winning games so late, and so luckily, that you might think the Gods have begun to intervene.”

His mate Henry supports Liverpool. “He would be unbearable if they pull it off. He doesn’t have any balance in how he sees things. It’s just a fucking sea of red bias.”

“Is he like that outside of football?”

“Yep.”

“Then he may struggle for mates as he gets older. You need to step back, in every walk of life.”

He is beside himself with glee that Arsenal may overtake Spurs in the last few games.

At traffic lights somewhere in Cheltenham town centre, there is a bar across the road.

“You ever been there?”

“Only the once, on a pub crawl.”

“Was that the one where Jed drank 18 pints?”

Rory’s friend Jed Hazel is an amazing lad. Does his own thing, with quiet determination, heedless of surrounding opinion. I met Jed a couple of months back, and mentioned the 18 pints. I told him that my old mates Shaun and Big Dad had once each sunk 20 pints in one day. Legendary exploits from the Geordie and the Mancunian, albeit with a lunchtime start. They were big lads, with lots of capacity. Jed is slight.

“No this was recently. Jed did it. He drank the 20.”

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“Fuck a duck. 20. When was his funeral?”

“Hah. No, he’s still breathing. And he has worked out how to avoid the worst of a hangover. Dioralyte, before bed and first thing next day.”

What a star. 20. Jesus. I reached 18 one evening 41 years ago. I wanted more on Jed.

“What was he like at 20 pints? Could he talk?” Had his vision shut down? Was his nappy full?

“To be fair, it was 20 plus some shots.”

Jeez. This guy. And in just an evening.

“He wasn’t great. As he went to down number 20, he puked on his own arm. The guy collecting glasses confiscated his drink, and told him to get out.”

“Tricky.”

“So I went outside with him. Didn’t really fancy my pint, as it was about number 12, so offered it to Jed, and he nailed it.”

We talk about the difficulty in drinking volumes of gaseous beer. Rory remembers an episode of the Peep Show, where Mark is trying to impress two women in a pub, and orders him and Jeremy a yard of ale each. I tell him about the precedents of ‘two-bloke’ comedy: The Likely Lads and Men Behaving Badly.

On it goes. Non-stop. He is playing his favourite tunes on the phone, from Spotify. Somehow we are already on the Oxford by-pass, without pausing to catch breath. Red kites start to appear, hovering high above the road, presumably seeking opportunities to size the litter of dead and mangled wildlife. I tell him about ‘The Peregrine’ book, and the stoop technique. How field upon field of smaller birds rise as one, in panic. It is the first time I have seen him prick up his ears regarding feathered birds.

This section of the road, down to the M25, is a red kite haven. Delight for one eye, the other on the road.

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Alternate swigs from a water bottle. Michael Jackson is next up for discussion, as he plays a Jackson Five song. “I think he was definitely a paedophile,” says Rory. “But, if you listen to the recent two testimonies, there are anomalies, little details that don’t correspond to the rest of the story.”

I tell him how his mum has been paying attention to this. Maureen and a whole generation of women are struggling with the cognitive dissonance of trying to square great dancefloor memories with what looks like the singer’s protracted and serial child abuse. “Mum had the same thing with Gary Glitter as well. She can’t listen to him now.”

I tell him about Pete Townsend of the Who. Cautioned by police after a foray to a child pornography website, which he claimed was for research. “I’ve been playing Quadrophenia recently. Great album. Great film. You should watch it.”

“Mods and rockers, isn’t it?”

We talk about Nick Cave’s majestic ‘O Children’ (Blog 136). Johnny Cash’s majestic ‘Hurt’, nicked from Nine Inch Nails, whose singer Trent Reznor acknowledged that the song “isn’t mine anymore”. The excellent Billie Eilish, still only 17. Pink Floyd’s majestic ‘Wish you were here.”

I ask whether he prefers going out with his mates in Chelmsford or Cheltenham. (We have already done the conversation about inhabiting towns beginning with ‘Chel’). “Cheltenham for interesting talk, and relaxing evenings. Chelmsford for laughs.”

His housemate Lauren reckons she has seen ghosts in the shower. “She’s a pussy,” he grins. We smile about the time several months ago when he connected from our great Waltham house to his Alexa device in Cheltenham, when Lauren was alone in the house. She went through the roof at some blood-curdling song that started up in a quiet room.

The M25 is being eaten up. Outside lane, steady 85 mph. I chose the M11, and then the cut through the country from Stansted. We haven’t stopped talking. The car hasn’t rested. It’s his first time back in two months. “It’s because I feel better about everything,” he says. “I have learned to stop worrying about minor things.”

Was it your counselling? “It helped. I do feel much better.”

“I’m so glad to hear that matey.”

He talks about the film 2049: Blade Runner. “The visuals are awesome. And the imagination behind the dream of a dystopian future. I loved how the Los Angeles tribes brought down the aircraft at the start.” Film studies is his course. “And the ghost of Elvis in Las Vegas. Mind-blowing.”

“Got any future in mind?”

“Too early. Screenwriter would be good, but is probably tough to get into. I’ve got another four terms to think.”

On it went, non-stop. Not a conversational gap for almost four hours.

Back home, he hugged his mum. An hour later he was watching the big race at Aintree. I came in a few minutes later, and we saw Tiger Roll sitting behind the leaders, jumping well. I watched him as it became obvious the horse would win. Clenching his fist, but restrained. No shouting. Far more poised than the young Kevin.

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Today we’re off to watch Arsenal play Everton in the pub. I’m so pleased we had kids.

174. April the 6th

A new moon enters the sky today, as the tax year ends.

Tomorrow I am driving to Cheltenham, to pick up Rory at the end of his fifth term at Gloucester University. It’s also Grand National day at Aintree, which has disappeared from my landscape.

Above all, it is our 34th wedding anniversary.

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Maureen and I had a bright, mild day for our nuptials, back in April 1985. Old Birmingham mates Fran and Shaun arrived at our flat in good time that morning to make sure my red tie and braces were straight. Sue and Martin turned up in their Ford Capri, and drove us to the registry office, where a limited group of friends and relatives witnessed our ceremony. John Devane and Carol were amongst the first smiling faces on display.

I can remember the moment after the knot was tied, when the kiss sealed the deal. Everything in the room faded to my new wife’s face. The promise and care that sparkled in her eyes. A divine feminine. With lips to die for. For the rest of my life, I could hug and hold this female, and hope for reciprocation. Whatever the registrar was saying sounded about right. My mum was smiling. I felt lucky, proud, and looked after.

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Next stop was Essex Cricket Club. Photographs, then a lunch laid on for the same group. Brother Neil did the best man duty. My speech was little more than a joke about seeing old faces. I was no lover of protocol, and lacked the confidence to ramble on to a crowd.

Here are the never-uttered words, taken back through time from a future of greater nerve, articulacy and perspective.

 

You all heard the vows. I will cherish and love Maureen for the rest of my days. I just will. Nothing can prevent that.

You all saw my eyes. That is how I feel.

I am still pinching myself that she has let me live with her for over two years. That I get to put my arms around her at night, and enjoy her care and comfort.

 I have to be honest and admit my worries. I fret that nobody could ever put up with me, over a lifetime, given my limited ability to follow rules, my often dysfunctional nature, and my tunnel vision. I wonder if that scary package might challenge even my new wife beyond her considerable tolerances and talents.

 From my heart, I don’t think she has to worry about me straying. She stole that heart long ago. And there is so much pleasure to be had at home. If we fall into a rut, I will try to fight the dullness, with suggestions that shock, intrigue and probably annoy her. If she can just be with me through all of my oddity and single-mindedness, my constancy is assured.

 My alcohol consumption will test her more than the chance of unfaithfulness. It has been moderate for some time now, but I do love to charge through the pint of no return, and damn the social consequences. My betting, also, will test her. It is escapist, and potentially perilous, but the cocktail of brain and viscera is something that integrates and provides meaning for me like few other things.

 Another admission: I don’t have a job at the moment. It won’t be long. Even so, I know that there will be days when pennies are in short supply. The way I am will limit my options. Being realistic, I cannot work in groups for any period of time. I am too sensitive, quickly dismissive of hierarchy and easily bored by banter, and so will have to make a living – or career, if things work out – mostly in isolation.

Maybe I can do that, but there will almost certainly be fallow times. And there will be no escape from oppressively black days when I will be at a loss as to the point of everything.

 Here is the thing about marriages though. If they are real, they will take the pressure and ride the bumps. I think ours will.

 I hope we have children. No plans, yet. There is a deep well of unused love in me, waiting for a shining bucket to lower. Always, my DNA stands firm, mission-ready. One of the few things I have any confidence about is my capacity to encourage, praise, listen and let be. Not sure that I will be any good at discipline, but will console myself at their happiness as they run wildly around Chelmsford’s streets unburdened by paternal restraint. The little devils will be bright, able to work out the key boundaries for themselves. If this goes pear-shaped, their mother will step in.  

 If they arrive, I will read to them each night. So that they get to know the beauty and power of words. And as they grow, I will make no bones about the transcendent delights of sex. It will not be talked of as some kind of sin. And the dialogue will not be one-way. Kids know things that adults have forgotten. I promise to listen out for that, if they do arrive.

 Nobody knows the future though. My only resolution as a husband is to tell Maureen as often as possible that I love her. Even on the shittiest days.  

 That’s it. Get some more of that drink down your necks. Hope you all have a cracking day. I intend to.

 

After the formal reception at lunchtime, we went back to our flat for the afternoon, with some of Maureen’s family. Then I suggested to Shaun and Fran that we go for a beer before the evening reception, and we settled down in The Bird in Hand, just down the road from the cricket club, where the evening reception was to be held. It really was meant to be one pint, but other old friends from university turned up. All of a sudden a messenger arrived to say that my wife wanted me at the reception. Yikes. Shite. I had neglected to be there on the door to greet the first few arriving visitors.

I was too happy to feel guilty, as I sprinted down the road. Maureen’s dad, Roy, advised her to be forgiving. We danced to Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’ to open proceedings. One of ‘our’ records.

Then I pranced and tripped from guest to guest, thanking them all for their attendance and beaming out smiles. A few more beers, topping up the day’s high. A slow dance or two with Maureen. Staying on a plateau of utter contentment for hours until the crowd dispersed.

The next day, when everybody had gone home, we enjoyed opening a tall pile of presents. Then we tidied up, went for a drink with Martin and Sue, and prepared for married life.

173. The Divine Feminine

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Yesterday, in the context of precious items, I mentioned the Nag Hammadi library, a collection of ancient Gnostic manuscripts discovered in a jar in Egypt in 1945, and subsequently translated from Greek. This morning, a weekly podcast I tune into had a guy talking about a poem which is possibly two thousand years old, and sits in the Nag Hammadi collection.

Anybody that wants to read the whole of ‘The Thunder, the Perfect Mind’ can do so at the http://gnosis.org/naghamm/thunder.html website. The author and date are unknown. There is an overwhelming simplicity and beauty to the words, which suggest a divine, powerful goddess laying down a challenge to humans to embrace the paradox of existence.

Here are a few sections that I particularly liked.

 

I am shameless; I am ashamed.

I am strength and I am fear.

 

I am she who exists in all fears

and strength in trembling.

 

Do not hate my obedience

and do not love my self-control.

I am peace,

and war has come because of me.

And I am an alien and a citizen.

I am a mute who does not speak,

and great is my multitude of words.

 

Hear me in gentleness, and learn of me in roughness.

For many are the pleasant forms which exist in numerous sins,

and incontinencies,

and disgraceful passions,

and fleeting pleasures,

which (men) embrace until they become sober

and go up to their resting place.

And they will find me there,

and they will live,

and they will not die again.

 

The podcast host mentioned another poem, Autobiography of Eve, this time by young contemporary poet Ansel Elkins. I love every line of this jail breakout.

 

Wearing nothing but snakeskin boots

I blaze a footpath

The first radical road out of that old kingdom

Toward a new unknown

When I came to those great flaming gates of burning gold

I stood alone in terror at the threshold

Between paradise and earth

There I heard a mysterious echo

My own voice

Singing to me from across the forbidden side

I shook awake – at once alive in a blaze of green fire

Let it be known

I did not fall from grace

 

I leapt

To freedom

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172. Daffodils in Romford, dosh at home

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Walking for 15 minutes through Harold Hill’s monotonous rows of housing, my feet hardly touched the ground.

Daffodils in brightest yellow bloom surrounded the bus stop on the A12. A swathe swaying hardily in the spring breeze, the flowers evinced the magic that I felt on that weekday in late February 1985.

Removing the Ladbrokes tie, for the last time, I checked again to make sure that my pocket held no shop keys. That absence of clanging metal made me clench tightly inside. I was gorgeously, blissfully unemployed, of my own free will. It is not often in life that we get to do something that lights up multiple pleasure centres with anticipation, and keeps them lit. My awareness of that felicity doubled the delight. Flowers rarely caught my eye.

I could take no more of the shop manager’s job. With our wedding only little more than 5 weeks away, I had asked Maureen if she trusted me enough to try my hand at turning my betting system into a way to earn regular money. We had taken out a mortgage on the flat in Chelmsford some six months previous, but the answer was still yes. She said yes. Allowed to follow my heart. No wonder I wanted to marry her.

I had a month’s wages in my pocket, to cover the bills through March. I was ecstatic. And free, travelling home now from Romford’s environs for the last time. I wanted to share my joy with all of the strained faces on the bus, who would likely be doing the same thing tomorrow.

What more love could any man want? Maybe Maureen thought it better for me to get the notion out of my system once and for all, as I had increasingly talked of life as a professional punter. You would have to ask her. But I know she also saw my dedication to the idea, to the discipline required, and respected it. She had seen me study for countless hours, betting small, and keeping our money safe for the two years we had lived together. She took a chance on me.

A wider truth is that our marriage has consistently granted each other the freedom to opt out of conventional job situations. This was one epitome, an epiphany.

Four of those five weeks were among the happiest of my life. Doing exactly what I wanted, with a near-religious devotion, the results went as I had hoped and envisaged.

This afternoon I rummaged around in the shed and dug out the red exercise book that captured my punting exploits. It doesn’t look much, I know, but the contents were my heartfelt equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls. My very own Nag Hammadi library.

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The first bet I had was on Friday 1st March. St William won a Newbury handicap chase. You might be able to decipher the scrawl below to see my note that I took a price of 7/2. I don’t have a record of the bet amounts. Maybe £15 win. Great start, simply by sticking with VDW’s criteria of form, class and times on the clock. What a feeling.

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The second bet, on the next day, was Half Free. It came third. No good. I waited a week until 9 March, when Floyd looked nailed on for a Sandown handicap hurdle. The little note in red records that 2/1 was available in the morning.

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Two out of three. So far, so very good. Now the big test was looming. The Cheltenham National Hunt festival, described in Blog 157. Up early on Tuesday 12th March, one day after my birthday, I ran home from the newsagents in my haste to get indoors and translate the Sporting Life form lines into numbers. Precious, delicious numbers, holding the keys to all kingdoms.

Just the one bet stood out: Rose Ravine in the Stayers Hurdle. I took 5/1 on the phone with William Hill. In she went, hanging on after a stewards’ enquiry. I had told Sue’s husband Martin, who also backed the filly. Shared delight on the telephone. On the Wednesday, Badsworth Boy won for me at 11/8. Another selection, Green Bramble, fell. Not much change on the day.

Thursday was the big day, Gold Cup day. There was money in the pot, but more would be needed to maintain this foray into enchantment. Forgive N’ Forget ticked all of the boxes at 7/1. I think I backed it with about £30 each way. Again, Martin came on board, enjoying the crack and mightly amused, I think, at my fanaticism to this cause.

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Not only did Forgive N Forget win, cruising imperiously up the Cheltenham hill to young Kevin’s roars and shouts. West Tip won the next race at 6/1. Another VDW selection. As was Floyd, at 5/2, in the last race of the day. Both backed by smaller stakes that would not blow the Gold Cup earnings. My recollection is coming out of the week about £450-£500 ahead, considerably more money than Ladbrokes paid me in one month. Some was tucked away for wedding expenses, more set aside for paying the April bills, and the rest set aside to carry on this unbelievably fulfilling way to go about one’s days.

It wasn’t luck. Although there was obviously an element of very good fortune at work in catching a hefty number of selections, within a short period of three days, that all fell neatly into VDW’s category of a compelling bet. I believe that there was art and some instinct in interpreting the science. I compiled my own conclusions to the meeting, below.

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The bets were then few and far between for a fortnight, treading water until the end-March Grand National meeting at Aintree. Then disaster, as a series of selections all lost or fell over, and suddenly I was faced with the grim reality of a nearly-exhausted betting bank, no other future income, and our wedding just one week away.

There was much learning in this, but more important considerations were pressing. I immediately promised Maureen to look for a job, and found one soon after the nuptials.

It would not be exaggerating to say that I mourned the loss of that 4-5 week spell for many, many years afterwards. Coming at it now, from the retrospect of 34 years, I see it as a mini-triumph. A festival of happiness.

We all have to do the things we love, for at least some period of our lives. Otherwise what is the point?