"You're a lucky man, you."
"How do you mean?"
"You get to go racing most days, and when you're not going racing, you're writing about going racing. Most blokes I know would swap with you in an instant."
Thus went a conversation with a friend whilst at Cheltenham recently. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that, on a gorgeous warm, sunny Monday evening by the Thames, drinking a beer whilst I peruse some lovely-looking 2yos in the paddock at Windsor, that what I do for a living doesn't have its advantages.
However, it isn't all sweetness and light, and the flip side of the coin that has a Monday Windsor as heads, is a Market Rasen Thursday in winter as tails.
Such a Thursday came to pass last week when I'm booked in to do paddock notes. A gander at the weather forecast the night before looks bleak; when the area you're working in can't been seen on the national map for the sea of blue on top of it, you know the waterproofs are needed.
Those, plus the woolly hat and boots, are packed as I set off through the driving rain Thursday morning. You'll be delighted to hear that Rasen is not three-and-a-half hours away from my house, but a mere ninety minutes. Once you're past the A46 bottleneck at Newark (the only place name in England that's an anagram of w****r - one to amuse your friends with down the pub) it's all plain sailing.
When I arrive in the grassy car park at Rasen, there's a brief second where, as I turn into my space, the car has a little sideways wobble. It's already getting very wet. Nevertheless, equipped in full rain gear, I'm ready to face the elements.
Better still, we're now told the rain will have passed over by 1pm, and then it'll brighten up. As they come out for the first at about ten past twelve, it doesn't feel like it's about to suddenly dry up; indeed it appears to be raining harder. I start to take notes.
One o'clock comes and goes, and the sky is as slate grey as when I arrived. This isn't drying up any time soon. Huge puddles are starting to appear in the parade ring and by the winners enclosure. By the time we get to race 3 we need an inspection to see if we can carry on, as there's standing water everywhere. The jockeys say it's fine and so the horses come out for the next.
The rain gets harder still. My notes are nothing but a soggy mush, unreadable. I can definitely feel damp patches under the waterproofs. I take refuge under a bookmaker's umbrella as another inspection is announced.
The rain is pouring off every roof you can see and it comes down harder still. A decision is taken that the horses won't now use the flooded parade ring and will go straight to the start, which makes my reason for actually being at the track, to look at them in the paddock, non-existent.
I don't care whether it's raceable or not, it's now clear we shouldn't be here. Everywhere is becoming flooded. I'm told to go home, but the exit itself is just a lake. "Go up the middle", the security guard tells me. I do, and my boot immediately goes underwater. By the time I get to the car I'm soaked, head to toe. I can actually wring my socks out. I have no choice but to get the lot off and drive home in a t-shirt and, thankfully, a pair of dry trainers that are in the boot more by luck than anything else.
Needless to say the car spins and skids its way out of the car park and by the time I get to Middle Rasen, the next village along, the road is barely passable. It takes me over two hours to get back. Steady as she goes, captain.
There has to come a point in a race meeting when it rains so heavily and for so long that what happens on the track is secondary. Customer safety must take priority, not just at the track but in the surrounding areas, too. I don't believe that happened here and I'm glad I went when I did. The meeting was abandoned about 15 minutes after I left, unsurprisingly, but for me it went on a race too long.
That's the worst thing that's befallen me since my last missive. In other, better news, I've worked at Southwell a couple of times, once actually to help host a box for the first time and once on a pitch. The box was a strange experience, as I've not done it before; but it went well and people seemed to enjoy themselves, despite the fact my tips, by and large, ran slower then treacle. Saying that, the nap won at 13-8, so some redemption.
However, the day I worked the pitch was unbelievable. I have no idea where they came from, but we had punters - good punters - having absolute chunks on. On my pitch alone I took the following: a £1000 bet Khabib in the second, a £1000 bet (and a £400) Western Beat in the fifth, and a £500 Dancinginthewoods in the next, all of which are beaten. In terms of turnover we take almost five times what we'd normally take, seemingly from a few just out to have a tilt at the ring without any great inside knowledge.
It's good to see a few of the Southwell regulars in attendance. We workmen have nicknames for a few of them: "price-pincher", for whom the price has "just gone" almost every time he has a bet, and he'll try and pinch the bigger price; "DFS", who has a jacket that looks like it was once part of a sofa; "Nemesis", named not after the Alton Towers rollercoaster but due to the fact he's almost unbeatable, usually coming in very late with his bet; the self-explanatory "ice-cream man", and a couple of lads we call "The Professionals". They're not, but they like to think they are.
The last port of call this week is Wetherby. It rains heavily on the morning of racing.
When the first thing you're asked by the car park attendant, on arrival is, "how good is your car at getting out of mud?", then you know it's been a close call getting the meeting on. Mud, glorious mud. It's literally everywhere and the heavy duty boots are out again. Sun's out now though, and there's a rainbow. All I need to do now is find the pot of gold at the end of it. I'll take four winners on a Yankee if that's not possible.
There's no pot of gold, barely even a sliver of silver as the afternoon progresses, and the only bright spot is the excellent piece of lemon drizzle from the coffee shop. Thankfully, the car gets out of the car park in one piece and the best decision I make is to go down the M1 rather than the A1 back home, as it turns out the latter is blocked. Seems I can back the winner of a two-horse race!
It's Newbury and the not-the-Hennessy this weekend for me, working for the MT firm in the ring. I'll let you know how that goes next time. In the meantime, I'm just setting the alarm for the 6am start. Remind me again how lucky I am...