By Tony Stafford
When you’ve spent as many years in “journalism” for want of a better word, as me, there are several starting points when producing an article. When I worked at the Daily Telegraph in my early days in Fleet Street, we had a style book. As with long-lost days before even that on day release from the local paper when I flirted with learning shorthand – never got beyond the ster loop whatever that was – a few matters have stayed with me.
Never say current when you mean present – one helpful colleague’s take on that was that you eat currants – and as I throw back my mind the 40 years or so, little else from that actual physical booklet comes to mind. Checking your facts, however, (oh yes that’s another, always use “though”, never “however”), that’s a must.
That came home to me twice in the past week, once listening to a radio news bulletin while driving to a racetrack in midweek, the other a television news report on one of those early morning BBC 1 programmes, droning pleasantly on routinely in the café where I get my early morning tea to accompany the first reading of the Racing Post, bought next door before 7 a.m.
I’ll start with the telly. “The greatest batsmen in the world, Sachin Tendulkar…” sorry I must intervene. The style book says it has to be: Sachin Tendulkar, the greatest batsman in the world…”has retired from Test cricket. He scored 100 Test Centuries”
No he didn’t, he scored 51 Test Centuries and 49 in One Day Internationals. While I’m on this tack, he also scored exactly 200 in one one-dayer and 100 in a T20. With a first class average of more than 57 he was indeed pretty amazing, and there has never been a sportsman to match him as an idol of the country of his birth, and for people who love cricket generally.
Well, I must say that jarred coming from the BBC, but the other “slight” inaccuracy was mind-boggling. As I drove along the M11 the other day, Classic FM (sorry about that) went to the news and a gentleman announced that the death toll in the Philippines tornado disaster had reached ten million. I thought that rather high. Subsequent bulletins there and elsewhere quickly revised the figure in my mind and fixed the status of the blighted country as nearer 13 million “affected” in terms of shattered homes and the like. The actual death toll, many thousands, is bad enough, but that slip of the news reader’s tongue pulled me up short for a few seconds, I must say.
Such illogical thoughts occur to me most often in dreams. Over the past months, the dreams have become odder and much more frequent, and I can remember what was going through my mad mind just before awakening this morning. It concerned a training establishment’s long closed staff restaurant – which I’ve never physically seen, actually – and a lot of stable employees trying in vain to make a selection from a theoretical menu.
As a first-time attendee, I needed to learn the ropes, but every request I make is countered by a “Johnny had that yesterday, so you can’t” while the chap showing me what to do is thwarted at every turn, simply because “he’s a wrong-‘un”.
One recent dream, already consigned to the bin of Pharoahan history, concerned I recall Nigel Tinkler – nothing salacious I must add, he was just there - and there’s been innumerable times when my whole family of my youth, uncles, aunts and parents, have been with me on a London Transport double decker bus. They say that when you are about to leave this mortal coil, your entire life flashes before you. Mine seems to be taking its time, and thanks for that. I just wish I had a Joseph to interpret them sometimes.
Being involved in racing can sometimes be like a bad dream. Over the last three Saturdays, driving up to Wetherby, then Doncaster and finally back to Wetherby for three runs by two of my boss Raymond Tooth’s apparently best horses, Fair Trade, Cousin Khee and Fair Trade again, it’s been more a case of a nightmare scenario.
Bad ground was probably an issue in Cousin Khee's lacklustre November Handicap challenge, but Fair Trade’s chase debut ignominy was followed by a soft capitulation over hurdles on a track where he would have beaten Sea Lord by 100 yards if he’d not made an error three from home in an earlier hurdle race there in the spring. What to do now?
Yet the day before Wetherby, a packed Brightwells sales arena after racing at Cheltenham on Friday, featured plenty of willing bidders as some potential stars of jump racing circled a ring which Richard Botterill, opening proceedings for the auctioneers, admitted “had been built too small”.
The usual suspects, Highflyer for Nicky Henderson and Alan King, Tom Malone for all sorts, Jonjo O’Neill, Roger Brookhouse, my mate Alan Spence and the rest continue to stock up in the hope that down the road the odd £90,000 as with Saturday’s Paddy Power Gold Cup, might come their way. Unfortunately, for many, a win in a bumper worth say £1,500 and a few weeks’ training fees, is always the more likely and possibly even the optimum eventuality.
Think I’ll dream about the Champion Hurdle, the Coronation Stakes or the Criterium International tonight. I’m not sure if I can conjure them up to order, but there’s a suspicion in my mind, Nigel Tinkler apart, that I do. As I’ll tell Raymond – only in my dreams, he’s not one to look backwards especially if you want him to count his blessings– it’s not always how it’s been on those rotten trips to Yorkshire.