So when I left you last, York was to be my next port of call, with a weekend on the Knavesmire on the cards, writes David Massey. I was hoping to be working in the ring, but circumstances once again meant I was on the rails for both days.
Friday night was another of the music nights, with a second chance for me to see Madness after Haydock the week before. The evening can be summed up easily enough, with business no more than steady but results in our favour. It was a different crowd than Haydock's night, who were there for a laugh, although the stewards clearly holding no truck with anyone wearing the regulatory fez in the County enclosure hardly helped the atmosphere on our side.
Saturday was also a music event, with The Sugababes after racing. As you'd expect, a mixed crowd, with some there for the racing but most for the music. Now, some novice crowds are easily trained, and by that I mean within a race or two you've got them asking for selections by numbers, not names, and they've twigged an each-way bet costs twice what they ask for, but sadly not this lot. As a collective, they aren't getting what I'm asking of them. By race five I've long given up and have accepted defeat. The only reason I have caved in is, quite simply, I'm not that busy. This is a Saturday afternoon at York, and yet there are long periods of not taking a bet. I look over at Gordon on the Keith Johnson pitch. Gordon, who has been doing the job longer than anyone cares to remember, is shaking his head in disbelief. If you can't be busy on a Saturday afternoon at York, then we are going to have to accept that things are never going to be what they were pre-Covid. The new normal, indeed.
I stay over in Wakefield after racing, with Pontefract on the Sunday. I will not name the place I stayed in overnight, suffice to say if you've ever seen an episode of 24 Hours In Police Custody, my room wasn't far removed from those that they lock the wrong 'uns up in whilst they collect the evidence. There appeared to be plenty of evidence in my room, to be fair, with some dubious-looking stains on the ceiling, and a beetle or two in what was left of the carpet. I couldn't wait to get out the next morning. It's fair to say I'll not be staying there again.
The places I stay as I travel around vary. Most of the time it's a Premier Inn, and they're absolutely fine in the main but if I'm booking myself into an Airbnb, then the quality varies. The worst two I've ever stayed in have both been in Brighton, with one a couple of steps up from a Stalag (a tin of evaporated milk for your tea/coffee, not ideal/Ideal) and in the other I slept on a futon seemingly made of concrete. I've also stayed in one in Hampshire that was essentially a pink boudoir, complete with frills, that looked nothing like it did in the photos. One of the best was near Wetherby, where the lady in charge threw in a cooked breakfast the next morning for nothing. I ought to have stayed there rather than Wakefield, thinking about it.
It's been so long since I've seen any meaningful rain that it came as a shock at Pontefract the next day. It was supposedly showers from 4pm according to the forecasters but they couldn't have been more wrong. It started raining steadily from 1pm, a bit on and off at first, but it got heavier as the afternoon went on. Pontefract gave out a load of plastic ponchos to the crowd to keep them dry, a good initiative. The letters on the back of the ponchos were suppose to spell out PONTEFRACT if you lined them up in the right order, but it seems they ran out of ponchos after the first T. As such, lots of OOOO's, POTS, STOP, and TONS walking around but as you'd rightly expect at Ponte Carlo, no fops.
The rain gets heavier still just as we are packing the gear away. You remember me telling you last time that now is a great time to work for one of the books, as they are short of workers? Well, this is the bit I didn't tell you in the brochure. By the time it's all away I'm absolutely soaked through and, worse, the quick route to the car has been cut off by the crowd, who have stayed to watch the Tina Turner tribute act. It's less Steamy Windows and more Windscreen Wipers now but fair play, plenty have stuck around for a singsong. I'm grateful to get home by half seven that night and the shower is most welcome.
The final week of July sees me take in Yarmouth, where Bob Cooper will tell me to "get lost" after his Quadpot bites the dust (that after his Placepot had bitten the dust the race before). Bob is an absolute joy to be around, there's nobody drier or funnier when he's on a roll, and I love bumping into him on my travels. I stay in nearby Acle that night and when I wake Tuesday morning, there are five police motorcycles and one police car outside the hotel. I think to myself, "well, you've had a good run, they were always going to catch up with you one day" before, in fact, they troop off into Starbucks to grab a morning coffee. The Gunfight at the OK Corral is not going to happen. Not today, anyway.
And finally, before Goodwood, it's Sandown and Nile Rogers. Business is good, the crowd are happy and having a bet, and it's a very enjoyable night. Sadly, though, the last is a bit of a farce, with a withdrawal that barely anyone hears, and a stewards enquiry called as the winner and second come together near the line. No problem so far, but then the enquiry drags on a bit and Nile and Chic can wait no longer. They get the Good Times going whilst there are still queues waiting to get paid out, only now nobody can hear a thing, and we've no idea what's happened as far as the enquiry has gone, or indeed what the Rule 4 is on the withdrawal. Blank faces all round and we have to take to social media to find out the relevant information.
I say again to the courses - USE THE BIG SCREENS! Is it that difficult to get across the relevant information everyone needs? Thankfully we have an understanding crowd, but it is still almost half an hour after the last before everyone has been paid out, and I apologise for the wait. I'm almost apologising for the track, which I shouldn't have to do. It's not my fault nobody could hear any announcements, yet I somehow feel some responsibility for the delays.
An hour after the last, the gear is in the car, and we are off to Guildford, which will be our Goodwood base for the rest of the week. And yes, before you say anything, that does mean two hours of driving to the course and back every day. Another thing I forgot to mention in the brochure. Never mind, the Premier Inn has a walk-in shower. Oh, the luxury...