Saturday 5 April 2008

Grand National Saturday

I might be treading on thin ice by showing the above film. This race is held in England once a year and is one of the big races for the betting enthusiasts. One one of the forums I sometimes visit I noticed that there are strong feelings against this sort of racing, which I would actually agree with. It is a cruel race for the horses as well as the jockeys. Today one horse was put down and one jockey is in hospital with back injuries. No-one asks the horses if they want to be made to jump over hurdles, generally they would probably gallop around them. When the horse jumps he knows how high to jump, he only notices in the air that the depth to the ground after the hurdle is more than the height before the hurdle. That is my case against this race.

Now something else which came to my mind. My dad is now 93 and I am sure he had his little "flutter" on the race today. He had his bet every year since I can remember and so did my mum.

Mum and Jim Parker's wife at the races

So what does this photo have to do with the Grand National. This photo shows my mum on the right hand side with a friend at the races. It must have been taken shortly after the war looking at the clothes. In my family - just me, mum and dad - horse racing was always a topic on Saturdays. My dad would study the back pages of the newspaper with the races and I think he knew all there was to know about the sport. I can't remember how he placed his bets before the betting shop came into being, but I am sure he had his methods. He was not a betting addict and had no such problems, but as a young man he would go to the greyhound races and the natural result was to take an interest in horse racing.. He made (and still does) the most complicated bets that you could imagine. Not just win or place, but then if he won the bet goes onto the next race, where he had picked his horse out etc. etc. By the end of the day he either got the same amount of money back that he had invested, or a bit more. We didn't have so much money to be able to bet in hundreds and when I was a kid it was more in shillings and pence, although I suppose now and again on the big races he invested a pound note.

I remember as a kid that we would go to the races now and again as an excursion. My aunt and uncle would often come as well with their twin sons. It was most degrading as an eight year old to be picked up by your mum and carried into the race course grounds as children in arms were free entrance. I remember the coloured cards that the bookmakers would give out for placing bets. They looked like playing cards and to a kid like myself they were fascinating. I used to collect them after the races as they were afterwards thrown away. You could also place your bet on the "tote" which was a sort of more official place, probably with regular wins. I am not actually an expert, but this is just from my memory. There was (or is) a special language the bookies would use with their contacts in the stand (tic tac men)

"In the eccentric world of British handicapping, tic-tac is the term for the secret signaling between bookmakers. Before each race, tic-tac men will semaphore odds and price changes from the bookies at the rail to the bookies in the center of the betting ring. All their frantic gesturing is accompanied by espionage and counterespionage as complicated as that in a John le Carré novel"

I got this explanation in Internet, but just about sums it up. The tic-tac men had white gloves on and would make strange signs in the air to be read by the bookies - most fascinating to watch.

Then there was Prince Monolulu

Prince Monolulu

If you wanted to place a bet on a horse, he was always at the entrance to the race track and would give you a tip if you crossed his palm with silver (calling all the time I gotta horse). He was well known all over the country. It's a shame the photo isn't in colour as he was quite a colourful person with his dyed feathers in the head dress. I saw him a few times. There are two sorts of racing in England as in most countries probably. Over the sticks (hurdles) and the flat. We often went to Great Yarmouth for our annual holiday in Summer and it always seemed to coincide with the races (no hurdles - flat racing). It was exciting to see the horses race past, although you had to have patience for each race as I think it was at least an hour (or perhaps 30 minutes) between the races.

The last time I saw the Grand National on the tv was in 1985. I remember that so well as it was a week after my mother died. I was in England for the funeral and stayed on and we watched the race on the tv. It was something my mother also liked to see. We now have English tv at home and I watched the race today. Yes, it is cruel for the horses and the riders, but I also have other memories. Perhaps one day the race will be banned. Here is another photo of my mum as I remember her.

Mum in the yard - Ivy Stamford in background

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