• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Cheltenham has the echoes of greatness . . . or it may just be alcohol-induced tinnitus

FAME beckons with the withered finger of an old crone.

Cheltenham carries an unmistakable drama. Picture: Getty Images
Cheltenham carries an unmistakable drama. Picture: Getty Images

The Beeb's obsession with roads has come to my garret in Bearsden. The documentary on the A9 and the series on Sauchiehall Street is now to be followed by an in-depth, 24-hour rolling coverage of The Lane Beside Shug's Flat.

Spoiler alert!

This will include a harrowing scene of me taking my rubbish out with the moment spoiled by the appearance of gnarled chicken legs, or rickets as my doctor insists on calling them. There is the time when I bump into a neighbour and - after we exchange insurance details - we enter into a fascinating discussion about refuse collection, the council tax and the time-keeping of tradesmen.

There is also the chilling moment when I am trapped in the lane only to discover I am walking towards the garden rather than my car.

It takes me two hours to realise this (you can Sky+ it) and a further four hours to turn in the narrow space. The whole manoeuvre is akin to the QE2 trying to extricate itself from a bottle of Buckfast. And this only happens after it has been chibbed in a park in Cleland.

Unfortunately, I will be unable to watch the first episode as I will next week be glued to the TV set. This adhesion is the result of an avoidable accident when trying to repair the remote control after I threw it at Mark Lawrenson.

My enforced proximity to the set has its advantages, namely that I will be able to watch Cheltenham at close quarters.

Once, I travelled to the greatest race meeting on Earth with hope, a bundle of notes that would choke a horse with an eating disorder and a bunch of mates who were so desperate, so roguishly bloodthirsty that they made a convention of the New Jersey mafia look like the impersonators at an Alan Carr tribute night.

Cheltenham was tackled in much the same way Vinnie Jones approached a ball at the feet of a slight inside-forward. It was accessed in the manner of the SAS entering the Iranian embassy though, obviously, with more bloodshed.

In truth, much of it is a haze. Once I stayed in a hotel for four nights and never slept in my bed. I do not know if I slept. On the way to the bus with a shirt that was attracting bids from research scientists into exotic fungi, I suddenly recalled that I had not only a room but a case.

It was retrieved seconds before the bus - fuelled presumably by noxious gasses that strangely carried the hint of Guinness and chip - left to take the army back to Glesca.

In those days the festival only lasted three days, though it seemed to flash by as if one was in Dr Who's Tardis, a licensed Tardis with the toilet out of Trainspotting, of course. Strangely, though, almost unaccountably, my Cheltenham experiences were usually lucrative. In 1981, I placed so much on Sea Pigeon that the wad in my wallet forced me to walk to one side like John Wayne with piles.

My betting career outside of Cheltenham had a meandering, occasionally damaging path. It was similar to a bull in a china shop but only if said bull was on amphetamines, had dicky stomach issues and a skelly eye and the china shop was full of vases containing nitro-glycerine.

Curiously, dear reader, it all ended badly. But who could have foreseen that placing one's wages on a thoroughbred racing at 30mph against 20 other thoroughbreds over very large fences in the mud when chosen thoroughbred has been selected through a fog of alcohol so thick that passing ships were sounding their horns . . . well, who would have thought that was not a plan to increase one's mental health and general prosperity?

The last time I was at Cheltenham was in 1986. The excesses of the past remain a distant memory.

My neurologist says this was inevitable rather than surprising, given I was drinking the equivalent to the US Navy Fleet on a night out in Honolulu. The drink has gone, the dosh stays in my pocket.

But I still watch Cheltenham. It carries an unmistakable drama, it breeds great stories and it has the echoes of greatness. This might just be alcohol-induced tinnitus.

And I watch it on the telly with a devotion. After all, the other side is showing The Lane Beside Shug's House. And I know how that ends.

In the garden, since you ask.

Contextual targeting label: 
Food and drink

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

217789