A respected friend with a lifelong interest in sport memorably described horse racing as similar to watching paint dry. For those like me who disagree, last week was a wee glance into paradise. The Cheltenham Festival is the apogee of racing over fences and hurdles, and this year was one of the best in recent memory.
Drama upon drama. Favourites triumphant. Ageing stars' final glory. Underdogs' brilliance. But as fists punched the air and strong men hugged each other, an irritating thought crept into my mind. Why were all these people so excited? Men and women in their uniform of trilby hats near to tears. Overweight gentlemen in bright red scarves and hats dancing in a huddle of joy. A horse, expertly ridden, had crossed the finishing line ahead of its peers. Paint had dried.
Brough Scott, once a famous jockey and now a racing journalist, famously admitted that no-one really knew what the outcome of a race would be nor how and why it played out. 'Horses can't explain,' he said. In other words, horse racing is a magical mystery play with the real central characters mute. This year, Cheltenham made this case in spades. For those who do not gamble, horses become favourites to win when most folk back them with bets. Horses with poor support are offered by the bookmakers at bigger prices. Winning horses last week had prices as follows: 33-1, 18-1, 66-1, 33-1, 20-1, 16-1, 10-1. One second placer was 150-1.
So the celebrations fell into two categories. When the favourites won, a lot of people were happy with reputations and pockets full. When big pricers did the job, dreams came true for those who, mostly, expect to be on the outside looking enviously in. This year, the latter happened a lot at Cheltenham. I look forward to being corrected but nowadays few other sports seem to offer that uncertainty.
Oh! And when it comes to uncertainty and paint drying, can anyone recommend a skilled artisan? Between races last week, we wielded an unskilful roller on our kitchen walls. The result is as close to success as 1,000-1. Not a lot of fist punching.
In the scheme of things it probably should not matter but why has quirky
suddenly become the word of the hour? On programmes like Bargain Hunt
, anything that looks remotely interesting gets called quirky – especially by people themselves anything but quirky – when they invest in something nobody in their right mind would wish to buy.
The screens of the nation are awash with antique programmes often hosted by human antiques, which sad to say antiques like me tend to watch. They are also awash with programmes on which Bargain Hunt like beings are shown very nice properties in the sun on some costa where they would like to live, call them quirky, provided they have a couple of exposed beams and some brickwork, and then reject them for not having the wow factor whatever that may be.
The result is the young person conducting them round the south of Spain, the Canaries, Devon or Cornwall, wish them all the best in their new home hunting, knowing full well that if they should ever find somewhere quirky enough to wow them, the neighbours' houses will be up for sale within the hour. They are set up by the producers to hold the attention of the audience – these are, after all, entertainment programmes – and have been selected because they are quirky and have the ugh factor as future neighbours from hell, forever barbecuing on the patio while sipping a glass of wine. Going forwards – an end to quirky and the wow factor. And to going forwards.
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