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A bookie’s money is only ever on loan

Civilization is drugs, alcohol, engines of war, prostitution, machines and machine slaves, low wages, bad food, bad taste, prisons, reformatories, lunatic asylums, divorce, perversion, brutal sports, suicides, infanticide, cinema, quackery, demagogy, strikes, lockouts, revolutions, putsches, colonization, electric chairs, guillotines, sabotage, floods, famine, disease, gangsters, money barons, horse racing, fashion shows, poodle dogs, chow dogs, Siamese cats, condoms, peccaries, syphilis, gonorrhea, insanity, neuroses, etc., etc.

No, that’s not my opinion – I pilfered it from Henry Miller because I was glad to see that he included horse-racing in his list. (I’m hyphenating it, because my trusted OED says to do so. Picking a dictionary is a little like choosing a religion – you have to keep the faith!)

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There are few outings I like more than a day at the races. At home, where it costs upwards of €30 to just get through the turnstile, it’s an absolute pleasure to walk through the gates of Kincsem Park and pay nothing. Zero. Zilch. Free entry. And to have the place practically to yourself is another bonus … of sorts. Nothing can quite compete with the atmosphere at the Curragh on the day of the Derby or the Christmas festival at Fairyhouse or the Galway races – there, the crowds add to it all. Yet there’s something very attractive about the leisurely pace of Kincsem Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon in April.

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And it doesn’t matter that I don’t know one end of a horse from the other when it comes to spotting form. I fancy myself as being in the know but at the same time I know I’m only codding myself. I bet the minimum 200 ft but can say with some pride that I now have enough Hungarian  to know how to do a reverse forecast… and one even came up! I was well impressed with myself. Mind you, it was the only win I had all day 🙁 but as my mother would say – a bookie’s money is only on loan. It’s a shame that there are no bookies at Kincsem – just a tote… so the winnings will never be massive, but a win is a win is a win.

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Whether  standing by the track or viewing from the stands or even inside looking out from the bar, just being there is enough. And speaking of bars – the bar at Kincsem uses a very nice Bock rosé for its fröccs (spritzer) – cheap at half the price, no expense spared. Yet the place must be losing money hand over fist. But was I complaining? Hell, no!

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It’s a shame to see the old stand no longer in use. And it’s hard to imagine why it was built there in the first place, so far from the track. Perhaps things have changed since the park was in its heyday. I have very little difficulty imagining those days of yore and the horse-drawn carriages pulling up to discharge their gentile passengers, dressed in their finery. The place oozes a sophistication that is reminiscent of times past.

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Had I been born slightly smaller in stature, more petite (more? how am I kidding?), I reckon I’d have thrown my hat at a jockey or three.  I love the idea of that life. Dick Francis is about the only author whose books I read over and over and over again. I never get tired of them. Someday, somehow, somewhere I will be in the winners’ enclosure collecting a trophy when my horse crosses the finish line first. As it is, with the imagination I have, I can just about get the feeling of what it must be like to have so much invested in such amazingly majestic creatures. I’m not talking money here, rather time, emotion, and hope. The pride the owners, trainers, grooms, and jockeys must feel when their horse comes home in front is envious.

If you’re in Budapest this summer, take a Sunday out for Kinscem Park. You won’t be sorry. And, of course, mark your diary for the IHBC derby day on the first Sunday in July. I’ll see you there.

Grateful 25

CS Lewis is reputed to have said that we read to know that we are not alone. How lovely is that. I can’t remember when I first started reading and I have never really felt alone. My earliest childhood memories are of me curled up somewhere with a book. When I was old enough, and with the blessing of the village librarian, I enrolled both my parents in the local library so that I could get books on their tickets, too. That was six books a week.I progressed from the  Famous Five, the Five Findouters, and the Secret Seven to the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. John Buchan’s The 39 Steps was a major leap for me from teen fiction to grown-up books and I’ve never looked back.

Given my druthers, I prefer translated fiction. Somehow what has been written in another language and then translated has an added element of something I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s as if I’m getting an insight into a world that by rights I should not know about as I don’t speak that language. I’ve been particularly taken lately with Srdjan Valjarevic’s Lake Como and Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin.

I’m smitten with Mikey Spillane and his ilk. Raymond Chandler is, to my mind, one of the best crime novelists out there. He has a delicious turn of phrase.  James Lee Burke is one of the most descriptive. I can get lost in the bayous of Louisiana with Dave Robicheaux and feel like I know him personally. Travelling through Italy with Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano is almost as good as being there in person. Spending time with CJ Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake had taught me at thing or two about the Reformation and what Cromwell got up to in his day.Add to this list Jasper Fforde and Christopher Moore, for a trip to the ridiculous through the sublime; Robert Olean Butler and Paul Watkins for a more sober take on reality; the wonderful South African Damon Galgut for his take on post-Apartheid life; and the inimitable Amistead Maupin and his wonderful tales of the city. Dick Francis and Ian Rankin have never let me down. Giovanni Guareschi is the one Italian I would most love to have to dinner. And had I my pick of characters I could meet in person, it would be Lee Child’s Jack Reacher.

I have lost myself in all sorts of books. I can while away an afternoon, or an evening, and on occasion a whole day in the company of my fictional friends.  This week, as the temperatures finally dropped and my sanity returned to normal levels, I am truly grateful for my love of reading. I can’t imagine my life without books and the sanctuary they provide.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52