A week spent keeping a safe distance from the hideous hurly-burly of the Cheltenham Festival

The problem is I'm a grumpy party-pooper. When I lived in Notting Hill Gate, I'd be the first out of London come carnival time

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The Independent Online

Phew… the Cheltenham Festival is over and we locals can have our town back. For four days my Cotswold spa home is overtaken by most of Ireland who are here to party and very occasionally watch a horse run past. As the town drowns in Guinness, helicopters buzz, as if over some latter-day Vietnam battlefield, and the “1 per cent” arrives to take part in exclusive, cordoned-off areas of the festivities. Drive through the town at night and you can watch women in enormous comedy hats throwing up on the pavement while special double-decker buses cruise the streets like neon mobile brothels.

I spent most of the time on top of the gorgeous Cotswold escarpment, the rough bluff that overlooks the racecourse. I walk my dogs up there every day and it affords me a magnificent view while keeping a safe distance from the hideous hurly-burly below.

I know that I should celebrate the festival. It’s just that I’ve never really got into horse-racing. A touch too many horse-faces and loud braying – and that’s just the punters. I do own a tweed jacket but it has remained on the hook for several years now – that, and red trousers is just not my look. 

I have actually been to the festival a couple of times – it was just before I lived near it. Back in the good old days when this very newspaper had money to spend they had a box at the festival. I would find it hard to resist the lure of a fun freebie and eclectic company. Sadly, I’d always over imbibe and then become convinced that I had psychic gambling abilities and bankrupt myself. I have a terrible gambling problem – I never win. With hindsight, I should have just stayed at home and ripped up a £50 note every 40 minutes. It would have been less hassle.


The real problem though is that I’m a grumpy party-pooper. I just loathe the notion of “having” to have a good time. I have a special reaction to “local” events. When I lived in Notting Hill Gate, I’d be the first out of London come carnival time. I’d head up the long stream of middle-class refugees who’d pack all their belongings into the Volvo and head off up the A40.

I have a very good old friend who has always lived in Cheltenham and weirdly, I used to always go to his place when I was fleeing a weekend of enforced Afro-Caribbean good times. He used to rent his flat out to about 50 Irishmen for the festival period and would then come and stay with me in Notting Hill until they left. We understood each other’s pain. I’ve now swapped a carnival for a festival – actually we have innumerable festivals as Cheltenham also has a science festival, a jazz festival, a literature festival and a music festival. So many festivals, so little time….

The solution, I think, is to set up my own festival. It will be held on my farm. There are no guests, no bands, no events, no happenings whatsoever. It’s just me, lying in a sun-lounger on a lovely summer’s day listening to the cricket. Book your tickets now….