Following my failure to get to Cheltenham races the other week (I had to attend a prestigious five-a-side netball tournament that my daughter was in), I tried to make up for it by attending my local point-to-point. For the urban among you, a point-to-point is an amateur steeplechase event that gives country Sloane Rangers the excuse to have a picnic and get very drunk. The term point-to-point comes from the origins of the event in Ireland in the 1750s when a certain Mr Blake challenged his neighbour, a Mr O'Callaghan, to race on horseback from one church to another. They kept the steeple of their destination in sight so that they knew where they were going. It was thus originally known as "steeple-to-steeple" but quickly became "point-to-point."
The real "point" of these events, however, is for rows and rows of Land Rover Discoveries and Range Rovers to park up next to each other and unload packs of braying Sloanes. Corpulent men in vivid pink cord trousers mingle with toothy women in Hermès scarves while wild packs of hungry, black labradors roam the picnic sites for food. Occasionally, a horse race takes place about half-a-mile away and a man commentates over a Tannoy. Unfortunately, the man is so posh that the Tannoy is unable to register several of his vowels. This leaves the posh picnickers listening to something that sounds not unlike a guppy fish being slowly throttled.
This is annoying if you have bet on a race. People who go to the races with me have discovered a very good system. They wait for me to make my choice and then back the horses I ignore. Mine are almost invariably last or fallers. This is why I enjoy betting at point-to-points more than anywhere else. The form is almost totally irrelevant and you can pretty much bet on anybody and at least be in with a chance. That's what I always think anyway. My first three picks came last, last and fell. It was quite a long walk to the bookies so from then on I simply ripped up 10 quid just before every race – it was a lot easier.
The epicentre of any point-to-point is the beer tent. This is where the serious business gets done. Barrels of beer are consumed while people exchange the ownership of counties on a whim. I might have been a little tipsy but I swear that I heard one man lose Wiltshire on the toss of a coin. He didn't seem too upset. He ordered a round and staggered off claiming, to much cheering, that he was going to "biff Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen on the noggin.." I assumed that this was a euphemism for something obscene until I happened to wander past Llewelyn-Bowen in his garishly-coloured Land Rover Discovery. His noggin appeared to be untouched so I assumed that the man had passed out before being able to carry out his threat.
Clothing is crucial at these events. I always wondered why Sloanes wore such unbelievably appalling clothing. I now realise that it's simple tribalism. If you're brave enough to wear the gear then "you're one of us". That is, unless your clothing is too new. Any outdoor coat needs to have at least 20 years of wear-and-tear on it before it is accepted. One of my dogs wandered up to a pile of coats and started peeing on them. In any other situation this would have been very embarrassing. Here, however, although he was shooed away, you got the sense that they were quite pleased by his actions. It gave their coats a little more "pisstory".
When everyone is completely smashed, people eventually notice that the horse races have finished. Unfortunately, since it has been raining solidly all day, the whole car park (or field as we call it) has become a mini-Mudstock. This is when the Land Rovers and the Range Rovers are most happy. They effortlessly exit the arena leaving the occasional non-four-wheel-driver to battle the Somme.
One man drives around on a quad bike with sand bags attached to the front and tries to push your car out. Meanwhile, gangs of kids swarm around stranded cars. In any other circumstance, this would be a cause for alarm, but these kids are all in Barbour jackets and say things like "don't worry old fellow, we'll have you out in a jiffy". All in all, a very civilised day out.
Stoner has fast trip
I was quite excited to see the headline "Stoner sets fastest lap in final MotoGP test". I was a little disappointed when I discovered that it was former world champion Casey Stoner and not some skater dude who'd just had a go and got lucky.