From VIP guest to abused idiot, it's a short hop


The Cheltenham Festival is over and my sedate little spa town becomes sedate again. For four days, and particularly nights, the place becomes positively bacchanalian as, seemingly, the whole population of Ireland descends upon the Cotswolds capital. Extraordinary things take place – double-decker buses full of prostitutes and pole-dancers crawl through the streets and seemingly every building becomes a makeshift bookies-come-Guinness bar. I was deluged with enquiries on Facebook from Irishmen chancing their arm and asking whether I could put them up in an out-building if they provided a bottle of Jameson's and some good cheer? I politely declined.

It seems as if I've always lived somewhere with a big annual event. When I was in Notting Hill I had to contend with the carnival. At first it was fun, and I would host a big party on my roof but I soon got tired of it as you had to deal with lots of fair-weather friends turning up to ponce free booze and a good vantage point. By the end of my time there I would leave the city for that weekend. I would always come back too early however, and be dropped off at the frontier of the celebrations and have to drag my suitcase nervously through our darkened neighbourhood which now looked like a scene from a faraway coup d'etat.

When we moved to our first place in the Cotswolds, we were near RAF Fairford and so had the annual Air Tattoo above our heads. Most of it was quite fun, and we would climb up a big hill behind the house to watch pilots from around the world twirl and swoop in the clouds above. I'd always look forward to the climax of the show that invariably featured a Russian pilot mis-timing a pass, clipping the wings of a comrade and ejecting low over the venue. Air tattoos are like Formula One racing – you go to see the crashes and hope that nobody gets injured or killed. Actually, maybe that's just me? There were always a gaggle of spoddy plane-spotters dotted around in vans taking photos and making notes. Actually, maybe they weren't plane-spotters? Maybe they were paps chasing Hurley, Moss and the Chipping Norton set? I have no idea but I do know that both airplanes and Jeremy Clarkson make a lot of noise.

I used to attend the Cheltenham Festival as a guest of this very newspaper when the old editor-in-chief, a wonderful host, used to entertain people there. I remember standing on the terrace overlooking the grandstand with him and ex-foreign secretary Robin Cook. I looked down into the crowds and spotted a man dressed as a gold cup, clearly hired to do so by some enterprising bookie. The man was staggering through the throng handing out leaflets and being abused by the well-oiled crowd.

"That's my future, that is …."

I laughed pointing at the costumed unfortunate who had now been knocked over and was having a pitcher of beer poured down the back of his costume. Robin Cook looked bemused but Simon Kelner, the editor in question, laughed like a drain. It's a fickle world, showbusiness, so one has to celebrate while one still can.

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