The participants, at least, were enjoying themselves

Cheltenham Diary

Related Topics
A recently liberated Edwina Currie arrived at the Cheltenham Festival gagging for it. There was nothing in the hotel that would suffice, she told an intrigued John Walsh, this year's festival director. "Sometimes", she said, "you've just got to have something red and hot inside you, nothing else will do."

Ever accommodating, Walsh and the hotel management sheepishly suggested room service and a young boy was duly dispatched to fulfil the great one's needs - a double cheeseburger and large fries, hurriedly bought from the High Street.

Suitably satisfied, she gleefully set off to lecture the good ladies and gentleman of Cheltenham on the excitement of her life thus far. She showed them a couple of recent purchases, one a newly printed T-shirt proclaiming: "I'm the best there is, but I'm not available."

A revelation that caused a huge sigh of relief from the single men in the audience who feared it may have been a Kiss Me Quick Hat.

A piece of promotional attire that the broadcaster Sarah Kennedy was unlikely to need for a while. For Sarah, here to spread the word about her first novel, has nabbed a toy-boy. "It's wonderful," she boasted. "Even though I'm nearly 140, he's only 31 and quite unlike the other men I have known who are all in their forties. He's so sensitive and caring. I highly recommend it." The Cheltenham ladies discretely made notes.

If Ms Currie had arrived earlier her ex-school teacher sensibility could have come in extremely handy for the job of minder for the slightly more colourful members of the Irish Poets Society. As it was, that job was foisted on to John Wyse Jackson, an Irish writer here to publicise his much respected book on James Joyce's father.

With Aiden Higgins in one hand and Dermot Healey in the other, he valiantly trolled them around Cheltenham's finest bars and public houses. A sad business. None of them were quite authentic enough. Fruit machines, unforgivable. Loud music, see fruit machines. Guinness at not quite the right temperature; and a severe lack of Cheltenham young ladies on to whom they could pour their poetic attentions was the final straw. Desperate, John tentatively suggested they join the more sedate members of the literary establishment at a delightful wine and nibbles party being thrown at one of the most civilised residencies in the town.

They were finally persuaded when John murmured that this house had often played host to none other than the Nobel Prize winner, Seamus Heaney.

"Yer man," they both chimed and off they set.

In a library stacked with the works of the great and the good, the lyrical duo settled in for the night. Aiden, ever the aesthete, nested comfortably into the chair that Seamus used to sit in while Dermot went off in search of larger prey - the hostess's young daughter.

He was last seen manoeuvring her out on to the patio and inquiring: "Where's the fooking Guinness?" A clarion call he was to repeat each time the South African red moved his way.

The following day rain and bad light fell on the Gloucestershire town heralding the arrival of the nation's favourite umpire, Harold Dickie Bird. He was joined by the accomplished painter and England wicket keeper Jack Russell - who, as one Festival-goer confided in me, is rumoured to be planning to have his hands amputated when he dies and donated to the Lords museum.

Dickie confessed that he was on a bit of a sticky wicket with fellow Yorkshireman Geoffrey Boycott. In his recent autobiography, the purpose of his trip down south, Dickie names what he considers to be his dream 11. And our Geoff isn't on it. The world's most famous finger told us that he has received a message saying, "I want a word with you Dickie Bird. I'm not happy."

But Geoff will be pleased to know that although he wasn't on the dream team, if his life depended on it and he had to select a batsman to save him from being shoved off his mortal coil, Dickie would have no hesitation in selecting Geoff. Who, Dickie added, would be at home right now, counting his money and watching videos of himself.

By the time that news had reached Cheltenham of Arundhati Roy's Booker win she was probably at home doing exactly the same thing, having left the Festival that morning. Her fellow contemporary Indian writers meanwhile were out in the Festival bar celebrating hers and their own personal victories. Some, more than others.

The writer of Looking Through The Glass, Mukul Kesavan, looked into the bookies and pocketed pounds 150 while Urvashi Butalia, the Carmen Callil of India, who had earlier defended her views on the debacle of Partition and the extremities of the Empire in a debate entitled End Of Empire, was ecstatic. Projecting into the room like a woman who had just pocketed the bonus ball, she threw her fist in the air and announced "The Empire Strikes Back."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in August  

Ferguson: The sad truth is that Michael Brown was killed because he was a black man

Bonnie Greer
A protestor poses for a  

Ferguson verdict: This isn't a 'tragedy'. This is part of a long-running genocide of black men in America

Otamere Guobadia
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital