Thursday, 24 October 2013

In which I take a life lesson from The Champ.

Warning: it is late, and I’ve only just finished work, and I am tired. My brain sputters and fails. This may not be the finest piece of prose I have ever written. But it does have a good life lesson in it.


1137 words of book. Into a bit of a rhythm now.

At one point, I felt so ahead of the game, I naughtily allowed myself to watch some racing from Carlisle. In the glorious northern sunshine, the maestro who is AP McCoy won an astonishing five races, with a combination of finesse, determination, shining talent and sheer belief.

He should be held up as a model for the young people, for all people really. He does not win more races than anyone else by magic: it is from toughness, hard work, relentless drive, and never, ever settling for second best.

Before that, quite by accident, I reminded myself of something I had forgotten. I went out to run an errand, took a goofy wrong turn, and ended up deep in Aberdeenshire farming country. It was the kind of place where the valleys are deep and the hills high, so only one tiny little road can wind its way through the land, and because of this I had to go the long way round.

And that was when I remembered the power of driving. I’ve been battling with sorting out the last act; wrangling and wrestling with intricacies of plot. All at once, as the incurious Aberdeen Angus cows gazed at me and the indigo hills slid past the car window and Stanley the Dog stared beadily into the blue distance, it all fell into place.

I think it’s something to do with having the area of the brain which deals with motor skills engaged. Then the creative part can roam free. So, if I were to be giving writing advice, I should say: when you are feeling a little cribbed and cabined, get in the car.

And, as I finish the day, tired but satisfied, I look back on it and think: it’s not just the young people who can learn from Tony McCoy. It is this middle-aged person, too.

McCoy is one of the very best we’ve seen for many reasons. He has great tactical skill. He has a driving finish like almost nobody else. He does a lovely thing of really holding a horse together. But a lot of it comes down to sheer grit.

Grit is a good virtue, along with stoicism and buggering on, both of which he has in spades. He does not moan or complain when things don’t go his way. He has his share of falls and breaks and rotten rides. There must be days when he is in the car, not to look at the glorious hills and the splendid cows, but in the driving rain on a clogged motorway, only to find some hard-mouthed disappointment at the end of the journey.

Not every horse he rides is top class, and not every meeting is a Cheltenham or a Sandown, with cheering crowds and golden trophies. He, too, will have his wet Wednesdays at Huntingdon, in the fog and the murk, watched by one man and a dog. (Actually, I love Huntingdon; I used to go there with my old dad and drink whisky and meet ancient, weather-beaten old gents in flat caps. But it is not one of the glamour tracks, and mid-week in the weather, it can feel like the land that time forgot.)

I like to have a lesson for the day. Usually it is taught to me by my red mare, who is my most accomplished and elegant professor. (On this sunny Thursday, she was simply demonstrating a blanket masterclass in rampant loveliness.) Today, the lesson comes not from a horse, but from a human. It comes from The Champ. It is grit that shall get me through. I’m going to go away and practice it.


Today’s pictures:

This is some of what I saw, on my travels:

24 Oct 1

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24 Oct 11-001

Her Loveliness, having a dreamy evening mooch in the set-aside:

24 Oct 12

24 Oct 15

Very muddy, and very happy:

24 Oct 15-001

The Horse Talker has brought us a thrilling new addition to the paddock. Stan the Man is beside himself:

24 Oct 16

Although this is in fact his deeply quizzical face:

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And, at last, my dear old hill:

24 Oct 22

And I can’t resist adding that the glittering champion won me literally hundreds of pounds today. I’ve had a rotten couple of weeks, trying to be more forensic about my betting. I felt stupid and wrong as I returned some of my previous winnings to the flinty Mr William Hill.

Today, the odds said a McCoy five-timer was pretty remote, even though a lot of his rides were fancied. We’re back over the jumps, after all. All it takes is a stumble, a slip, something else falling in front. Despite all that, I wanted him to reach his hundred for the season so much, and to approach the magical figure of 4000 winners overall, which he is closing in on, that I backed every single one of them, several in accumulators. It was like he presented me with a suitcase of cash. I should send him flowers.

I’m not at all sure what life lesson I should draw from that.


  1. Life is certainly full of 'hard mouthed disappointments' but, as you say, grit will see us through until the ultimate blizzard hits. That's a lovely phrase, as are the cows. And winnings are always lovely, as I recall...

  2. Congrats on the win! And yes, a good drive in the car is almost as healing as sitting by the sea. An excellent life palate cleanser, that.

  3. Five wins in one day seems like a LOT of hard work! (And even more talent, to be sure!) (Being so astute as to know what & on whom to bet is definitely a talent too!)

    A drive in the country, a walk in the forest or at the sea...all tonic & great for rejuvenation as well as sorting out thoughts.

    And the colors in Scotland....take my breath away. WOW!

  4. Loved the photos today. Stanley looked wonderful.



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