The Cheltenham Races

In honour of this week’s Cheltenham races I thought I would share an extract from my book, Parhelion, where the narrator spends the day at the races.

The experience changes him for ever as he discovers the uncomfortable truth about his new friend Hugo.




The Cheltenham races were green and feverous with greed. They were vulgar and pleasurable; a page-spread for the effects of money on each type of man. The faces of the crowd were a blend of life’s uglier emotions: greed, envy, pity, shame, loss. Morals came second to the allure of winning, the thrill of the bet, the shrieking howls of desperation and more greed. Problems could be solved with a flutter or doubled in a second. It was a collage of throbbing veins, flushed cheeks blushing, the escape of dreaming eyes, hands trembling, fingers arthritic with hope. Greed wore a suit or a frock and stumbled from race to race. Greed travelled in packs of notes that sprouted from the hands of sovereign-ringed chancers. We were all clinging to the blur of possibility, always two bets ahead in our dreams, collecting the winnings that would fall into the hands of the bank manager, the mortgage man, the private school bursar, the golf club treasurer, the showroom salesman, the fawning barman, but never the fingertips of sense.

I felt discomfort and anxiety for the whole time I was in our enclosure because something was telling me to look out beyond the course. I had gone from being a general studying the mock-up of a battle, safe in his palace, to standing on the edge of the hill and looking down at the formations of real breathing men.

But no one can see it all. You only see what comes at you: the charge of horses, the rapture of expectation and the horror of loss. Cheltenham was a symbol. A mass of mankind so close to the mountains and the church but seduced by the devil and revelling in its failed moralities.

The experience was pushing me closer to God and I felt uneasy. I stared at the hills and at the church, seemingly more aware of their presence than anyone around me. Possibly more in need of them then I had ever thought.

There was a sensation in my chest that would not cease. It troubled me throughout the day, starting at the races and staying with me throughout. It was not a pain but felt as if fear was being injected into the centre of my body.

At least twenty times that day, or maybe more, I started to leave but could not get further than my thoughts.

I did not care for the races, the people or the horses. I wasn’t really sure why I went, except for that I had never been and knew I would not go again quite in the same way I had arrived.





Notorious B.I.G. (May 21, 1972 – March 9, 1997)




2o years ago last Thursday.

I still remember the first time I heard you growl on the radio. It was Westwood, only ever Westwood, on Capital Radio’s hip hop show and I was fifteen years old growing up in Sutton.

When he introduced you I remember the crackle on my shit FM radio. Even the white noise was in awe.

What followed was incredible. It was as deep as it was raw. The flow, the delivery and charisma that I still don’t believe has been matched in hip hop since.

Still one of my heroes

RIP Biggie Smalls

(May 21, 1972 – March 9, 1997)

1 – The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald


Dear ______________

The problem with lists is that you can’t please everyone. I could say that something is the greatest thing since sliced bread and someone else will be allergic to wheat. Lists are like that. They are as divisive as they are unifying.

I remember when I was a kid listening to Capital Radio’s annual countdown of the top 1000 songs of all time. They would play hours of classic songs every day over Christmas, leading up to the New Year. I still remember the anticipation of waiting to see what would be number 1 that year. Would it be `Bohemian Rhapsody`? Or `Imagine`. Perhaps even `Stairway to Heaven`?

But there was one year when the listeners, or staff at Capital Radio went off piste. They chose something else, something quite horribly vile. I think they chose… `Angels` by Robbie Williams. That was the moment when I stopped believing in the magic of other people’s lists.

Doing this for World Book Day has been cathartic. I feel like it’s ok to think again about my ex-books. For inspiration I revisited all of the books on my bookshelf at home, plus the  ones in my cupboard at school. I even walked laps of the school library reminiscing about those books that I had once loved, whilst fluttering my eyelashes at some new ones that caught my eye.

`The Great Gatsby` is one of the loves of my life. It inspired me to write my own book and for that I will be forever grateful.

I still remember the moment in `The Great Gatsby` when I realised it was different from the rest. Up until that point it can only be compared to the early days of a relationship. I was nervous and unsure whether it was lust or the real thing? I was young and often easily pleased.

Then I read these words:

“There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

That was the first paragraph of Chapter 3 and it was the moment when I knew.

Sometimes I don’t tell you enough but I love you The Great Gatsby. I love you lots and lots. I’m sorry if I take you for granted. Thank you for inspiring me to be a writer.



AB  xx

2 – The Norton Anthology of English Literature


Do you remember university? Four hours of lectures every week, Tesco Value bread for that cheese on toast, the over-priced shop on campus, the town pubs you wouldn’t go near, Fresher’s Week, Wednesday was Cheese Night, the SU Bar, halls of residence, your dissertation…

Do you remember the Norton Anthology?

If you do –  then you must have done an English degree.

The Norton Anthology is one of the best kept secrets in Literature. Since its first edition in 1962 it has been the staple of English students around the world.

You should have done an English degree. We had reading time instead of lectures. Some of us even had whole weeks devoted to turning the odd page from time to time and looking intellectual. I won’t lie to you, I couldn’t count the amount of classic books I read back then. If I’m being really honest 1999-2001 was a bit of a blur, hence my 2:2.

If you haven’t heard of The Norton Anthology let me tell a few details. Firstly, it was a real brick of a book, but filled with these incredibly thin tracing-paper pages. It was also 20,000 pages long stuffed with prose, poetry and biographies of all of the greats of English Literature.

In 1998 it cost me a whopping £30 to buy. To put that into perspective that was the equivalent of about fifteen pints of snakebite and blacks in the Student Union bar.

I still remember the sound of my heart breaking as I parted with the cash in the Waterstones that dominated the centre of our campus.

And where is my copy of the Norton Anthology now, almost twenty years after leaving university?  I can tell you. I’m looking at it right now. It’s on my bookshelf in my front room, where else? It’s a multi-functional gem: collecting dust and making me look clever at the same time? I get it out from time to time but only to ask people, “Do you remember the Norton Anthology?”