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.