Jeffrey Bernard: Saved by a book of comic genius
First published on January 31, 1985
I have been in the wars again and as a result have spent a few more precious days of this tenuous life in bed – alone.
What happened was that I fell down a flight of concrete steps in the block of flats I live in and, on arrival at the ground floor, realised at once that I’d broken a few ribs.
I recognise the symptoms only too well. I’ve broken ribs before. In my youth when fighting, more recently during the so-called peace talks with various militant feminists, and frequently when I have aimed cars at ditches between Newmarket and Lambourn.
This was the worst case so far, though, and I took myself off to see the vet at Middlesex. Incidentally, I can almost hear you sneering, but I would like to point out at the time of this crushing fall I was on my way to the pub and not returning from it. Thank you.
Anyway, the pain was considerable, and laughing, sneezing or coughing were out of the question, which is, and was, a tall order for a chain smoker whose friends are mostly idiots.
It transpired that not only had I bust most of my left rib cage, but that it had set up a lung infection.
It could have been worse. The nurse who strapped me up was so sensational that I nearly suffered a twisted gut and I’ve known a few old warhorses in Lambourn snuff it over that.
So I took to my bed with a bottle of tablets and 200 cigarettes. It could have been worse – I could have missed some good Flat racing.
As it was, I was saved drowning in the mud at Plumpton and from frostbite at Leicester. But what to read in bed? What to do in bed at all? Broken ribs curtail stud duties and even crawling to the bathroom was a ten-minute job.
It was then that my saviour came flying through the letter box – a review copy of Point-To-Pointers and Hunter Chasers by Mackenzie and Selby.
Now, although I know nothing whatsoever about point-to-pointing and hunting, I can categorically state that this is a book of genius. How come, I hear you ask, if I don’t know anything about the sports?
Well, I can’t understand the music of Stockhausen and I loathe the works of Henry James, but the same sort of hunch that prompted me to back Psidium tells me that Mackenzie and Selby are the Gilbert and Sullivan of the equine world.
Previously I had simply thought that point-to-points were an alfresco of red-faced farmers; the landed gentry identifiable by their green wellies and some very tough women riding gelded cart horses over swamps in remote and unheard of places in the country.
The only time I attended one of these meetings was at Marks Tey, where I derived much pleasure from watching Rolls-Royces and Bentleys being pulled out of the mire at the end of the day by tractors.
But just listen to that great comedy team of Mackenzie and Selby: “Returning to Taunton Area courses, racegoers will be delighted to hear that the gents’ loo at Larkhill has been rebuilt.
Contrary to our version elsewhere, it was knocked down by the cows that graze in the course in the off-season. Their decorousness in using this facility is admirable, but apparently the walls were unable to withstand the crush at a busy time!”
This is great stuff and of far more interest to me than the wretched horses. But just who are these cows? I think we should be told. Messrs Mackenzie and Selby imply they are the milkable variety, but I have my doubts. I have lived in the country and I have seen the middle classes at play of a Saturday afternoon. The two are pretty distinguishable.
But I can’t wait for these ribs to get better and get myself to Larkhill, where I intend to test my nerve by relieving myself in the gents’ loo amidst a cattle drive.
Meanwhile, it’s back to the tea bags while I await the Angel of Mons.
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