'There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.' Winston Churchill
It's not often I have a sleepless night but last Saturday I tossed and turned and not in a good way. There are two sorts of events that mark the passing of time. The personal ones' like birthdays and anniversaries and the public ones that are shared with the world. The public events might also carry with them personal memories, sounds of childhood and growing up, the memory of familial allegiance. The Oxford and Cambridge boatrace is one of those. In my childhood world, a million miles from Oxbridge privilege, everyone sported their favourite blue on that day and my mother and father, never afraid of marital skirmishes, took opposite sides. It was exciting. Though whatever the outcome of the race my mother was a certain winner. Same too with the Grand National. You might never have been to a race or know a filly from a stallion but that was the day to be an expert and place your shilling where your heart lay. I love horse racing. I used to go a lot when I lived in Cambridge. Newmarket had a magic quality for it, or my life did then, and I had a connection with the Red Cross who covered the events there. There isn't much I don't love about horse racing. Even those girls we see photographed at Aintree with their terrible dress sense, English legs, and huge capacity for fun. Cheltenham races are great and the joy when the Irish are in town! And, of course, I love Clare Balding. I am not a jealous person but I come close to wishing I were Clare or one of her connections. I love animals and don't wish to be sentimental but over the years I have struggled with the Grand National. It can't be necessary for a race to be so dangerous to be so exciting. What would it say about us, about me, if that danger was the motivation in watching? This year was just too much. 'My' horse, 'According to Pete', was especially beautiful. At least to me. We saw him on the television, waiting quietly and calmly in the yard before the parade. OK he wasn't the most flashy and certainly unlikely to win but he was a little chap who looked happy and the sort who would give it his best shot. The team around him was nervous and could hardly speak to the camera. He died in the race. He was brought down by a faller and crashed to the ground. You could see the inevitable outcome when he fell. I suppose it takes one pivotal moment to put everything in a clearer light. I can't touch it again. Even my modest bet seems somehow indecent. I am sorry.