Why did their car have to break down, Tom asked himself petulantly. He stood up from the grassy bank on the side of the road upon which he had thrown himself moments before. Lincoln was a dump, he decided. He was a metropolitan teenager whose experience of “the country” was limited to being dragged along on this annual family Easter holiday. Every year it was some place different but they were all the same to Tom. Boring.
“I’m going to look for a shop” he announced. His mother looked at her fifteen year old son hesitantly and then nodded assent. The break down vehicle could be hours and he was bound to be hungry.
He set off along the road-side path, walking briskly at first and then slowly jogging. He could see a large building on the left hand side of the road emerging ahead of him. It looked like an old grandstand. Tom was so busy looking at the strange sight of a grandstand in the middle of nowhere with a road running in front of it that he didn’t see the large pot hole in the path which caused his foot to crumple underneath him. He fell hard, banging his head on the concrete.
Tom lay there momentarily, slightly dazed, but was suddenly stirred back to full consciousness by a deafening roar. Jumping to his feet he found himself standing beside a white fence on the curve of a bend not on concrete but on springy green grass and the fresh smell of it tingled in his nostrils. Slightly ahead of him to his left was the grandstand. Not the tired, dull, grey, derelict shell he had seen seconds before but a proud, brightly painted building and it was absolutely stuffed full of people! In fact people were everywhere and they were all turned to the left watching something. He heard another roar rise like a tsunami in front of him and then down a strip of green to the right of the fence came the thundering horses pounding the ground in relentless pursuit of a win.
Tom ran deep into the pulsing throng of people and standing tall saw that three horses were pulling away from the others. The crowd grew wild and arms and hands and heads waved and gesticulated with contagious exuberance. Never before had Tom witnessed such passion. One horse was edging out from the leading triumvirate. First a nose, then a head and then half a length. But the horse behind him hadn’t given up and his jockey, a blur of lime green and pink, pulled back a neck from the leader. Even from a distance, Tom could sense the fierceness of the first colt’s determination as he drove himself onwards and onwards over the last few lengths. He almost heard the bursting beat of the horse’s mighty heart as he carried his silk clad jockey over the finishing line to glory.
Tom felt a rush of excitement course through his veins and he threw up his arms in exaltation as the volcanic crowd erupted with pleasure. A few of the people around him threw bits of paper to the floor dejectedly whilst others laughed and jostled their way good naturedly towards a group of men standing atop boxes beside chalkboards marked with numbers and weird names. All around him it was a riot of colour with men in strange baggy trousers and women in floral print dresses. And hats. A sea of hats bobbed around him. Pushing his way to the rails Tom saw the victor, his ears still pricked and his nostrils steaming into the chill of the March afternoon. For one brief moment Tom’s eyes met the colt’s and he glimpsed in their dark depths a heritage spanning countless millennia. As the horse passed swishing its happy tail Tom closed his eyes and breathed in the intoxicating aroma of success.
The voice was familiar. Tom turned to see his mother standing on the side of the road, their car hoisted up by a tow truck. He took a step towards her and then stopped and turned back to face the grandstand. It was grey and forlorn and silent as the grave. Then something on the floor caught his eye. He bent down and picked up a small booklet. On the front it said:
Spring Meeting, Wednesday , March 27th 1957
OFFICIAL RACECARD ONE SHILLING”.
Carefully putting the race card inside his T-shirt so as not to bend it,- Tom stepped up into the truck and sat beside his sister. The elderly driver said to him:
“You’ve been looking at the old grandstand eh? Terrible shame that they let it go. The racecourse I mean. Haven’t raced here since 1964” the old man said shaking his head in disbelief.
“There was nothing like Lincoln Races in its heyday” he added “the roar of the crowd and the sight of all those beautiful horses!”
“I know” said Tom thoughtfully and his mother gave him a quizzical look.