Inside Track

“I thank you for the shadows
It takes two or three to make company
I thank you for the lightning that shoots up and sparkles in the rain
Some say this could be the great divide
Some day some of them say that our hearts will beat
Like the wheels of the fast train, all around the world”

‘Book Of Brilliant Things’ Simple Minds

I can just about tell a horse’s ass from the other end. My blood still chills at the memory of my one experience of Pony Club camp and the Devil’s own pony, Humphrey…the little bastard..I still have bite marks, and injured pride.

So  it may surprise you to learn that one of the highlights of any year is a trip to that London with my best friend Micky, to meet my other best friend Ronan, where we stay with Micky’s brother John, his partner Isabel , and are treated royally…William and Kate ‘royally’ rather than Harry and Meghan ‘royally’ …and go to the races at Sandown. The horse races.

The thing I know even  less about , other than horses themselves, is betting on them. I have two betting strategies, either I bet on horse number 3, or I bet on the unloved horse, i.e. the one with the longest odds that no one else bets on. Neither of these strategies are particularly effective, but it removes any stress from my decision making, and I’m never truly disappointed when I don’t win.

I’m only here for the beer…and thanks to John and Isabel, there is lots of it!

This trip has been an eagerly awaited annual December trip  until the recent interruption of Covid, and then my little cancer contretemps. So this year’s trip seemed that little bit extra special. And, for the first time, my SoulMate was joining us, so it was even extra extra “specialler” !

We made our way to the airport to meet our travelling companions Micky, Helena and Declan, and I was standing in line for security before it hit me. “I haven’t been in an airport for over three years.” I started to feel a wee bit anxious. I also realised that I had in my luggage certain stoma related bits and bobs that may need explanation. This thought hadn’t occurred to me as I ‘d packed the bag, but now surrounded by all these people in a hurry, it was all I was conscious of.

I walked through the metal detector and thankfully my stoma didn’t set anything off, but I saw my bag being shifted to the naughty list.

As you well know, I’m not shy about talking about my cancer, operation, new life , and stoma , and yet the thought of explaining in this crowded place what this bit does, and why do you need that , threw me.

As it turned out my bag was simply swabbed and tested pure Monaghan, so I was let on my way.

We met the gang and my anxiety ebbed a bit as I sat back and enjoyed the casual friction between Micky and Declan’s obsession with being early for everything , and Helena’s nonchalant wandering spirit. The boys operated as a tag team, using our table in the coffee shop as a base, going off in search of Helena as she perused the shops.

On the plane we were the only passengers wearing masks.

Much as I like to think that the entire weekend is put together solely for my benefit, John and Isabel invite other friends and family along. But as they’re all cool and dead on, maybe I’m right, and they’ve all been selected by the criteria that I’d think they’re deadly.

They are deadly.

On the Saturday morning ‘my ‘ specially selected guests arrive for bacon and sausage baps before we head over to the track. Ronan is there, munching into his third sausage bap and exasperating John by refusing to try the bacon.

I’ve known Ronan since we were 9 and in Brother McCabe’s class together in the Christian Brothers School in Monaghan. He was the one who ran to jump over the horse in gym and his foot got caught in the little trampoline, so he smashed into it and broke his arm. First impressions.

Over the day we get to catch up with old friends like Mark and Elaine, Jennifer and Diran, Pippa and Eliza, Kitty and Tim, and make new ones like Vivine and Odel.

At the actual races I bet £5 each way on the most unloved horse in each race. My best result of the day was a 4th last position. Placing a bet on the last race the lady bookie I’d placed bets with all day , said “Are you sure ? It’s 80/1 for a reason.”

“Quite sure.” I replied “ I saw him in the parade ring earlier, he had lovely eyes.”

He came last….but winked at me when he eventually crossed the line. I think it meant something to him that I had faith.

The day seems to pass at a leisurely pace , like floating down the Blackwater, until suddenly people are saying goodbye to each other. Ronan’s family arrive to collect him and his kids and I swap phone numbers so that whenever he’s being a propre ‘Dad’ they can message me and I’ll tell them what he did in the same instance years ago.

Everyone drifts off to bed, except for Declan and I , who have crucial matters of state to discuss and the last of the wine to finish. This is a tall task, because in John and Isabel’s house there is no ‘last of the wine’. We go to bed at what Declan thought was a reasonable 1.30am, I thought we went to bed at 2.30am, but my Soulmate assured us both the next morning that it was 3.45am when we reached the top of the stairs….and then snored for Ireland.

At Gatwick airport on the way back we upset the great Nando’s management system by ordering individually, but ordering similar food , and all using the same table number. Mine was delicious , the others did not fare so well.

When we landed in Dublin Declan’s family were waiting to collect him and we all hugged and said our goodbyes. Before we’d even made it to the exit I had to hide my tears from my Soulmate, until I heard a muffled sob and realised that she was crying too.

“OK ?”

“Just felt overwhelmed saying goodbye.”

“Me too.”

That night I felt a tickle in my throat, but manfully soldiered through the next day. Monday night the tickle developed into a light scraping sensation and I manfully stayed in bed on Tuesday. I took a Covid test , positive. It finally caught up with me. My Soulmate tested positive too.

We’ve had an idyllic week , cocooned together, fire lit , Netflix watched, care parcels delivered by Stephen, Catherine, and Hilda.

The past few days have been the first on our own this year of years without one eye on the clock to make an appointment , collect someone, meet someone, do…something. We are ourselves , and curled up on the couch last night under layers of throws, blankets, hot water bottles and each other, it felt like old times, when we didn’t have a care in the world.

Two completely different, but equally soul enhancing and life affirming experiences within a week.

I’m a lucky boy.



Author: paul

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