The World’s Fastest Greyhound
Little did I know as I queued in front of the new Woolworth’s weighing machine in the summer of 1949, that I would remember the next minute for the rest of my life?
The eager queue of school children waiting to weigh themselves en route to Saturday morning pictures, were not there to monitor their progress against under-nourishment, nor to measure obesity, but simply in order to obtain a weight-card in the highly collectable series, ‘Speed’.
Among the cards I had seen at school were ‘The Flying Scotsman’, the racing driver Malcolm Campbell, and the Olympic athlete Fanny Blankers-Koen.
To this 13-year-old they looked exciting and a change from cigarette cards.
I put my penny in the slot and waited. My weight on the card – 8st 6lb, was of little interest, but the picture was – a brindled greyhound in a red jacket at full stretch.
It read, ‘Priceless Border – Greyhound Derby Winner 1948 – approx 37.3 mph.’
I had another penny left, but with the kids behind me shouting ‘hurry up Churchy, jump off’, I complied – only to jump smartly back on to weigh again. ‘Hallelujah! Another Priceless Border! What are the odds of that?’ I said to the next in line?
Priceless Border was well known by my school mates, some having backed him. And I could remember, reading in the Greyhound Express, about him winning a heat of the 1948 Greyhound Derby in 28.64 sec – a world record for 525 yards – before he went on to win the 1948 Final.
On a day dream level, I learned he was owned by a 10-year-old boy, Desmond O’Kane, his father having bought the dog for £110 as a present for him.
From that moment on, I saved a weekly amount towards my first greyhound.
The strange thing was that no-one else at school, no matter how many times they weighed themselves, ever got a Priceless Border. And it got to the point that a few Doubting Thomases’s, including Bobby Reigate, who only needed that card for the set, continually heckled me into bringing one of the ‘Priceless’cards to school.
During the next day’s dinner break, I enjoyed the notoriety and the bargaining power of being the sole owner of these rare cards. The gathering crowd of enthusiasts inevitably broke up into scuffles, attracting the attention of the duty dinner teacher Ma Frost.
Fearing the card could be confiscated; I quickly switched it for the less valuable cigarette card of Don Bradman and, under duress handed it over.
Later that day, I stoutly refused all overtures from Reigate for the precious card, until he hinted darkly that he would, in future, make me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
A few weeks later, there was a knock on our front door. It was Bobby Reigate and his father. My Dad, unaware of the significance, invited them in and Mum made them tea. It ensued that Mr Reigate was taking Bobby to see Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and asked if I would like to share Billy’s birthday treat?
‘We could stay after the match for the greyhound racing’, he added.
I had to hand it to Bobby; this was an offer I couldn’t refuse. But, wishing to look cool, I sat very still and pinched my leg, until eventually, politely thanking Mr Reigate. Strangely, nothing was said about the Priceless Border card, but with schoolboy honour I knew my duty as one obsessive to another.
Going into the front room I took one of Mum’s ‘get well soon’ cards, wrote Happy Birthday Bobby and dropped in the ‘Priceless.’
More than 60 years later, and by now my prized weight-card long gone, a strange coincidence took place. One evening, on entering ‘greyhound’ into eBay, up popped an original Priceless Border weight-card. Joyfully, I bought it, but that’s not it, for when the card duly arrived I turned it over to see the date – July 49 and, the weight 8st. 6 lb – what are the odds of that?