Very soon all roads will lead to Cheltenham. However, many of those who make their annual pilgrimage to the jumping Mecca, will have had to reshuffle their commitments.
Father Green, travelling from his East End parish, was one such enthusiast, borne on by the hope of an anti-post double, then dragged back on the wave of conscience.
This story is taken from, The Gambling Adventures of Father Green.
Silver and Gold
Father Perry looked out on the paddock at Cheltenham; it was Thursday, March 18, 1982 – Gold Cup day. The answers as to how he had got there and what the repercussions would be, he preferred not to think about, at least until after the Gold Cup.
Just before the King George on Boxing Day, he had placed a tenner bet on Silver Buck at 3-1, doubling it with him winning the Gold Cup at 12-1. A copy of his bet, still intact after the first leg, and showing £510 to £10, was safely in his trouser pocket.
He checked his watch, 3:15 – 15 minutes to post time. Time to look at the principals, as the field of 22 runners encircled the paddock.
And what a star-studded field it was. Night Nurse, twice a winner of the Champion Hurdle, heading the market at 11-4; Diamond Edge (Hennessy Gold Cup), Tied Cottage (the disqualified 1980 Gold Cup winner), and a host of other fancied contenders – Captain John, Grittar, Venture to Cognac, Royal Bond and Silver Buck’s stable companion Bregawn – a veritable who’s who of steeplechasing.
As the runners filed out onto the course, Father Green made haste to find a vantage point, but he had left it too late. Every step with a view was taken, and so reluctantly, he stood at ground level, mid-way between the last fence and the winning post and relied on Peter O’Sullevan’s commentary.
From two fences out, Perry could hear that four horses – Silver Buck, Bregawn, Sunset Cristo and Diamond Edge, had the race between them. Then, over the last, Silver Buck went on from Bregawn, Perry, now unaware he was shouting and jumping up and down in pogo stick fashion to catch a glimpse of the final yards.
He will tell you that what he saw – Silver Buck’s two-length victory over Bregawn – would stay with him for the rest of his life.
It was 4 o’clock before his elation subsided.
“Four o’clock, yes, 4 o’clock, I must get a taxi quickly.”
He hurried through the crowds to get to the carpark in the hope he would be lucky.
“Let me see,” he thought, going though his pockets for the symposium programme, until finally pulling it out with his anti-post voucher.
“Here we are….ah yes, 2 o’clock ’till 4, a lecture on the Early Popes, then 4.30 to 6.00 – Reincarnation and the Progression of Past Lives. Must try and get in for that during the interval,” he thought. And he did.
Directing the cab driver to the Holy Name Hall, an offshoot of St Gregory’s Church in Cheltenham, he breathlessly rejoined the other Catholic priests. For this was a three-day symposium, run by the Dominicans, with the benefit of a Buddhist monk guest speaker.
Father Perry, having successfully slipped in during the interval, was now gasping for some refreshment. However, after being introduced to the Lama, he was taken to a table offering the choice of some unusual vegetarian dishes and a selection of herbal teas.
Deeply frustrated by drinks he could never understand or condone, he enquired if they had anything stronger, whereupon he was offered a brew of Chinese Oolong tea. Although at pains to graciously accept, he still found it necessary to discreetly add some brandy from his hip flask.
Five minutes later, he joined conversation with the Dominican Father Matthew, and to his credit kept a straight bat by remembering the life of Pope Adrian, the only Englishman to occupy the papal chair, 1154 – 1159.
Father Matthew had encountered Perry in the past and always regarded him with baffled suspicion. However, Father Green knew that the good priest was valiantly trying to understand his eccentricities.
Sadly, after indulging in one or two more cups of Oolong a la Perry, he slept soundly through the lecture on reincarnation, only to be woken, by the rousing round of applause for the Lama at the end of question time.
Still feeling drowsy, Father Perry felt the need to excuse himself from the friendly, but dogged Father Matthew, who pursued him for his thoughts on reincarnation. Suddenly, Perry felt the instant need of some fresh air, and so, walked out to the front of house, still accompanied by Father Matthew, who seemed to relish a debate ‘on the hoof.’
At that point, a taxi driver pulled in to inquire if Father Green was his pre-booked fare – his face looked familiar,
“Oh, hello Father, did you get to the racecourse in time to give that old gentleman the last rites?”
Earlier, having flown by the seat of his cassock to fast track to the racecourse, Perry was now on the spot for an ingenious reply.
Miraculously, he was saved by the taxi driver’s knowing expression and exaggerated wink.
“Oh yes,” he replied, returning the wink on Father Mathew’s blind side, “but the rites were not strictly appropriate, as I saw him later in the Tote queue!”
Then, assuming the ride, Perry gratefully clambered aboard, turning to wave a cheery goodbye to the open mouthed Father Matthew.
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