Friday, February 23, 2018

You're only human (second wind)

Of course, the big story.  I forgot that when writing the last chapter - the non-declared wind-operation which the 25/1 winner at Newcastle had undergone.  Why on earth wasn't the horse disqualified?  Or, rather, if (as seems to be the case, as I understand it) the trainer informed the stewards a short while before the race that he had omitted to declare the wind-operation, why was the horse allowed to run?  The closest parallel I can think of is a horse running in blinkers which hadn't been declared.  Under that scenario, the horse would automatically be disqualified.  Or if it was discovered beforehand that he was wearing undeclared blinkers (and if they couldn't be removed so there was no option of him running without them) he wouldn't be allowed to run.

Is this a fair analogy, especially as one could argue that whether a horse has had a wind operation since his latest run could be at least as influential a factor as whether or not he is wearing blinkers?  Similarly, if a horse is found to have carried 3lb more or 3lb less than was intended, then he's disqualified - and a wind operation can have a lot more influence on the horse's performance than a few pounds more or less.  Overall, that the horse was neither scratched beforehand nor disqualified subsequently is inexplicable.  And the fact that this debacle ever came about is inexcusable.  Omitting to notify the authorities that a horse has had a wind operation isn't a split-second oversight; you have weeks to lodge the notification, and it only takes a minute.  I know that I generally rail against the stiffness of penalties handed out to trainers, but a fine of less than what one would have won by putting a tenner each way on the horse was ludicrous.

It has been pointed out to me that, rather than the blinkers analogy, an alternative parallel would be if a horse had been gelded and had been declared as a colt, in which case he would be allowed to run and wouldn't be disqualified.  The line of thinking was that this suggests that the horse with the undeclared wind operation should be allowed to run and shouldn't be disqualified.  However, I would look at it the other way round, and suggest that we should perhaps re-assess whether we are too permissive of a horse's gender being misdescribed.  I'd feel that a horse ought to match up to his description of pedigree, age and gender (colour is less important) to be eligible to run.  There has to be a point at which you say that the horse in front of you does not match the description of the horse on the race-card, and I would say that pedigree, year-of-birth and gender should be prerequisites.

Still, the whole wind thing is too cocked up anyway.  We've been having this interminable debate about whether wind-operations should be declared, when it shouldn't even be up for discussion: it should be axiomatic that they're declared.  There's a massive reason for their being declared (that such a move is very popular with punters) and there's no downside.  But, inexplicably, the debate which we should have been having, ie whether horses should be allowed to run after having had wind-operations, has never happened.  I find that so odd.  Or maybe I don't: one never needs to look too hard to find a reminder that ethics are a minority interest in the current age.

Wind-operations are permissible and, while I doubt that there would be more than a couple done to horses in this stable during a decade, we're going to have one done next month to Wasted Sunsets.  If they're allowed, why not take advantage when it seems expedient?  But, in truth, it makes no sense, in a jurisdiction which makes a great play out of banning anabolic steroids, to allow horses to run after having had wind-operations.  There isn't much difference - both are performance-enhancing and unnatural scientific treatments aimed at changing a horse from his/her natural state to a state in which, it is hoped, he/she might be able to run faster for longer than nature intended.  The only real difference is that a course of anabolic steroids is less performance-enhancing than a wind operation potentially might be, and does less damage to the horse.

And that's not the limit of the lack of logic attached to the current rules.  A tie-back or tie-forward is permitted and a hobday operation is permitted, but using a nasal strip (a strip of tape stuck pulled tight across the top of the nose to, some hope, enlarge temporarily the area of the opening of the nostrils and thus allow more air to be taken in per breath) isn't.  Where's the sense in that?  They are both unnatural ways of trying to help the horse to take in more air than nature intended and thus to enhance his/her performance, the only differences being that the nasal strip is merely a temporary attachment which does no long-term damage to the horse, and that it is surely less effective than a wind-operation potentially might be.

And on the subject of wind-operations, the really weird thing is that a few years ago tubing a horse (ie cutting an opening in the front of his/her throat and inserting a metal plug-hole, to try to get more air into the horse's lungs each breath, bypassing the horse's larynx altogether) was banned but other wind operations were not.  Where's the sense in that?  Tubing would always be my wind-operation of choice.  It often doesn't do any good (which comment one can apply to all wind-operations) but it does at least have the advantage of doing the least harm.  And, even more pertinently, it causes no permanent damage: remove the tube, and the hole closes up within a couple of weeks.  And it has the further advantage of being visible, so there can be no misunderstandings, deliberate or otherwise, about whether or when the horse has had the operation since he/she last raced.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Well, how did I get here?

Now that I've resumed writing this blog, I ought to make sure that I churn out the chapters reasonably frequently.  Particularly now that Emma has done such a good job of creating the new website www.johnberryracing.com from which one can reach it.  So what's been happening?  Plenty actually.  I don't think that it would be fair to say that Championship Horse Racing is actually happening yet, but I've been in touch with the organisers and the BHA on the subject, and it does appear to be the case that both bodies are keen that, if it takes place, it should be as inclusive as possible.  Which is terrific news.  (And not surprising, certainly from the BHA's point of view, as our overlords have been practising what they preach with the recent significant prize-money boosts having been directed towards the lower tiers).  So you might yet be hearing every Thursday night from the bravest animals in the land, Captain Berry and his band.

With my having recently written an obituary of the still-born child Street Racing - or so I thought - I was rather taken aback a few days later to read in the Racing Post that it might yet live.  It seems that I was correct to surmise that it wouldn't happen in Oxford Street, but we are told that it may come to pass up the Champs Elysees.  Time will tell, and I won't be holding my breath; but seemingly the dream lives on for the time being.  If so, we might soon be reading about the street-racing industry.  What's prompted that observation?  Well, I still struggle with what I was brought up to regard as 'the sport of kings' (even though I probably prefer 'the king of sports') being described as 'the racing industry' - but I have at least come to terms with the fact that that is what it is now generally held to be.

But, even resigned as I am to the fact of 'the racing industry', it had still never occured to me that I would one day be hearing about 'the point-to-point industry'.  But that day has dawned, as I heard the phrase used on TV the other day.  Still, I suppose it could have been worse: I could have heard reference to 'the pointing industry'.  As my health and strength return and as the weather improves, my state of mind is regaining its usual positivity.  But I fear that 'the pointing industry' might have sent me into a relapse.  'In terms of the pointing industry' would have finished me off altogether.

One might, though, say that the biggest story of the week was the latest installment of the Racing Post's expose of bloodstock scams.  The paper did an investigative overview of the sales-scene towards the end of last year, which inevitably delivered less than it had promised because of the understandably general reticence towards saying anything that wasn't unsatisfactorily vague.  Like City Racing, this all went quiet until last week - when the paper weighed in with another chapter.  This, though, turned out to be coming from a different angle: scams potentially committed against, rather than by, bloodstock agents.  All in the interests of balance, I suppose.

What I particularly enjoyed about this was Oliver St Lawrence finding himself in a restaurant in Madrid.  I always enjoy it when people find themselves somewhere.  Ideally you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack, and you may find yourself in another part of the world.  And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile.  And you may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife.  And you may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here?".  But, otherwise, finding yourself in a restaurant in Madrid and asking yourself, "Well, how did I get here?" is OK.
Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Racing in the street

From famine to feast: chapters coming in thick and fast now.  (And thank you, Dominic, for your thoughts on the last one.  Much appreciated.  I am glad that you found that it struck a chord and that you enjoyed it).  One might think that this one is going to continue in what one might call my maudlin theme, given that the headline is the title of one of Bruce Springsteen's best songs.  "Some guys they just give up on living and start dying little by little, piece by piece; some guys come home from work and wash up, and go racing in the street ... She sits on the porch of her daddy's house but all her pretty dreams are torn, she stares off alone into the night with the eyes of one who hates for just being born".

But I'm not maudlin.  This chapter has nothing to do with that heart-achingly beautiful song (other that quoting from it in the previous chapter, and stealing its title).  It has, initially anyway, to do with racing in the street, maybe Oxford Street or Regent Street, something which last year we were told might happen.  Of course, anyone with any common sense (one didn't even need to know anything about anything - one just needed to have some common sense) knew that this would never happen.  That, of course, didn't stop some people with exalted positions in the racing world from sounding off as if they believed that it was a realistic proposition.

We all remember the couple of decades from the late '70s onwards when racing's authorities woke up to the fact that having concrete posts and other solid objects next to the track wasn't a good idea.  These solid objects had caused too many deaths and too many catastrophic injuries, so the rails had to be moved in to keep the horses away from them.  And eventually they were all removed.  (Well, that's not strictly true, because even now, 40 years later, there are still a few still in place, but with the rails moved well away from them.).

It would be feasible to make Oxford Street fit for the racing of horses, but one would need to close it, say, six weeks before the race and to have, say, £10 million at one's disposal to remove all the 'street furniture' (one of the good/bad things about being a Town Councillor is that eventually one reaches the point of having attended so many Development and Planning Committee meetings that one can use the phrase 'street furniture' without finding it odd) such as the lamp posts, traffic lights, benches, litter bins etc., as well as putting down the Polytrack or whatever surface.  And that wouldn't be going to happen.  (And then it would probably take another six weeks to return the street to its proper state).  So 'street racing' was just never going to happen.

And now we have the Grand Prix-style thing, with 12 teams of 30 horses apparently set to take each other on on eight consecutive Thursday evenings during July and August 2018.  Will it happen?  I don't know.  But, if it does happen, I'd love to be part of it.  In the initial article in the Racing Post, I read the boss of Championship Horse Racing, Jeremy Wray, quoted as saying, "Hopefully a whole lot of trainers will put themselves forward as potentially captaining a team".  So I've done so: I've contacted CHR to volunteer.  Once we know what the ratings-bands and distances of the races will be, I would be confident that I could arrange for 30 trainers each to put forward one suitable horse so that we had a team of 30 horses which could make a solid challenge for the series.

And that's important.  We are told that this innovation would potentially put £10,000,000 "into racing" (whatever that means).  I think that it is important that, if it were to happen, it would come as close to that aspiration as possible.  In other words, the worst of all worlds would see there being 12 teams with each team containing 30 horses from one stable, which in practice would mean that very, very few owners would be involved as well as merely 12 trainers.  That, to my mind, would be putting money into such a tiny subsection of racing that it would fall a long way short of putting something "into racing".

The ideal would be that these 360 horses would be owned by 360 different owners, and would come from as close to 360 different stables as possible.  If this money comes with the proviso that horses are only eligible for to run if they are trained in, say, the 12 biggest stables in the country and if very, very few owners would be allowed to run their suitable horses in the races, then I would wonder whether it mightn't cause more trouble than it would be worth.  You might ask why I'm saying that.  Well, Gay Kelleway's tweeted reaction on hearing the news of the potential innovation sums it up: "Once again to push smaller trainers out of the game. 20 stables with 500 horses each - that's the future of British racing".

I can't illustrate the downside to this project (if done to make it as exclusive, rather than as inclusive, as possible) better than that.  I actually have grave concerns about any prize money going into any race which only some horses are allowed to enter (leaving aside, obviously, qualifications such as 'for three-year-old fillies only' - a race for which any three-year-old filly is eligible is fine, but one for which only three-year-old fillies trained by an arbitrary list of trainers are eligible, with three-year-old fillies trained by anyone else barred, is totally unacceptable) but this would be fine if the eligibility is as inclusive as possible.  If not, one would have to wonder whether it's actually worth having.

Will it happen?  God only knows.  Ladbrokes' betting suggests that it won't.  That's probably fair.  And will it bring in new sponsors?  Again, Ladbrokes betting suggests that it won't.  The firms priced up by Ladbrokes are ones which already sponsor racing, and are largely ones run by people already naturally disposed in racing's favour - with the exception of Blue Nun.  I'm very pleased to see Blue Nun listed as a likely (well, not that likely, as it's 125/1) potential sponsor.  We don't see nearly as much Blue Nun as we did when concrete posts were ubiquitous on British racecourses.  More's the pity as I remember it as being delicious, although I was only young at the time and my tastes might have changed since then.  But it's good to see Blue Nun getting into racing - and it's already involved, with the last winner at Catterick yesterday, The Some Dance Kid, being owned by 'The Blue Nuns'.

Anyway, the gist of all that is that this, if done right, could be great because it would make racing as popular as Formula One.  Is this, though, saying much?  Is anyone interested in Formula One?  I know hundreds of people well enough to know what their interests are, and I only know two people (Nigel Walker, formerly of this parish, now head lad to Andrew Balding; and James Millman) who follow Formula One. Why would anyone follow it?  It used to be terrific, but in recent decades it has been so completely stripped of its panache and so completely de-humanised that it's hard to see that it has any appeal whatsoever.  A sensible observer made this observation to me today about the project: "It's the analogy with Formula 1 which fills me with dread.  A boring procession of highly paid mechanised adverts where the competition is created by refuelling stops.  Can't see that working with horses."

Of course, Formula One is always going to have a sizeable core-audience: the petrol-heads.  There will always be plenty of them.  But they aren't particularly interested in Formula One as a sport: mainly, I would suggest, they simply love the demonstration of automotive speed and power.  And there will be almost no cross-over between petrol-heads and racing fans, as the core appeals of the two sports are like chalk and cheese.  Over and above that, we have the problem of supposedly a prime-time viewing slot on Thursday evenings.  Thursdays on ITV currently revolve around Emmerdale Farm.  Is Fraser Hines going to be bumped in favour of racing?  It seems unlikely.  And are we really going to capture the attention of the young on a Thursday night?  As I remember it from when I was one of the young, Thursday night was 'Top of the Pops' night.  And that was non-negotiable.

So we'll just have to wait and see.  But if it does happen, I hope that next year I'll be Councillor Berry every Monday night, and Captain Berry every Thursday night.  As ever, we'll live in hope.
Sunday, February 11, 2018

The king of sports or the sport of kings?

The big story in recent weeks - in my mind anyway as I am (very proud to be) a tiny wheel in the ATR machine and thus can't view the subject objectively - has been the news that the coverage of Irish racing will move next year from ATR to RUK.  I find this very sad.  ATR has done an outstanding job not merely of covering the racing but also of promoting it.  It is several years since I have been to the races in Ireland, but one gets the impression that the sport there currently has a great feel-good factor.  I think that the style and quality of ATR's coverage can take a lot of the credit for this, on top of the fact that this coverage is freely available for viewing in every Irish household which subscribes to Sky TV.

Racing, anywhere in the world, is always going to have an Achilles heel in that it will have the potential to be viewed as an elitist sport, which isn't great when you're trying to appeal right across the social spectrum.  Irish racing is particularly vulnerable to that at present, even more so than in Great Britain, as both Flat and National Hunt it is dominated by a handful of mega-wealthy owners, and the smaller players (trainers and jockeys as well as owners) are being squeezed out.  In a country which always seems to have an admirably egalitarian ethos (mind you, when one lives in a monarchy one tends to get that impression, rightly or wrongly, about any republic) this situation is potentially harmful for Irish racing as regards the extent of its popularity across society.

However, ATR's coverage is so all-inclusive that it has pretty much eliminated this as a potential drawback.  On ATR, the sport comes across as the sport of the people, a sport which is all fun and zero 'stuffiness', zero pomposity, zero elitism.  The on-course presenters, headed by Gary O'Brien, are outstanding, and Matt Chapman does plenty to spread the joy whether he's in Great Britain or Ireland. That's terrific, and it's so good for the popularity and health of Irish racing.  It will be pretty much impossible for RUK to do as good a job in promoting the sport, however good a job its presenters and producers so.

Not only will the Irish racing be a less significant part of the output on RUK than it has been on ATR (as RUK has nearly all of the major racecourses in Great Britain) - it will be impossible for RUK to spread its reach across such a wide swathe of the Irish (and British) population.  ATR is available to everyone who subscribes to Sky.  RUK is only available to those who can afford and are prepared to pay another £299.76 (or 360 euros) per year on top of that.  If Irish racing had been behind a pay-wall from the outset, that would have been another matter.  However, on both sides of the Irish Sea we have become accustomed to seeing it without paying extra.  A socio-economic divide will be put in place to separate those who have the racing on TV in their homes and those who don't, and that will inevitably undo a lot of the good work which ATR has been done in persuading the population at large that Irish racing is not an elitist sport but is the sport of the people.

That's sad, and it is easy to understand why pretty much anyone who cares about the health of Irish racing is both saddened and angry about this.  And this isn't, by the way, a criticism of the RUK presenters or producers.  The channel has top-class people in both categories.  I don't think it would be possible to do a better job of covering the racing than the ATR team has been doing, but it's easy to believe that the RUK people will be able to do it as well.  However, the fact is that, however good a job they do, their work will only be seen by those who can afford to spend an extra 360 euros per year to have one extra TV channel.

Just before I finish this chapter, I must apologise for the fact that I returned from my 52 days in the wilderness not eating locusts and honey or whatever, but whingeing.  The aim wasn't to revel in the self-indulgence of self-pity, but merely to fulfill the aspiration of this blog, which is to be a personal and honest depiction of life here.  Actually, there's also a bit more to it than that: I was also, along with trying to make the blog personal and honest, trying to practise what I preach.  When I give people advice about how to live their lives (and I know that that sounds very conceited, but it does sometimes happen) my most important suggestion is that one should never to be afraid or ashamed to admit that one is a human being rather than a machine, that one has feelings and human frailties just like everyone else.

I advise never to be afraid to admit that you're struggling, that you're hurting, that you're afraid, that you can't do something.  For a machine that's a fault but for a human there's no failing in that: these are merely signs that you're human, that you're normal.  So it would be hypocritical of me, when I've been finding the going tough, to be afraid and/or ashamed to mention it.  And it's particularly topical at this time.  Subsequent to the dreadful news of the deaths of Richard Wollocott, Johnny Winter and Willie Codd, I thought that we'd all agreed that when one's finding things tough, the way forward is not to bottle up one's fears and worries, but to be open about them.  That's the best thing for the person involved, and it's the best thing for society in general because it can be a comfort to others to find that they're not the only ones.

REM spotted this years ago.  "When you're sure you've had enough of this life, well, hang on.  Don't let yourself go, 'cause everybody cries, and everybody hurts sometimes ... If you feel like you're alone - no, no, no: you're not alone ... Well, everybody hurts sometimes.  Everybody cries.  And everybody hurts sometimes ... So hold on, hold on, hold on ... Everybody hurts."  Those are wise words.  I don't want to make this chapter sound gloomy, because I'm not gloomy.  But, all in all, I thought that this blog wouldn't be fulfilling its purpose or its potential in several respects if I glossed over the fact that I had found January a very taxing month.  Mind you, I say that society seems to agree that openness is a good thing, but I might have to reassess that view as Emma has told me that I shouldn't have written it as it might be interpreted as a weakness, and that's not a great advertisement for a horse-trainer.  So maybe we have a bit farther to go than I was believing!
Friday, February 09, 2018

Excuses, excuses!

I probably ought to come up with some sort of explanation why I have not filed any copy in this blog since 19th December.  (And today is 9th February).  There isn't one, really.  I just didn't really feel like putting finger to keyboard.  I tried to make the period between Christmas and New Year as idle as possible, which isn't saying much but one way of doing so was spending as little time on the computer as possible.  And then I was very low in January, physically and mentally.  I had actually been very low mentally through December too; and when you're finding it hard to summon up the enthusiasm to do anything which doesn't have to be done, your creative juices tend not to be flowing freely.

Last year we had a good year on the racecourse with 13 winners at a strike-rate of something slightly over 20%.  I say that vaguely because we had 11 winners on the Flat and two under National Hunt rules.  The Racing Post tells us that our strike rate on the Flat was 20%.  Our National Hunt strike-rate would have been higher than that as we would not have had as many as 10 runners in the year (I think that it was seven - four by White Valiant and three by Delatite).  And that obviously means that our overall strike rate would have been slightly higher than our Flat strike rate.  That's all well and good, but unfortunately financially it was a very bad year.  But what was keeping my morale up through the autumn as the books were consistently failing to balance was that Kilim was entered in the December Sale, where she would surely right the ship for a while.

Anyway, that didn't happen, and that nasty shock did knock the wind out of my sails.  Kilim has a beautiful pedigree (the Dansili x Sadler's Wells cross is lovely, and her dam isn't just any old Sadler's Wells mare, but a full-sister to a Classic winner) and now that she had found her form, I reasoned that she would be viewed as a lovely broodmare prospect.  She was in great form in the autumn, and went to the December Sale only half a length off having won her last three races.  She had won, then finished second beaten half a length, and then finished second beaten a short head.

And to give the form a real solid feel, the horse who had beaten her both the times when she was second (Esspeegee) continued winning afterwards and now, having broken his maiden when he beat her the first time, he is now the winner of his last four races.    She was still every bit a racing prospect as she was 100% sound and genuine, and was only just finding her form and looked certain to continue to improve, so she would be pretty much nailed on to win more races if she stayed in training.  But, much though it pained me, I felt that I had to sell her now that she was clearly a valuable broodmare prospect, just to keep the show on the road.

Best laid plans of mice and men, eh?  I was very happy when her year-younger half-sister Dubara made 180,000 guineas the day before Kilim was due to go through the ring.  Dubara is a better racehorse than Kilim, but not massively so: she isn't a black-type performer as, although she has run in one Listed race, she finished 13th of 13 in it, beaten 27 lengths which is a long way in a seven-furlong race.  I wasn't expecting Kilim to fetch anything like as much as Dubara, but her fetching 10% of her sibling's price didn't seem to be an unrealistic hope.

The problem was, of course, that we are operating in a two-tier market.  There is no domestic demand for horses as racing's economics are shot to pieces in this country; but there is a very strong export market.  If you sell a horse when there are overseas buyers there, you'll get plenty for him/her if he/she has credentials sufficient to appeal to the international market-place.  Otherwise, you'll get virtually nothing.  A classic example of this is our own dear Hope Is High.

There is a mare very closely related to her (both are by Sir Percy, and it is something like that their dams are half-sisters) who was sold at the December Sale a few years ago (in foal to Bahamian Bounty, but he was just a bread-and-butter stallion, and the covering would have added very little to her value) on a day when there was strong international representation and she fetched 100,000 guineas for export to New Zealand.  Hope Is High went through Tattersalls a year or so later on a day without many overseas buyers there, and Emma bought her for 800 guineas.  The further irony is that Hope Is High is a better racehorse with a better racing record than the mare who went to New Zealand (who won one race) although admittedly that was unknown at the time as it was still early days in Hope Is High's racing career at that stage, and it was not yet known how much ability she did or didn't have.  But we can still see the point: a horse's value goes up or down by an almost unbelievable degree depending on which day he or she strolls through the ring.  It makes no sense whatsoever.

Tattersalls appear to put their less preferred horses and/or less preferred vendors on the last day of the December Sale, and the overseas buyers don't stay for it.  There are four days of selling that week, and less than 1% of the week's aggregate was spent that day.  Inexplicably, Kilim was put on the last day, and the highest bid made for her in the ring was 3,500 guineas.  I subsequently sold her for 4,000 guineas, which really pained me as I really didn't want to see her go.  But, much as it pained me to sell her for that sum, I pretty much had to do so as I had run up significant pre-sale costs and had already bought two replacements.  (And even as I was buying them, the thought was haunting me that this would be a major debacle if Kilim ended up not selling well.  But at the time I really couldn't see that happening, so I thought that I was safe enough).

Anyway that debacle floored me for a while, the disappointment of my miscalculation coming at the end of what had been a financially disastrous year.  And a very tiring year too.  I believe the norm is to have 132 days (52 Saturdays + 52 Sundays + 8 Bank Holidays + 20 days' leave) off a year and, while one knows as a trainer or a jockey one is never going to have anything like that, ending a year with the realisation that one's total of days off has been zero, and that one has nothing but exhaustion to show for it, is sobering.  And then things got worse in January.  I had a very bad dose of 'flu from which I haven't yet fully recovered, but at least I am able to function normally again now, even if I am still permanently exhausted.  Jana was unwell with a similar virus at the same time, which meant that we had to grind to a halt for a while.  And the further complication is that we are very short-handed anyway, for a reason which really vexes me.

Unlike all too many trainers, I do everything I can to try to minimise the risk of injury to those under my command.  And yet we're a woman down for a couple of months as the result of a serious injury.  The person concerned (and I'd rather not mention her name, just to save her from any embarrassment) was lucky enough to be invited to Henry Spiller's wedding in Ireland last month because her boyfriend works for Henry.  When they went off we felt slightly uneasy as there was anecdotal evidence to suggest that he might drink a lot and that violence might ensue; but, even expecting the worst, I still was not prepared for the full extent of the upshot.

On the Sunday evening she appeared in the yard, clearly in a lot of pain, and told me that she had been the victim of domestic violence over there, and had broken bones in her hand and broken ribs.  Unbelievable.  (I should add, in the interests of fairness, that her boyfriend says that she is lying and that he did not injure her.  I went to see him to ask whether he might be prepared to make a contribution to her wages while she was off.  I wasn't surprised when he said that he wouldn't be; but I was taken aback when he told me that she was lying, that he was the victim here, and that she had injured herself falling over.  So taken aback, in fact, that I ended up telling him what I thought of him, which probably wasn't very wise - but there you go.  I have to say that I find her version of events easier to believe, not least because I can't see what motivation she might have to lie about it; and also because, while I could believe her either breaking ribs or breaking her hand by falling over, it's hard to see how she could have broken both that way, and overall her story that when she was on the ground he stamped on her hand and kicked her ribs seems more plausible).

Whatever - this coming at a time when I was physically and mentally at a very low ebb was hard to swallow.  It bothers me, over and above the fact that it has put the rest of us under a lot of pressure, and is costing me a lot of money at a time when I'm not really in a position to have the books becoming any more unbalanced than they already are.  The problem is that I have never been afraid of hard work, but I am a little bit frightened of it now after having been so unwell, and this is now a time when the work is very, very hard.  (Of course, over and above everything else, this type of work always seems harder when the weather is bad; and since Christmas the weather has been dreadful).  I had a similar dose of 'flu in 2006 and it flattened me, and I took a long time to get over it.   But I was only 39 then, and I'm 51 now, and I am struggling at present, physically and mentally.

But I'm getting healthier now in every respect.  Against the background of a recent spate of tragic suicides, Emma did seem to be on some sort of suicide-watch for a time when I was really low, but she needn't have worried.  That's not something I'd ever do.  I think it was Cecil Rhodes who said that to be born an Englishman was to win first prize in the lottery of life.  I'm not English so that counts me out; but, even so, I don't think that I'll ever lose touch with reality enough to forget that, in the great scheme of things, I was dealt a very good hand by fate, and that it would be ridiculous for me ever to try to claim that my hand was an unplayable one.  Clearly not everyone feels this way, but for me one of the axioms of life is that life is a precious gift to be cherished, and not to be surrendered willingly in pretty much any circumstances.  I would be surprised and disappointed if I ever lose sight of that.

And I can prove my intention to be around for a while.  When I was very bad, I wasn't eating but I was making sure that I drank plenty of Lucozade.  I went one day to Waitrose to stock up on Lucozade, and as I also needed to go to Horse Requisites to buy a few bags of feed I took the car rather than walked.  When I was in the soft drinks' aisle in Waitrose looking for the Lucozade, I saw that bottles of Bundaberg root beer (which I love - it's a soft drink but it isn't sweet like, say, coke or lemonade, so is much nicer and much easier to drink) were much reduced 'to clear'.  As I had the car outside and wasn't limited to buying only what I could carry, I bought the lot.  I had no wish to drink root beer at the time (and still haven't drunk any of it) but it's lovely in the summer when it's hot and one is thirsty.  That's when I plan to drink it, and I wouldn't have bought it unless I was anticipating being around then.  So, anyway, don't worry - if I'm not around to drink the root beer in the summer, it won't be by design.  And I hope that I'll be writing chapters more regularly again henceforth.