The other side of the Epsom Derby
02.06.2007 - 02.06.2007 24 °C
I love horse racing. The super-groomed thoroughbreds, the thundering of their hooves, their speed. The bright colours of the jockies' silks, and the hats and dresses in the crowd. The top hats, the buttonholes, the old fashioned traditions and the fact you can drink champagne at 10am without anyone blinking an eye, rather joining in on the festivities. So, when I realised I was in Surrey on the day of the world famous Derby at Epsom Downs, only a few stops away on the local train, I got excited. But since I hadn't packed a floaty frock and sharp straw trilby for obvious reasons, I decided to join the ranks on the other side of the tracks. Epsom is one of the few racing venues in the world where the public can attend for free, get up against the railings, and have pretty much the same view of the fillies as the Queen does from her royal balcony opposite. Pretty amazing really. I wanted in. Over 100,000 people who shared my love of the old-fashioned sport of horse racing? Bring it. Here are a few things I hadn't considered, however:
1. While I arrived around 3pm, most folks had been there since the crack of dawn staking out their pozzie, some with blankets, the more organised with marquees, one group of ladies going so far as to decorate their marquee with floor rug, seating, an oil painting of roses for the wall and even a brass candellabra.
2. The drink of choice was vodka. Not with a mixer or even a cube of ice...oh no. Neat. From the bottle.
3. It was a 24 degree day, after a week of near-freezing temperatures. Why would you wear a top when you needn't? In fact, why would you need to wear practically any clothes at all?
4. If you can make some money at the same time, brill! Not by betting on the races, mind, but by selling an array of bizzare things not usually needed at the track. Things like, say, manilla envelopes in a range of sizes, a set of steak knives, a 2m glass coffee table with faux-greek pillars for legs, a cut-glass fruit bowl or perhaps some perfume?
5. Sick of watching the ponies? Why not engage in some bare-knuckle fighting for fun? Or take a ride on a rollercoaster where you can sick up your battered sav?
Needless to say, I was stunned, amused, enchanted and a little bit terrified all at once. Apparently the gypsies come from all over the country for the races and stay on site for a few days. They set up their stalls, a fun fair, their caravans and make a weekend out of it. Having never really seen gypsies, it was pretty exciting. Boy, do they party hard, though. I was more than a little relieved to make it safely back on the train and get home in one piece. Oh, and I now see where those Little Brittain guys got the material for Vicky Pollard, and where Catherine Tate gets her info, too. But what I loved best about this bizarro day out, was that, across the track from the complete madness that was going on in the centre, the Queen and her entourage, plus London high society ( who arrived throughout the afternoon via chopper) were watching the same races, sharing the same spirit, though perhaps in slightly different conditions. And when it came time for the Derby, I was pressed up against the railings, watching those horses thunder past with 100,000 other fans. And what could be better than that?