It’s that time of year again. The Cheltenham festival. And I’m not talking about books. Once again I am a guest at the legendary racing tipster Colonel Pinstripe’s week-long country house party, and during the day at his racecourse hospitality chalet, where we might have an occasional small sherry or two. It is my eighth consecutive festival. Packing a suitcase for Cheltenham has become a landmark event of the calendar year, signifying primrose time, the retreat of winter, and falling off the Lenten wagon.
My suitcase was open on the bed and I was layering in my outfits. Lounge suit and gaudy tie for the evenings; tweed suit, country check shirt and sober tie for the racecourse; black tie for the journey home. Of course the tweed suit is purely fancy dress in my case, as it is, I’d guess, for the majority of tweed-suit wearers at Cheltenham. Among the crowds at Cheltenham you can generally spot those rare, mauve-faced individuals who wear tweed for practical, outdoor reasons. My tweeds come out once a year, for Cheltenham, then they go straight back in the cupboard. When I dragged them off the hanger to pack them again, the Club enclosure badge for Gold Cup day 2011 was still dangling off the lapel, and last year’s losing betting slips still lined the pockets, the reckless amounts wagered testifying to several small sherries too many. Two thirds of a dogged-out tailor-made cigarette also came to light. This I took out into the garden and smoked with enjoyment.
I always polish my shoes for Cheltenham. I have a pair of rugged brown country shoes, and the day I pack for Cheltenham they get a good buffing. I measure the decline of our civilisation by the fact that my father brushed his shoes every day of the year, and I do mine once a year.